Mind Mapping Software Blog http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com The best mind mapping tools and strategies for business success Mon, 29 Jun 2015 12:32:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Visual project management comes of age: An interview with Paul Williams http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/visual-project-management-paul-williams/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/visual-project-management-paul-williams/#respond Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:19:16 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8286 In recent years, visual project management has emerged as a set of tools and techniques that help project managers to make sense of and manage large, complex projects more effectively. Paul R. Williams, PMP has written a new book entitled Visual Project Management that can help us better understand what they are and when and where to employ them when managing projects. I recently interviewed him to learn more about these tools, techniques and visual frameworks, and why they work so well.

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In recent years, visual project management has emerged as a set of tools and techniques that help project managers to make sense of and manage large, complex projects more effectively. Paul R. Williams, PMP has written a new book entitled Visual Project Management that can help us better understand what they are and when and where to employ them when managing projects. I recently interviewed him to learn more about these tools, techniques and visual frameworks, and why they work so well.

Chuck Frey: Why is visual project management so important today? What problems does it solve?

Visual Project ManagementPaul Williams: As the speed of business continues to increase, and as focus on an ever growing number of data points is needed to keep business and project execution under control, new and innovative tools and techniques are required to help busy executives make efficient and effective decisions on where to invest money and resources. Visualization of data and complex processes has proven exceptionally valuable in meeting those needs.

Visual Project Management is essentially a new practice concept that integrates visual thinking tools and data visualization methodologies with more traditional project communication, reporting and facilitation practices. It leverages the latest techniques in presenting data and information within visually-rich models that make it easier for project teams to understand of critical project information data points and key performance metrics.

The visual project management approach serves as an additional tool for project management professionals to provide:

  • At-a-glance views of project status
  • Real-time project status tracking
  • Real-time issue management and resolution status
  • Data rich environments for better decision making

Finally, the use of visual thinking tools enhances understanding of complex projects and supports management of high volumes of data. Visual thinking tools also enable conceptual and idea-development processes, as well as fostering a common language for conversations and discussions among the members of the project team.

Frey: What do agile-based methods of managing projects have to do with the move toward visual project management methodologies?

Williams: Agile approaches to managing projects have started to become popular within even the most conservative industries like financial services, insurance and healthcare. Self-managed teams are beginning to replace hierarchical management structures. Time-boxed iterations, or “sprints” of work, rather than start-to-finish individual task sequencing, has allowed for increased velocity in completing deliverables or objectives.

As agile continues to grow in use and impact, more and more project professionals and business sponsors are being exposed the visual work management tools used in the agile world such as Kanban boards, Scrum boards, burndown charts and other tools taken from the old Lean and SixSigma playbooks. Visual-based status tracking and feedback displays prompt the question of what other work management, project management or even portfolio management communications can be made more visual for quicker, easier comprehension.

The challenge now is to get project teams and business stakeholders to understand that there is more to the world of visual thinking and data visualization than the limited set of tools and techniques used in the Lean and Agile communities. Education and reference tools such as Visual Project Management are the first step in that process.

Frey: You mention in the book that traditional project meetings often devolved into confusion and frustration, because teams lacked a way to make sense of all of the data and complexity they were forced to deal with. How do visual project management tools bring clarity to the table?

Williams: Here’s a simple, scientific fact: 60-65% of the general population are comfortable with visual thinking. When two-thirds of the people sitting in your project status meeting, scope planning meeting or work breakdown session are subjected to verbose, text-based status reports, linear GANTT charts, indented outline templates and spreadsheets full of complex data, confusion and frustration will eventually prevail.

Project teams and stakeholders who can comprehend project status at a glance using a dashboard, visualize pertinent project performance metric trending on a control limited earned value diagram, or can make quick sense of complex resource supply/demand data sets using a stacked bar chart, on the other hand, will experience clarity, efficiency and greater understanding and retention of the data. In the end, this leads to more informative and faster decision making.

Frey: You mention in the book that project management has evolved from a “push” model, where the project manager decides the who, what, when, where and why of the project, to a more collaborative “pull-based” form of project communication. What’s driving this change, and how do visual-based project management methods support and enable it?

Williams: In today’s time-compressed and lean business culture, busy executive sponsors and key project stakeholders simply do not have the luxury of time to digest a verbose, three page project status report on a weekly basis. Likewise, their double-booked calendars can no longer support attending status briefing meetings that simply regurgitate information that is otherwise available in alternative formats.

Visual project management offers up information in ways that anyone can consume it at a time, place and manner that is convenient to them. More and more information is being made available electronically, meant to be digested when the recipient has the time to review it. In this “pull-based” form of communication, information is simply posted to a common location, similar to a bulletin board or document library. The recipient chooses what information they want to receive and when they want to access it.

