Mindmaps are great for facilitated workshops, creativity sessions, brain dumps and all that – I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that they are one of the top tools for organizing your thoughts in a business setting.
But mindmapping tools go way beyond being an electronic version of a flip chart and marker pen. Modern mindmapping solutions don’t simply replace the spider diagram you drew on the whiteboard during your last product meeting. You can do a lot more with the technology, and get a lot more business benefit out of it if you know how to use it effectively.
So it’s time for mindmaps to break out of their ‘creativity’ constraints and make it onto the big stage in business. Here are 5 unusual – but highly valuable – uses for mindmapping tools at work.
1. Scope Management Plan
Whether you are starting a new project, defining a new tech solution, or trying to understand what you can and can’t deliver to your market, it’s all constrained by what is in the scope of work.
And a mindmap can help you define that. Start with your product, project or idea and then record the elements that need to be in scope of the work you forsee. Build out the different elements of scope until you have a comprehensive graphical list of the elements that will be covered by this work.
It’s also helpful to dedicate part of the scope management plan to work that is not in scope, so that no one is confused about the elements you are purposely leaving out.
Get a free scope management plan mindmap template here.
2. Work Breakdown Structure
It used to be hard for project managers to pull together a work breakdown structure – I’m sure that’s why the tool didn’t take off in some of the businesses I have worked in. But used correctly, it can be easy to create a workable WBS.
Choose the right template for your WBS and then start with the top-most work package, your completed project deliverable. Build out the sub-packages with the other work that has to happen, decomposing your project to the lowest practical level.
Ultimately, you’ll end up with a complete WBS covering all the elements of your project. It’s easy to colour-code and number each element so you can reference them in other project documentation, and if you need to link them to your project management plan that’s simple too.
3. Fishbone Analysis
You might know of fishbone analysis as an Ishikawa diagram or a cause and effect diagram. It’s a way of visualizing the potential causes of a problem.
It’s a highly useful tool for uncovering the root cause of an issue, particularly if you want to dig down into customer service or process-type problems within the business.
And… you guessed it, you can use your mindmapping software to create a template for you to do just that.
Simply start by adding the problem (in the fish’s “head”) and then annotate the fishbones with the causes and effects. Dig deep into the issue, asking why each happens and uncovering the next layer of potential problems.
There’s not enough space here to write fully about the fishbone analysis technique, but it is a common way of working in problem analysis, and now you know that mindmapping tools can make it a bit easier to get started.
4. Process Flowchart
Your mindmapping tool can whip up a process diagram super fast. You can pull in all the correct symbols, such as those for making decision points, data sources and the connecting arrows. If you are confident in your mindmapping, it won’t take long to learn how to link the boxes and create a good looking flow diagram to map a process. In fact, you’ll probably find it easier to use than other tools.
The extra benefit of using your mindmapping software for this purpose is that your team will already be familiar with it. You can use the same sharing rules to ensure the right people see the process, and you can easily collaborate and edit it until the process map looks perfect.
5. Risk Management Matrix
Yes, you can even use mindmapping software, so common for free-flowing ideas, to manage the risk assessments on your project!
A risk management matrix sets out the likelihood and probability of a risk occurring. It then lets you look along the horizontal and vertical axes to gain the risk assessment. For example, something that is a rare occurrence but that would have intermediate consequences would be assessed as low risk. You can set the risk tolerances and levels for yourself to best represent what is appropriate for your project or business. Once you’ve created a risk management matrix you can use it again and again on different projects and with different teams, so that all risks are measured in the same way.
I didn’t expect to be able to use mindmapping tools to create a matrix like this, but it’s actually pretty simple (with this template).
Amend the levels to suit yourself, change the colors if you feel like it and then you are good to go!
There are many uses for mindmapping solutions beyond simply recording the output of a creative thinking session. Dig into your tool and find out what it can do for you. You might be surprised to see how flexible it is! You might even realize that you don’t need other tools, so you can create some cost savings by scaling back on solutions that double up on what your mindmapping product can do.
About the author
Elizabeth Harrin is the author and award-winning blogger behind A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. Get her suggestions for being more productive at work on her blog.