Mind mapping software can be used in a myriad of ways to streamline project management. It’s not only valuable for project planning, but also execution and analysis.
In his new book, Mind Maps for Effective Project Management, professional project manager and trainer Maneesh Dutt presents the idea that today’s project environment requires different tools and a different way of thinking.
“Project management is both an art and a science, requiring both our left and right brain skills,” Dutt explains. “However, the multitude of tools for PM that we find in the market seem to focus strongly on the logic, measurements and have in effect a left brain dominance. Mind maps are the perfect approach to fill in this missing gap and take project management to its next level of maturity where it becomes more engaging and fun, resulting in more successful projects.”
In the book, he outlines 9 types of mind maps that project managers can create to do build a more complete picture of stakeholder needs, project requirements, execution steps and much more. He does so with a high degree of clarity, making his insights especially valuable to those of us who would like to do a more effective job of managing our increasingly complex and multifaceted projects.
Often, before project managers begin mapping requirements, resources, costs, risks another other factors, they first conduct an analysis to determine if a project is feasible. The project feasibility map considers:
- Customer expectations
- Customer requirements
“A good feasibility study ends with adequate clarity and confidence on achieving the project goals. Otherwise, (the) management must take a ‘NO GO’ decision until further clarity (is reached) or the project is finally shelved,” Dutt explains
Project benefit analysis
The purpose of the project benefit analysis mind map is to check the potential positive or negative effects of the project on stakeholders, and to ensure that no stakeholder groups have been overlooked during the project planning process. To create such a mind map, create first-level topics for each major stakeholder group. It should explore:
- Pros and cons for customers (technical, price and functional benefits and potential downsides)
- End-user benefits/disadvantages (if different than the direct customer)
- Competitive implications (technical, cost and time to market)
- Your organization’s management (revenues, profits and strategic and tactical outcomes)
- The project team (skills they will develop and opportunities that may be revealed as a result of this project)
- Other pros and cons (such as social, political, environmental, health and safety implications of your proposed project)
One powerful use of this mind map, according to Dutt, is “to motivate the project team by instilling a stronger sense of purpose, once they see the wide impact of their project.” Indeed, once it’s mapped out visually, it becomes abundantly clear that any project has implications well beyond the immediate and most visible group of stakeholders.
“The project charter formally authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities,” Dutt explains. Its purpose is to clearly define the top-level boundaries in enough detail that your organization’s management can make an informed decision on committing resources to your project.
A typical project charter mind map may include:
- A project overview (project manager, team, authority and resources)
- Project requirements (summarized at a high level). Dutt points out that this map branch could be similar to the content of the requirements branch in the project feasibility map
- The project’s objective
- Milestones that will be used to determine if the project is on track
- Assumptions (key elements in assessing the risks the project will entail)
- Constraints (the big three: time, budget and quality, plus any other constraints that are relevant to the project under consideration)
- Stakeholder groups (internal and external)
At first glance, the project charter and the project feasibility mind maps may contain similar information, but Dutt points out that the purpose of each one is significantly different:
“The feasibility mind map is more investigative and helps decide whether the project needs to be executed in the first place or not. The project charter… captures the facts and assumptions to enable the management to commit resources to the project.”
Collecting and prioritizing requirements
Once the project charter has been approved by your organization’s management team, the process of collecting and prioritizing the project’s requirements begins in earnest. Often, Dutt cautions, customers are unclear about the priority of their requirements; the project manager must assist them with this process.
One effective way of doing this is the Kano model, which identifies project requirements in terms of their impact on the end customer. This leads to three high-level categories of requirements, which can easily be captured in a mind map:
- Must-have or basic requirements (if these are missing, the end result of the project will be unsatisfactory to the customer)
- Performance or linear factors (these factors are those that, when improved, cause a linear increase in the level of customer satisfaction)
- Excitement factors (these factors cause customer delight compared to the basic project requirements, even if they have little or no impact on him or her)
Dutt concludes that the project requirements mind map gives the team a clear picture of the requirements they need to focus upon as the project progresses.
Once the project requirements have been mapped and finalized, it’s time for the project team to prepare a scope of work. This mind map outlines the processes and set of activities needed for the project to be completed successfully. To define a project scope, you must first identify the following elements:
- Project objectives
Once you’ve done so, you’ll need to clarify the limitations or parameters of the project and clearly identify any aspects that are not to be included. Identifying what is NOT within the scope of the project now can help the project team avoid problems later.
“Having an approved project scope early in the project helps reduce the changes and iteration as the project progresses,” Dutt cautions. This is the dreaded “scope creep” that dooms many projects to costly delays and significant budget overruns.
Work breakdown structure
The project scope mind map leads to the development of a work breakdown structure (WBS), which lists the phases of the project and everything it must deliver at each step. In other words, the WBS is a framework for dividing work into definable increments from which the statement of work can be developed and technical, schedule, cost, and labor hour reporting can be established.
The tree structure of the WBS visually depicts the subdivision of effort and deliverables required to successfully complete each phase of the project. In that sense, it is a project control map. One of the biggest functions of the work breakdown structure is to ensure that key tasks are not overlooked – especially important considering the complexity of today’s projects, the number of internal stakeholders who are typically involved and the number of inputs and resources needed to keep a large project moving efficiently.
Project time management
In the book, Dutt outlines project time management as another important aspect of project success that can benefit from a visual thinking approach. This mind map should define each of the project’s milestones as first-level topics, and important parameters of each project phase can be arranged as subtopics. Lower-level topics can be used to record estimated effort and cost versus actual values.
Project cost management
This mind map includes processes that are necessary to ensure that the project is completed within the approved budget. A mind map is an ideal format for capturing both major cost centers and estimates for individual elements within them. Major areas of cost that should be captured in your project cost management mind map include:
- Employee costs
- Equipment costs
- Facilities costs
Dutt points out that not only is the project cost management a very effective front-end planning tool, but it can also be used to track estimated versus actual costs as the project progresses.
Project team skill assessment
Because each project and the team assembled to execute it varies from one project to the next, the project manager must pay careful attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each person on the project team – especially those areas where skill building is required in order for the project to be completed successfully.
“Spending a little time to assess the skills necessary for the project versus available can really help find skill gaps, if any, and so allow for better roles and responsibilities definition,” Dutt shares. This needs to be done early enough in the project initiation phase that he or she has time to plan for and fill any missing skills in time to deliver a successful project.
Dutt recommends listing the soft and hard skills required for successful execution of the project on the right side of the mind map. The left side of the mind map can be used to detail the skills of the team that can be applied to the project. This visual approach makes any gaps very visible, and makes it easier to spot weaknesses that need to be strengthened.