Holistic Project Planning with Mind Mapping

Left-brain and right-brain, yin and yang, these and other cliches point towards a fundamental truth. Useful breakthroughs depend on a mix of logic and analytics as well as aesthetic and creative decisions. I have seen some of this in Project Management as well. Your traditional left-brain project managers love the project plan as it breaks the project into manageable tasks and assigns numbers (duration, precedence, cost) to all of these tasks. However, there are many team members, whether they be hands-off management types, technical experts, or even junior team members that need to be part of project planning that aren’t included because they don’t have an understanding of the dark arts of project management. How can we better include the requirements, constraints and valuable input from those team members without forcing them into planning meetings they are not suited for; demanding these users create project plans and leave them flailing against Microsoft Project. How can we include differing insights to provide a more realistic, holistic view of a project?

Webbing or Mind Mapping is the decomposition, synthesis and grouping of ideas that is more free-flowing and encompasses more creative activity into a normal organizational activity. My weapon of choice is FreeMind. It’s free, so I encourage you to download it and give it a try. Here’s an example that I quickly created. If you don’t like installing things on your desktop, try Wiki Mind Map (a multi-lingual Mind Map for wikipedia) or Mind42 which is an online version with collaboration built-in.

You’ll notice that you can mark items complete, and color-code parts of the map. The idea is similar to Concept Mapping, but it requires a hub, or central thought that topics flow out from. This is not a limitation, but forces us to focus on the project at hand. Place the project name (or phase name on larger projects) in the center and you are off to the races.

Project Managers might use this when building a risk register or qualitative risk analysis. Maybe this approach can be useful if used in the Initiating phase to manage the scope of the project. But what is a Project Manager to do with this once they are done? Do we have another tool to try to integrate? No. Click on over to the downloads center and check out our MindMap to Microsoft Project 2007 conversion tool.

Pros

  • Focus on core deliverable
  • Easier to brainstorm risks and opportunities
  • Less formal approach allows for more collaboration.

Cons

  • Difficult to schedule tasks
  • Difficult to estimate costs.
  • Inability to perform resource scheduling and leveling.

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