Unless you’re a professional project manager, chances are that you feel overwhelmed when faced with a big, multi-faceted project. Even if you have mind mapping software, it’s hard to know how to set up your project within it for maximum efficiency, considering the volume of documents, spreadsheets, e-mails and other data a typical project can generate.
Warren Arbuckle, a certified project manager and trainer based in Asia, recognized this problem and has developed an online course called MindManager for Projects that does a great job of teaching the average business person how to create a customized and practical visual dashboard to make your life easier.
I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Warren to learn more about the thinking behind MindManager for Projects:
Arbuckle: MindManager for Projects has evolved from a course I created a number of years ago called Project Mapping. Projects require continuous communication and updating. Mind mapping software makes that easy. While there are plenty of map templates for project and risk management, there is nothing out there to show you how to do it yourself. I want to help people to merge project management techniques with the functionalities of MindManager so they can quickly set up and run projects on their own with confidence.
Frey: What needs did you see that could be addressed with a course like this?
Arbuckle: There are quite a few. These are the main two: managing data and communicating with your team. management and your client. Projects can generate a lot of email and documents such as requirements, numerous ongoing reports, spreadsheets and so on. If these are at your fingertips in one place on your Project Dashboard, you can access them quickly when necessary. Communication is always a challenge no matter what your work is and makes or breaks projects. With a Project Dashboard you have a visual map of the project that greatly aids in communication, especially with multicultural teams or those in multiple locations, so common today.
Frey: It sounds like many people can get the front-end work done in a mind map without too much trouble, but then they get bogged down trying to understand how to manage project implementation from within their mind maps. Is that accurate? How does your template help?
Arbuckle: 71% of projects fail by going over budget, getting behind schedule or creating something different from the planned scope. 42% of those failed projects fail because they were not set up properly from the start. This is not a mapping issue but one of knowing how to set up a project. If you set it up right from the start, you will find it much easier to implement and manage. All I do is show you how to apply simple project management techniques using a map template that you customize to your needs. Once done, it’s your template so you have complete control from start to finish.
Frey: Certainly, many people have used mind mapping software for project management before. What does your course bring to the table that is different, better or saves project managers time and aggravation?
Arbuckle: First, as far as I know, there are no courses approved by the Project Management Institute or none, based on global guidelines, that teach how to do project management using mind mapping software. This course is presented online using short videos so your team members anywhere in the world can learn anytime. The biggest advantage is that you are learning how to do project management so the skills you learn are applicable to any project even if you don’t use mapping. MindManager is used in all of the exercises so you know how to apply project management techniques and processes with MindManager. That said, you could still take the course and use another mind mapping software by importing the template and mimicking what is done in the videos.
Frey: Who is the intended audience of this course? It looks to me like someone who hasn’t managed projects before, or only does so infrequently.
Arbuckle: On one hand, this is a course in project management fundamentals so it is for those new to project management. On the other, even if you are experienced with projects, you will learn how to apply what you know using MindManager and customizing the template to your specific needs. So it really depends on your particular needs.
Frey: I found it very interesting that each lesson has learning objectives. Is your background in training?
Arbuckle: Originally from Canada, I have been training across Asia for over 25 years. I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and my company, Focus Cubed Inc, is approved by the Project Management Institute (pmi.org) to develop and deliver courses for PMPs. I train people from various cultures and industries in project management, innovation, and sales. I was also certified by Tony Buzan, in the 90s, to teach mind mapping. I have been using mind mapping software for over 8 years. MindManager for Projects is culmination of what I have learned and experienced over the years of both training and managing global projects.
Frey: For those people who don’t know what PMBOK is, can you please briefly explain it in layman’s terms, and then address why it’s important that your course is based upon its methodologies?
Arbuckle: PMBOK is the Project Management Book of Knowledge and is the global standard or guideline. Using PMBOK as a base for MindManager for Projects means that you are learning the same concepts, techniques and processes as others who study other project management courses worldwide. The advantage being no matter where you are from or what language you speak, you can use the common global language of project management to communicate. The Project Dashboard template and project management techniques are based on proven techniques and processes developed by the Project Management Institute.
Frey: Why is this approach especially well-suited to virtual project teams?
Arbuckle: Your Project Dashboard can be shown online using any of the web conferencing tools such as WebEx or GoToMeeting, and even Skype. By doing so you can show all or as much of the project as you wish. Your team can watch and participate as you update your Project Dashboard in real time. You add their comments, following up on issues and assigning new tasks on the fly. So much can be lost or misunderstood with teams spread out in different locations and it’s especially so for non native speakers. Having a visual of the project that can be updated in real time is a huge saver of time, effort and, in the end, cost in both money and stress.
Frey: Why is the Project Dashboard especially useful if you manage projects infrequently?
Arbuckle: Projects are risky because they differ from your routine work. To lower risk of failure when you are faced with infrequent projects, use your Project Dashboard as your template. All you have to do is delete documents and data from an older project and then add the new details. This also acts as a review of what you did previously. By repeatedly using the same template and the same project management techniques, your experience and confidence with managing projects grows, reducing your risk of failure.
Frey: If not for this dashboard template, how do project managers typically handle the mountain of information that the typical project generates? What are the shortcomings of those approaches?
Arbuckle: With the Project Dashboard, you add all emails, other documents, plans, any type of information. Typically, most project information is in multiple locations, emails are kept in your email program, other files are kept in folders on your PC. This works fine until you need to access them right away. If you’re a really organized person, you may be OK. If you are like me, you’ll find that it’s easier to have everything in one place so you can access critical documents quickly during meetings. Also you can save your Project Dashboard as a complete zip-file package of your project with just three simple steps.
Frey: How easy is it for people to customize the project management dashboard template to meet their company’s project management needs? What are some ways that people have already done so?
Arbuckle: The whole course is designed for you to customize the Project Dashboard to your particular needs. That’s what makes it valuable to you. Many people add documents that are formatted to their company’s specific requirements to topic notes. This can be done quickly and easily with MindManger. You’ll also learn to set up your team and key stakeholders contact information so you can even email directly from your project Dashboard. Another great time saver is learning how to filter out unneeded detail or data so you can focus your meetings. You can set alerts or alarms that will remind you to contact someone, check on progress, or almost any task. Just set it and forget it.
Frey: Why invest in this course? Why not just use MindManager to create your own project management dashboard?
Arbuckle: Yes, you can create your own Project Dashboard. That’s what I did! And I’m not the first. My Project Dashboard is based on the globally accepted project management guidelines and my own years of experience with both projects and mind mapping. That’s what you’re investing in. You gain from my and others mistakes, successes and insights so you can learn quickly and then get on with your own projects.
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I’m now in the process of writing a review of MindManager for Projects. I’m very impressed with the videos I’ve viewed so far. The content is well organized and clearly presented. It makes extensive use of a fictitious project and includes a customizable project dashboard template. This helps you to see how Warren’s recommendations work in an actual project, plus the dashboard is an excellent starting point for creating one that works for you.