Most importantly, it creates an opportunity for the project manager and the project stakeholders to have a conversation about what information and specific data points are most important to them. Then, leveraging any number of visual thinking tools, the project manager can design the format that most clearly and efficiently serves their needs.

Frey: It’s been my observation that one of the aspects of project management that has been missing from dedicated project management tools like Microsoft Project has been the front-end work – the design and scoping of the project. How do visual tools help teams do a better job of planning projects?

Williams: I completely agree and I’d even extend it farther back in the process to concept development, problem solving and business analysis. Visual thinking tools like mind mapping, process mapping, simple drawings /sketching and storyboarding are perfect techniques to work through creative concept development and scoping sessions. Classic root cause analysis tools like the fishbone diagram, 5 whys and failure mode analysis charting are a big help in defining the problem the project is being created to solve. Finally, as the scope and design parameters of the project start coming together, visual business analysis tools such as wireframing, use cases, screen flow diagrams and system integration maps make the work much easier to understand.

When it comes to breaking down and planning out the work, a mind map is probably the best tool available for that kind of task, while graphics like swimlane diagrams are perfect for depicting cross-functional/cross-team hand-offs. Resource loading charts that display available supply/demand information make assigning out work to resources much easier. Unfortunately, you won’t find all of these tools in one suite of software, which makes it more challenging to gain adoption.

Frey: What are the advantages of using mind mapping software for project management?

visual project managementWilliams: Using mind mapping for project management makes absolute logical sense. Project managers need to organize large amounts of project-related data points and ordered lists. While they are all related to the overall management of a particular project, they are not all structured, classified or utilized in the same way. Mind mapping software is a natural fit for organizing blue-sky thinking, developing creative solutions to the problems being solved by the project and breaking from traditional, linear thinking patterns.

Because mind maps lend themselves so easily to organizing different categories of data and information quickly, orderly and visually, they have become an incredibly popular tool among project management professionals. It also has other benefits: It is an ideal framework for documenting work breakdown structures, documenting in-scope and out-of-scope items, and organizing project resources, roles and responsibilities, keeping project notes in a centralized location, listing key project milestones, deliverables or other goals set by the project stakeholders, and serving as an “parking lot” for keeping meeting agenda topics, change requests, scope clarifications and other discussion points for future use or reference.

Frey: You list many other visual project management methods in the book. What are a few of your favorites, and what makes them stand out in your mind?

Wiliams: Like you, I’ve been using mind maps since before there was mind mapping software, so it continues to be my “go-to” tool for anything that has an organizational or categorization spin to it. The dashboarding concept has been around for some time in executive management circles, but there’s so much more we can do from a project management perspective with respect to communicating more efficiently and reducing the comprehension curve. I think dashboards are also ripe for advances in automation as well to take some of the design and preparation burden off of the project manager. I’ve also been dabbling in the world of infographic design and telling a project story using infographic vectors and data sets. But the simplest and most used tool remains the simple graphing and charting options available in software like Microsoft Excel or iWork Numbers.

Frey: Where do you think visual project management methods are headed from here? What will they look like 5 years from now?

Williams: I see more and more project-based planning, monitoring and reporting moving away from traditional software models and becoming much more app-based. I see a future where project managers and business executives alike can visualize project information, status and key performance data, in real-time on a tablet or phone or watch or other media device we haven’t anticipated yet.

My biggest hope is that Visual Project Management will stir some new interest, creative thinking and alternative approaches to this new practice area among younger project professionals, software/app developers and data modelers. Ideally, I’d love to see them push the concept forward and bring useful new graphical tools and displays to the market, not unlike how infographics and wikis and task boards have changed our world over the past five years. As I mentioned earlier, there still isn’t a comprehensive visual project management software package available where all of these visual tools and techniques exist under one umbrella. I hope we see that change in the future!

I also envision entirely new combinations with other business and work management tools and techniques that we haven’t yet seen or thought to integrate so far. This would be similar to the new concepts we’ve seen from recent collisions of Lean, Agile, SixSigma and innovation management methodologies with both traditional and new project, portfolio and operations management approaches.

Frey: Is there anything else you think the readers of my blog should know about visual project management tools and techniques?

Williams: Today’s project manager has more to manage than just project scope, deliverables, communications and teams. They are also expected to manage large volumes of project-related data. And the expectation goes beyond just managing the data. It extends into creating great visualizations that allow stakeholders to fully digest all that data in ways that are quick, effective and clear. They are also expected to serve as facilitators in the use of visual thinking tools as a method for working through project issues, risks and problems. These new expectations require new skills. The era of multi-page, text-based project communication is over. The era of visual project management is here. It’s time to “skill up!”

Frey: Where can my readers learn more about Visual Project Management and purchase it?

