Mind Mapping a Project from Start to Finish

Last week I introduced you to the concepts of mind mapping and all the ways that it can help you brainstorm ideas. Hopefully, you've given mind mapping a try and have seen just how many new ideas or connections you can make in a relatively short amount of time. This week we're going to put mapping techniques to the test by taking a project idea and seeing just how many ways we can apply mapping techniques throughout your project from initial brainstorm stage to the final wrap up.

Now I know that my focus tends to be more "writerly" based (only because I spend most of my days writing and designing technical documents for various audiences) so I've decided to try and pick a project that could be more fun... like website redesign. So imagine you are a web designer working on a website redesign for a client. They have given you free reign on the project and unlimited budget. However, they want it to pop and wow visitors and need it within two weeks time. What are you going to do? Ideas swim in your head but nothing seems to jump out at you. Your stomach sinks and you wish you were in back in bed, daydreaming the answer. Seeing that you just arrived at work, and cannot really go home to dream more... you grab a large blank paper and write down the word website in the middle and circle it. It's time to make a website.

Mind mapping is great for brainstorming. In this case, writing down a key phrase in the center and circling it, is just the start. Plan on spending about 15 minutes coming up with any and all ideas. Every time you add another word, draw another branch off the word. You'll be creating web of ideas fast and furious. You've started with website, now you draw a branch off to one side and write down "aboutus", products, shopping, blog, pictures, flash, and anything else that your mind associates with the word website. You might also write down standards and HTML, XML and a come up with a long list of programming styles and standards. Write it all down, all this goes into your initial map for the site design. At the brainstorm phase, there are no wrong answers and no idea is dumb or "too out there". They all get tossed into the hat for consideration. At the end of 15 minutes, check out the results of your efforts. I'll bet you have at least 20 different bubbles connecting to one central idea.

Project Estimation
While researching sites and reading articles for this mind mapping series, I came across this page that contains information on how mind mapping can help streamline the project estimation phase. It suggests :

Mind mapping simplifies the process of project estimating -- it doesn’t simplify the actual task-time estimation. Every project manger knows that the work of a project must be broken into separate and manageable units for estimating. To look at a project and think “That’s about a week’s effort” is a recipe for frustration and missed targets. Mindmaps, spider diagrams and bubble charts are excellent for the first phase of breaking a project into manageable parts. It won't get rid of in project estimation.

However by Mind Mapping, you will be able to cover the most intricate details under different sub-groups and make accurate time estimation. Apart from covering every minute part of project work, Mind Maps will help trigger new ideas and solutions, and reveal the links and connections between different aspects of project work.

Therefore, when you start budgeting your time and assigning tasks in creating the website you can let mind mapping show you how long and which details of the project need to have the most time dedicated to it. Visually you could do this by making the most important or longest tasks larger and more colorful, while the smaller tasks or ones that take the least amount of time can show up as small circles on your page.

Building a Structure
So you've got your ideas down and you're feeling rather psyched about the ideas you've collected. Now it's time to layout all the pages and give your ideas some structure. You can use a mind map to create your case studies for website flow. Start with the start page in the center of the circle and then branch down all the pages that connect to this site. Each page gets it's own circle and then any pages you expect to link off of them, get new branches and connections. Using a mind map this way shows you how many clicks your users will get to the page they want to view and it also shows you how extensive the site can eventually become. In the case of only having two weeks to design and produce a flashy site, you might want to scale the project down to the bare essentials and then propose to you clients that you release several updates to the site over a few months.

Once you have a mindmap diagram of what the site looks like, you can now start working on the overall site wire frames and coding basics.

Decision Making
To HTML or not, that is the eternal question may developers ask themselves when designing a site. Or, when should I use Flash? Or, what color scheme I should use and how many colors to limit the palette to. No matter what project you're working on, you will always have to make a few hard decisions that may affect the outcome of the deliverable in question. A simple cause and effect mind map could help you uncover the tough decisions on whether or not to go one path over the other. At the top of your page, you write down the question: What code should I use to design the site in? Beneath it you draw two branches. One leading to the idea of HTML/CSS, the other leads to XML/Flash code. Now, spend 15 more minutes discussing the pros and cons of using each style to code your site. The benefit of a decision map can help in the problem solving aspects of your project and help you to quickly see the outcome of using one style of coding method over the other.

Meetings and Presentations
Again, you can use a traditional mind map here to map out the agenda and attendees and even where you want to hold your meeting. Just start with the word or image of "meeting" and then branch out with attendees, content, place, time and whatever else you can associate in with the meeting. Same principle goes with mapping successful presentations. Use a mind map to organize your ideas and come up with new ways to teach or share your ideas with others. It helps you visualize how you will give the presentation and gives your audience a pretty visual to follow as you show them the plan for their website. Using the mind map to guide you in the presentation will also help you remember what comes next, so you do not forget anything.