Williams: To learn more about Visual Project Management concepts and the book, your readers can visit my website. From there, you can link directly to your favorite online bookseller (Amazon.com, B&N.com and Apple iBookstore) to obtain either a hard cover or electronic copy of the book. Alternatively, you can also obtain a deeply discounted copy directly from the publisher using the link above as well. A paperback version will be coming out late summer of 2015.

Register here to learn more about Chuck Frey’s soon to be released e-course on mind mapping software and project management

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Bizz Draw app simplifies sketching of over 100 business concepts http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/bizz-draw-app-simplifies-sketching-of-business-concepts/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/bizz-draw-app-simplifies-sketching-of-business-concepts/#respond Fri, 05 Jun 2015 12:30:18 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8278 If you are new to sketching or sketchnoting, it's often hard to know what symbols you should draw to represent certain business ideas or concepts. Thankfully, there is now an app for that.

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Bizz Draw app for sketching

If you are new to sketching or sketchnoting, it’s often hard to know what symbols you should draw to represent certain business ideas or concepts. Thankfully, there is now an app for that.

Bizz Draw is an app for iOS and Android that consists of a library of simple shapes you can use as examples and inspiration for concepts like collaboration, expertise, conversation and process.

The developer of Bizz Draw, GRIDD Nl, is a design consultancy based in the Netherlands. It created this intriguing app to give business people greater confidence to try capturing their ideas visually.

A tour of Bizz Draw

Bizz Draw for sketchingWhen you first open Bizz Draw, it displays five large buttons that lead to these categories of images:

  • Strategy and tactics
  • Ideation and operation
  • People and teams
  • Digital and media
  • Risks and opportunities

Tapping on a button displays a list of shapes and concepts that you can utilize in your drawings. This list-based approach does a great job of illuminating what’s possible and gives you a simple visual “language” you can use in your sketches.

A sixth button gives you the ability to search a much larger library of shapes and concepts – over 100 in all.

Tapping on an individual sketch opens a page that contains an image, a brief description of when and how to use it, keywords and, in some cases, brief video tutorials. Each type of sketch contains numerous keywords, which make it easy to find using Bizz Draw’s search tool.

The use case for Bizz Draw

It’s not often that I see an app that is intended to be used as a reference tool, but Bizz Draw’s simple, elegant design makes it a very effective one. Whether you’re sketching out an idea on your own in your favorite thinking spot or facing a whiteboard in front of a room full of your colleagues, you can simply pull out your smart phone, open up Bizz Draw and, within a few seconds, find an appropriate image that you can replicate in your sketch.

What’s next?

Within the app, GRIDD invites users to suggest additional shapes and concepts that should be added to its shape library. The developer promises to periodically add the best of the suggestions to the shape library in future updates.

You can download Bizz Draw for free for both the Apple and Android platforms.

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Project management with mind mapping software e-course (coming soon!) http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/project-management-e-course-coming-soon/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/project-management-e-course-coming-soon/#respond Sat, 30 May 2015 13:54:01 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8273 Project management is one of the most practical and powerful applications of mind mapping software, but it's also one of the least understood. That's why I'm now producing an e-course that will teach you all you need to be effective.

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project management for mind mapping software

Planning and implementing projects is one of the most important applications of mind mapping software you will ever learn about. Nearly everyone manages projects today, or has tasks for which they are responsible. But organizations often don’t give us the tools that enable us to manage projects effectively.

At the beginning of a project, mind mapping software enables you to collect and organize all of the key information you and your team need about its scope, time, cost, quality, resources, communications, risks and stakeholder requirements. It then enables you to manage the implementation of the project, acting as a dashboard to provide you with one-click access to its status.

Project management is one of the most practical and powerful applications of mind mapping software, but it’s also one of the least understood. That’s why I’m now in the process of producing an e-course that will teach you all you need to be effective.

What’s included in this new project management e-course?

Here’s what this valuable new learning resource will cover:

  • The benefits of using mind mapping software for project management
  • Which programs support project management functionality?
  • A glossary of relevant project management terms
  • A simple process for setting up and managing your projects – visually
  • Tips on how to be even more effective managing your projects using this type of software

New: The task- and project-management comparison chart

I am also producing a comparison chart that digs deep into the task- and project-management functionality of the major mind mapping programs, so you can easily see which ones meet your team’s project needs. This hasn’t been covered in much detail in my popular Mind Mapping Software Comparison Chart, so it’s about time I deliver this must-know information to you!

Be the first to know when this course is available

Register now to be notified when this training program is ready for purchase. If you do so, I’ll provide you with special pre-launch pricing on it. And, of course, I’ll notify you when I launch this course:

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Paper for iPad wows with intuitive new diagramming toolkit http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/paper-for-ipad-adds-diagramming-toolkit/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/paper-for-ipad-adds-diagramming-toolkit/#respond Mon, 18 May 2015 12:13:03 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8259 Paper with Think Kit may not be the world's first diagramming app for the iPad. But it's easily the most intuitive. It does away with all of the complex concepts and capabilities and delivers a simple, intuitive toolset that anyone can use to quickly produce a diagram for their next meeting or PowerPoint presentation, using an ingenious set of gestures and pen/finger interactions.

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Paper with Think Kit iPad app

Paper with Think Kit may not be the world’s first diagramming app for the iPad. But it’s easily the most intuitive. It does away with all of the complex concepts and capabilities and delivers a simple, intuitive toolset that anyone can use to quickly produce a diagram for their next meeting or PowerPoint presentation, using an ingenious set of gestures and pen/finger interactions.

Earlier this year, when I took a look at Paper by FiftyThree for iPad, I thought it was just another drawing app. But its developers have just unveiled an update called Think Kit that adds diagramming to the popular iPad drawing app. It transforms Paper into a powerful, intuitive mobile whiteboarding tool that is a joy to work with and an excellent conduit for helping you make your creative ideas tangible.

This makes it ideal for casual users – who may need to create simple diagrams from time to time, and business people, who need to be able to communicate their ideas visually – but don’t have the time for a big learning curve.

Think Kit is a free update to Paper.

The power behind Think Kit

diagram shapes - paperThe Intention Engine is FiftyThree’s drawing recognition and rendering system. It recognizes and corrects dozens of shapes sketched in real­ time, while subtly preserving the uniqueness and feel of the user’s hand. It enables you to quickly and easily create diagrams with perfect-looking rectangles, triangles, circles, other shapes and connector lines. How?

To do so, you draw a rough shape using your fingertip or a stylus in a single motion – without lifting your writing instrument from the screen. Paper instantly transforms your rough, hand-drawn shape into a perfectly-proportioned digital one. It doesn’t completely “sanitize” your shapes and connectors so they look like they were produced using software; rather, they retain a bit of a hand-drawn feel. The app’s developers got this balance just right.

For past users of Paper, this excellent app remains a very powerful drawing tool, albeit with some powerful new capabilities. Think Kit simply adds a new type of “pen” to Paper’s tool tray at the bottom of the screen. As with previous versions of Paper, you can easily slide it out of the way to make more room on-screen for your diagrams.

To create diagrams even faster, Think Kit offers an intuitive way to duplicate shapes: Simply tap and hold a shape to select it, then tap with a second finger in a blank area of the work space and drag your other finger away from the object you have selected. Viola – an exact duplicate of your selected object. If it’s important that multiple shapes in your diagram have the exact same dimensions, then Paper’s duplicate shape function is an elegant, simple solution!

You add connector lines to your diagram in a similar, intuitive way: Hand-draw a line between two shapes, pause briefly, and then lift your stylus or fingertip from the screen. Paper displays blue arrowheads on either end of your line. Tap the one(s) you want to keep, and the app adds them to the line.

Enhancing your diagrams in Paper

Paper iPad app - smart fillsModifying and embellishing your diagrams in Paper is also easy and intuitive. Coloring a shape is a simple matter of tapping a color swatch in Paper’s tool tray and then tapping within a shape in your diagram. Doing so immediately fills it with that color.

Think Kit also supports something called “freeform fill.” It’s best illustrated with an example. Let’s say you want to create a simple area chart, with two intersecting lines and background colors. Simply drag your finger or stylus to create a line that approximates the shape of the line that represents the upper edge of the area fill. Then continue to drag your stylus or fingertip down to the X (horizontal) axis of your chart. Think Kit automatically fills in the region with the color you’ve selected.

To move an object, you simply tap and hold your fingertip or stylus inside the shape to highlight it, and then drag it to its new location. You can also draw a lasso around multiple objects to select and move them.

If you make a mistake, Paper’s innovative “rPaper - rewindewind” gesture lets you undo your design as many steps as you’d like. You invoke it using a two-fingered, counterclockwise circular motion on the screen. A circular, translucent clock appears on screen, and gives you graphical feedback as Paper undoes the previous steps in your drawing process, one my one.

This is a very elegant and easy way to “back up” your diagramming process to an earlier state. It’s a joy to use.

Export options

Paper enables you to export individual diagrams as PNG files for use in PowerPoint, KeyNote and other business applications. In addition, you can export entire notebooks to PDF, PowerPoint, Keynote or as a collection of images.

How can you use Paper?

As a series of videos on the FiftyThree website illustrates, it’s easy to use Paper to create:

  • Flowcharts
  • Venn diagrams
  • Quadrant diagrams
  • Pyramid diagrams
  • Area charts
  • Organizational charts

I strongly encourage you to watch these videos, because they will give you a tangible sense of just how intuitive and easy to use this app really is. My words, no matter how eloquent, can’t do it justice. But this brief video can:

Paper with Think Kit is an ideal tool for thinking alone or with others. Compared to laptops, tablets encourage information sharing. You can easily have a discussion with a colleague or client, diagram it in Paper, and then hand your iPad to him or her and ask, “Is this what you mean?” That’s powerful!