Or, the how we can do this better? Now that your website has launched and the team has taken a long weekend in celebration and your clients are happy, you can gather everyone up and discuss ideas for what went well and what didn't and what lessons everyone learned. This time, you can use the white board to create a map. So you start off the meeting with "clientname" and then invite everyone to associate good and bad things and what they learned on the project. In time, you'll be able to take notes and see just how successful the site was, what didn't work and what could be done further down the road if another project similar to this one manifested itself on your plate. You can even get colorful and select green for successful items and red for "needs improvement". Or you could draw a happy face and sad face and let people associate their favorite and least favorite bits of the project to those sections.

I hope that you can now see how beneficial mind mapping can be to all the stages of your project from brainstorming to wrap up. Like I said last week, when I started getting into mind mapping there was no way I could really SEE a benefit of how mind mapping could be used in helping me write stories, get my papers done and select a dress for prom. However, these days... I see much value in what mind mapping can offer and show me in my daily work projects as well as my hobbies. (Creating tarot meanings have never been easier!) Next week, I'll get into the fun bits of this series: books and applications and what I think of them. So stay tuned and here's to reintegrating more mapping techniques into every aspect of your project.

[Additional Mind Mapping Articles in this series:]
An Intro to Mind Maps
Mind Mapping Resources and Wrap-up

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Your article series has

Your article series has already paid off for me. When I read your first entry last week it triggered some vague memories from my high school years and the use of mindmaps there. The last few days a deadline has approached faster and faster and today I sat down and decided to draw a mindmap of my plans that I have to present tomorrow. It is a new and big project and it is in the startup phase and I haven't really been able to wrap my thoughts around it. But it took 30 minutes with drawing the mindmap and then another 30 minutes to write my first report draft. In just one hour I managed to get something really good done that has been haunting me for over a week.

Thanks a lot!

mind map... and then what?

This is a great series so far. Mind mapping is a valuable tool. What I've always found, though, that it's an excellent way to explore each one of the branches, down to the last detail. However, the challenge that still seems not addressed... is how to take each branch of ideas and prioritize them for the next step.

That is, mind maps are a nice non-linear way to gather concepts. Ideas come at random rather than in sequence, after all. But then they have to move from that arrangement into, generally, a linear model for presentation. Doing a speach, for example, goes through the details in a straight line. Writing has a beginning, middle, and an end. Even websites have core concepts and move, via clicks, through a relatively controlled progression.

Once you get deep into the branch of an idea, it's easy to see the linear unfolding of the details. But when you're looking at the one central concept... surrounded by several expanded branches of ideas... how do you decide which concept branches should get presented first and which should wait until the end?

Is it just a judgment call based on context?

Also, to add, how do you know which concept is the first one that goes on the page? Is there a question you can ask yourself to identify that one very central theme? And if so, what would that question be? A lot of this is intuitive, I imagine. But it might help to draw it out so others can get a flavor of how this can work.

Thanks again for the series.


Mind Mapping Sermons

I was introduced to the concept of mind-mapping last summer in a college class I was taking. Since then, I've used mind-maps to help me organize sermons each week. I used to fret over small details of the message to keep it fresh and relevant. This tool has allowed me to do just that by allowing me the freedom to map out all different areas of my message. Not only that, but I also mind map out the series I'm going to preach so I can consolidate the angles, put a well organized series together, and have ideas to share with my leadership team. Many times, we mind map the series together.

Can you share specifics?

This tool has allowed me to do just that by allowing me the freedom to map out all different areas of my message. Not only that, but I also mind map out the series I'm going to preach so I can consolidate the angles, put a well organized series together

Can you share specifics somewhere on how you do this? This is very intriguing to me. I never thought mindmapping would be useful to me, but now you've got me curious! Maybe you can contact me via email, as this probably isn't general interest. Thanks.


software to do this

As a teacher of 30 years, I have been doing this for nigh on 2+ decades. Way back "then" it was called webbing. Or after I had filled a whole chalkboard (remember those?) a MESS!

About a decade ago, began using software to do this with students. It has the advantage of allowing the use of graphics, colors, all kinds of arrow and lines instead of just little circles and plain lines.

Even better -- once the map was complete, with one click, it transforms the map into a standard outline.

This outline can be edited and the software dynamically updates the map which you can switch back to with one click.

Once happy with results, the outline can be exported to MS Word or other word processor and the map can be copied and pasted as a graphic into a document.

Talk to your school aged children about it as chances are they're using it already.
Lower grades: Kidspiration
Upper grades - Adult: Inspiration.


software you are using for mind map

I just read your reply about the software you use to mind map and use as an outline. What is the name of the software please.


hi im currently taking my gcse's in ict and you page has really helped me, i dont understand ict and this is just starting to make things a little clearer....i think ill be using your page more thanks