Paper plus – what else? Pencil

Pencil stylus

Paper is optimized to be used with FiftyThree’s highly-regarded stylus tool, which is called (naturally) Pencil. it’s designed to enable you to switch from sketching to erasing by simply turning the Pencil around, just as you would flip an old-school pencil in your hand to erase something you drew. It’s also pressure sensitive, which enhances its usefulness for creating art using Paper.

There’s one small catch, however: Pencil’s advanced features only work with the iPad 3. It will function as a conventional stylus with earlier versions of Apple’s ubiquitous tablet. Pencil is available in several different styles and finishes; its price starts at about US$50. Get details about Pencil here.

Conclusion

Clearly, the developers at FiftyThree  put a lot of thought into making Think Kit’s functionality as intuitive as possible, and into leveraging the iPad interface. It’s the closest thing to using pencil and paper to create a business diagram. In other words, it’s a tool that enables you to capture your ideas at nearly the same speed as you think of them.

I had a lot of fun creating diagrams with Paper, and I think you will, too! Paper is a free download from the Apple AppStore; the latest version comes with the Think Kit diagramming toolset.

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BigPicture: An innovative blend of mind mapping, data mapping and diagramming – within Excel http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/bigpicture-review/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/bigpicture-review/#respond Fri, 08 May 2015 18:28:07 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8243 Data mapping, diagramming and mind mapping, all in a single application - that's the promise of BigPicture, an innovative new add-in for Microsoft Excel recently introduced by Palisade, a developer of visual decision support software. Its elegant toolset is ideal for any executive who already uses Excel in his or her work, but aren't sure they can justify the investment in a dedicated diagramming or mind mapping program.

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BigPicture

Mind mapping, data mapping and diagramming, all within a single Excel add-in – that’s the promise of BigPicture. This innovative program from Palisade, a developer of visual decision support software, recently entered beta testing. BigPicture’s elegant toolset is ideal for any executive who already uses Excel in his or her work, but aren’t sure they can justify the investment in a dedicated diagramming or mind mapping program.

Where did the unique concept for BigPicture come from?

Palisade offers a number of Excel add-ins that enable quantitative decision support and risk analysis. Its flagship product is @RISK, an Excel add-in that runs Monte Carlo simulations to help executives make better decisions. It also sells a decision tree tool called PrecisionTree that helps executives make complex, multi-stage decisions and statistical analysis tools. So it’s used to building applications that extend the functionality of Excel.

As the firm explored how to expand its product line to include qualitative tools, mind mapping and diagramming quickly emerged as attractive applications. “We recognized that business people need tools that help them to present their visual models to others. So we set out to create an Excel add-in that would enable that,” explains Michelle Jackson, Palisade’s product manager for BigPicture.

Installation: Less than intuitive

When you install BigPicture, it adds a new tab to the Excel ribbon toolbar. The process to do so actually requires you to go into Excel’s options, since the BigPicture toolbar is turned off by default. Using Palisade’s knowledgebase, I was able to figure it out, but in my opinion, the process of getting it up and running was harder than I expected. Hopefully, the developer will have this worked out – or at least provide users with more explicit instructions on how to turn on BigPicture, so they don’t have to hunt for it like I did.

How BigPicture works

Calling BigPicture an add-in hardly does it justice. It offers a comprehensive toolset that enables you to quickly get to work creating new mind maps, concept maps and flow chart diagrams, while leveraging Excel’s existing drawing and editing tools to adjust the formatting of individual elements.

Adding a new topic to an Excel spreadsheet is a simple matter of clicking the “new topic” button in the BigPicture toolbar. The program asks for the cell location where you want the shape placed. When you answer, BigPicture inserts a rectangular-shaped box in that location. I was hoping the app would enable me to drag and drop from the new topic toolbar button into the spreadsheet like many diagramming tools do, but the beta version doesn’t support this. On the plus side, it does give you precision placement of topics, so you don’t have to spend as much time manually aligning them.

To add new, connected topics, you simply hover the mouse cursor over the middle of any edge of your first shape. A red square appears. If you drag outward from it in the direction you want the next shape to appear, a red line appears. When you release the mouse button, a new connected topic is inserted in that location. Creating a flow chart in this way is easy and fast.

A connector button in the BigPicture toolbar gives you the option of straight, curved or elbow-shaped connectors. Whichever one you select, it becomes the default connector type for all new shapes you create. Connection types vary by shape type. If you decide you want to change a topic’s shape, simply select a different one from Excel’s shape library. Connector lines can also have labels. Combine that with the ability to connect topics in complex ways, and you have a very capable mind mapping and concept mapping tool.

Topics can also be images; this can be accomplished using Excel’s picture fill and image formatting commands. In addition to adding pictures to topics, you can also attach notes, markers and hyperlinks to them, just like a mind map.

If you want a higher-level view of the topic you’re diagramming, you can easily expand and collapse sections of your diagrams – once again. just like in a mind map.

Create diagram topics from cells

BigPictureBigPicture has a unique capability that leverages the inherent strengths of Excel, and helps you to build flow charts faster: You first create a series of topic names within a column of cells in your Excel spreadsheet, and then select the “new topics from cells” command. Once you specify which existing topic should be the “parent” of this new branch structure, BigPicture immediately creates a new set of topic shapes based upon it.

This is a fast way to build your diagram from scratch or to leverage existing data. Very cool! This is a capability that you won’t find in any dedicated mind mapping or diagramming program.

BigPicture keeps your diagrams looking neat

BigPicture’s auto-arrange tool, when toggled on, helps you quickly create well-organized diagrams and mind maps, without having to manually arrange topics. If you don’t want to use the application’s auto-arrange feature, you can easily align topics using Excel’s built-in controls for that purpose.

Data mapping – where the real power is

BigPicture data mapping

Data mapping is a powerful tool in BigPicture that enables you to visualize and explore your data in different ways. If your eyes glaze over when you look at a large number of columns and rows of data in Excel like I do, you’ll immediately appreciate this aspect of BigPicture.

BigPicture’s powerful data mapping tool makes it easy for you to convert columns and rows of data into visual form, helping you to gain new insights and see patterns in your data. It enables you to group and regroup your data in different ways, and then perform arithmetic operations on the results. For example, you could use this tool to visualize product sales by territory, and then by salespeople within each territory. BigPicture can automatically roll up sales by person and territory – sort of like a visual pivot table. Any changes you make to the underlying spreadsheet are automatically reflected in your data map.

When you select the data mapping tool in BigPicture’s toolbar, a dialog box appears that enables you to define the range of spreadsheet cells to import, select columns for grouped topics – where you tell the application what the hierarchy of topics should be – and what the end topics should be (the lowest level of the hierarchy).

BigPicture also gives you the option to display the lowest level as tables or as individual map topics. The former would be useful if the column you select for the end topics contains a large number of records. This would result in a very large, unwieldy visual map with potentially hundreds of low-level topics. Instead, you can display this data in a table, for a more compact, easy-to-understand diagram – nice! Columns in end tables can be sorted by clicking on the column header – just like in Excel itself – giving you another way to visualize and analyze your data. Each topic shape can contain multiple fields of data, something that isn’t possible with Excel’s native drawing and rudimentary data mapping tools.

You can also embellish data maps with pictures and markers. You can filter your Excel spreadsheet range so that the data map only displays certain topics that meet your keyword criteria; you can then display the resulting data map either in the existing Excel workbook or in a new one.

One amazing feature is BigPicture’s ability to automatically add images based on the data in your Excel spreadsheet. One sample spreadsheet does this with a fantasy football league, using National Football League (NFL) player salary data. Team logos can be imported from a single folder, as long as the image file names exactly match the spelling and format of the team names in the spreadsheet. Very cool!

BigPicture also does organization charts

BigPicture - org chart

BigPicture also has the ability to generate org charts from data tables. The data set should, at a minimum, include employee names and two columns that specify employee-supervisor relationships. In other words, each record needs to show both the employee’s title and that of their supervisor. The program’s org chart dialog box enables you to link the data in the employee title and supervisor title columns, so it knows how to represent their hierarchical relationship. It also enables you to add pictures for each employee, markers that depict additional information about them. You can also set up simple calculations within this dialog box – ideal for analyzing salaries and headcount.

Org charts can be exported to Excel or PDF. This promises to be a big time-saver for human resources managers!

Presenting your data – visually

BigPicture slide show builder

One of the design goals for BigPicture was to enable users of it to present their data in a compelling visual format. That’s why it contains a slide show tool that enables you to present your diagrams with a great deal of flexibility.

The Define Slide Show dialog box helps you to build your slide show, step-by-step. It enables you to select which elements of your diagram you want to display in each slide. An “all prior slides” button, when checked, displays all of the elements that appeared in the previous slide, plus any new ones you select for the current one. This enables you to do “builds” quickly and easily.

As you create slides, the dialog box displays a “treeview” of each one and the elements it contains. This gives you added degree of context, so you can quickly build presentations that have excellent continuity from one slide to the next. In addition, at any time, you can play your slides directly from the dialog box. Why is this important? It enables you to correct problems and tweak slides – without having to toggle in and out of the dialog box.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an affordable, easy-to-use diagramming and mind mapping tool and you already use Excel, then you owe it to yourself to check out BigPicture. I think you’ll be very impressed with its excellent toolset and ease of use. This is backed up by a help file and videos that actually do an excellent job of explaining how to perform common tasks. That’s all too rare today!

BigPicture is currently in beta testing, which means it’s free for now. Palisade is seeking feedback on it, so they can launch with a rock-solid product. Even at this stage, BigPicture’s toolbox is impressive in its breadth and ease of use. A lot of thought has obviously gone into the design and functionality of this product. I love the way BigPicture seamlessly blends its own toolset with Excel’s shape, drawing and formatting tools. It’s the best of both worlds, and this unique approach significantly reduces the application’s learning curve.

As of the date of this review, pricing for BigPicture has not been finalized, but Palisade expects to offer it via an affordable monthly subscription and possibly also stand-alone pricing. You can download the BigPicture beta for free here.

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Get smart about mind mapping AND help earthquake survivors in Nepal http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/nepal-earthquake-donations/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/nepal-earthquake-donations/#respond Sat, 02 May 2015 04:55:30 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8236 Purchase my new Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software book and I will donate $10 from each purchase to help the earthquake survivors in Nepal.

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Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nepal, who last week suffered a terrible earthquake. The situation in this rugged mountain country is grim:

  • earthquake damage - nepalThe magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed at least 6,621 people and wounded 14,040 in Nepal
  • The capital city, Kathmandu, is in ruins; thousands of people are living in giant “tent cities”
  • Remote mountain villages are cut off from almost everything
  • People are afraid to go into their homes, for fear that aftershocks will cause them to collapse
  • Foreign food and medical supplies are their only hope, because the Nepalese government was ill-equipped to deal with a disaster of this magnitude

With your help, we can do our part to help the survivors of this awful calamity.

Here’s what I have in mind:

For a limited time, when you purchase the new 4th edition of my Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software book, I will donate $10 from each purchase to Oxfam International, one of the primary disaster aid agencies helping the people of Nepal.

By investing in this new book, you will not only learn how to be a more effective mind mapper. You will also be helping people who have lost nearly everything and who desperately need our help!

Click here to learn more about this definitive guide AND help the earthquake victims in Nepal.

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Dramatically improve your content with this “writing GPS” process http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/writing-gps-process-mind-map/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/writing-gps-process-mind-map/#respond Tue, 28 Apr 2015 00:10:14 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8216 Want to be a better writer? Follow a process for structuring your raw materials - what Ann Handley calls a "writing GPS." This 12-step writing process helps her quickly produce coherent and compelling content - consistently.

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Writing GPS mind map - Ann Handley

Want to be a better writer? Follow a process for structuring your raw materials – what Ann Handley calls a “writing GPS.” A global positioning (GPS) unit shows you where you are and plots the most direct and efficient route to your destination. Without it, you may waste many hours wandering around aimlessly, searching for your destination.

Everybody Writes - Ann HandleyHandley, who is the head of content at MarketingProfs.com and author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, explains that a writing GPS helps you steer your writing in a consistent, concise and compelling direction that makes sense to your reader and gets him or her to take the action you seek. It gives your writing power and clarity. If you don’t begin your writing with a concise, well-organized outline, chances are your writing will be unclear, disorganized, bloated – and not very persuasive.

“In writing, process is necessary because you need a road map to get you to where you need to be—essentially, a kind of writing GPS that gets you from discombobulated thoughts to a coherent, cogent piece of writing that others can understand and appreciate,” she explains

Handley uses her 12-step process to produce longer pieces —blog posts, e-books, whitepapers and site content. Here are the steps of the writing GPS method:

  • Have a clear goal for your writing
  • Reframe it to put the reader into it
  • Seek out data and examples
  • Organize
  • Write to one person
  • Produce the ugly first draft
  • Walk away
  • Rewrite
  • Give it a great headline or title
  • Have someone edit it
  • Take one last look for readability
  • Publish

The Writing GPS mind map

Writing GPSI converted Handley’s 12-step process into a mind map, which you can use as a template for your own writing. You can use it in two ways:

  • For inspiration: Use the questions it contains to inspire your thinking.
  • Capture your ideas: As you brainstorm answers to them, you can add them to your mind map. In so doing, you will be creating a solid outline to guide and streamline your writing.

Download the Writing GPS template in popular mind mapping software formats:

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Now available: The updated 4th edition of Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/tips-strategies-for-mind-mapping-software-fourth-edition/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/tips-strategies-for-mind-mapping-software-fourth-edition/#respond Thu, 23 Apr 2015 14:04:02 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8207 A significantly updated 4th edition of my popular book, Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software, is now available. This definitive guide to visual mapping contains a wealth of new tips, techniques and insights that will help you to produce high-impact mind maps that get results!

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Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software 4th Edition

I am pleased to report that a significantly updated 4th edition of my popular book, Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software, is now available. This definitive guide to visual mapping contains a wealth of new tips, techniques and insights that will help you to produce high-impact mind maps that get results!

The launch of this new edition also includes 3 bonus reports – but only for a limited time. Read on for more details!

What’s new in this edition

In writing this 4th edition, I looked at the existing content with a critical eye, updating those tips that needed it, eliminating topics that aren’t as relevant today and – most importantly – populated it with a wealth of new, practical and actionable information that is designed with today’s programs, applications and resources in mind.

Specifically, I have added two new chapters to the book:

  • Leadership and collaboration, and
  • Career development and personal success

Special book launch bonuses

evaluate your mind mapsIf you purchase Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software 4th Edition within the next two weeks, you’ll receive several book launch bonuses:

  • 30+ questions to evaluate the quality of your mind maps – a visual map you can use as a measurement tool to assess the quality, completeness and organization of your mind maps.
  • A “pre-flight checklist”, which walks you through a simple process that helps ensure that your mind maps are of the highest possible quality, and
  • A brand-new report on how to integrate data with your mind maps

To learn more, please visit the Power Tips website.

Free upgrades to owners of previous versions of this book

For those of you who have already invested in an earlier edition, you will receive a link to download version 4 in the next week or so – free of charge.

My goal is to provide you with an up-to-date collection of best practices for mind mapping software, not to extract more money from you. I prefer to be generous, because I’m firmly committed to helping expand the awareness and use of mind mapping software as today’s most valuable business tool.

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How to integrate data into your mind maps http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/how-to-integrate-data-into-your-mind-maps/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/how-to-integrate-data-into-your-mind-maps/#respond Mon, 13 Apr 2015 02:56:40 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8196 From database connections to Excel spreadsheet cell ranges and Outlook e-mail messages, today’s mind mapping software can accommodate data from a myriad of sources and display it in a rich, visual format. Here's what's possible, and which programs enable you to make these connections.

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data integration - mind mapping software

In recent years, a number of high-end mind mapping software programs have added the capability of importing data from a variety of sources and displaying it in mind maps. This significantly increases their value as business tools – especially for creating dashboards that can display live data on key business metrics.

From database connections to Excel spreadsheet cell ranges and Outlook e-mail messages, today’s mind mapping software can accommodate data from a myriad of sources and display it in a rich, visual format. This can help you conduct “What if?” analyses with your data and glean fresh insights from it. It can also transform your mind maps from collections of ideas, project actions and planning steps into rich data dashboards that can help you be significantly more productive and insightful.

This new Mind Mapping Insider report will show you what’s possible and which programs support this advanced functionality.

Members-only resource

The link to download this report is accessible to members of the Mind Mapping Insiders group.

Become a Mind Mapping Insider member today

Become a Mind Mapping Insider member to access this valuable template and instructions today. You will also get access to over 100 other tutorials, interviews, templates, mind map analyses and other valuable resources designed to improve your mind mapping skills. Become an expert mind mapper today – join the Mind Mapping Insider membership program!

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The Essential Guide to Mind Mapping Software – Download my new report http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/the-essential-guide-to-mind-mapping-software/ http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/the-essential-guide-to-mind-mapping-software/#respond Tue, 24 Mar 2015 05:18:09 +0000 http://mindmappingsoftwareblog.com/?p=8156 If you're looking for a tool that can help you accelerate your productivity, creativity and effectiveness - to be indispensable - then it's time to take a closer look at mind mapping software. My new report can help you better understand how it can help you achieve these goals and select the right program for your needs.

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Essential Guide to Mind Mapping Software

Employers today want workers who can think three steps ahead – solving problems, anticipating needs, seeing patterns and making creative connections.

They want people who aren’t satisfied being automatons – doing just what they’re told and no more.

They want people who are indispensable.

If you’re looking for a tool that can help you accelerate your productivity, creativity and effectiveness – to be indispensable – then it’s time to take a closer look at mind mapping software.

Business benefits of mind mapping software

According to surveys I’ve done of readers of this blog, mind mapping software can:

  • Increase your productivity by an average of 20%
  • Give you the ability to manage complex, multifaceted projects with ease
  • See connections and trends that no one else is even aware of
  • Give you the confidence to tackle complex assignments

How can you benefit? Which program is right for you?

How can mind mapping software streamline and enhance your work?

How can you learn enough about it to make an intelligent decision on which program best fits your needs?

I’ve created a valuable new report that can help you with both of these challenges.

The Essential Guide to Mind Mapping Software is a free comprehensive resource that will help you understand what mind mapping software is, how it can benefit businesspeople like you and what to consider when selecting a program that will meet your needs.

This concise 30-page report contains everything you need to know to make an informed decision:

  • Selecting the best program for your needs
  • Benefits and advantages of mind mapping software
  • Powerful business applications
  • Must-have features to look for
  • A glossary of mind mapping terms
  • 11 leading programs compared on 80+ features
  • Software developer profiles

Download your copy today!

It’s free! Just type in your e-mail address, click the button and you’ll be able to download it immediately.

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