Being a project manager is a bit like juggling: Miss a beat, and the whole lot comes tumbling down around your ankles. Staying on track is hard — which is why smart project managers use tools and techniques to help them stay in control.
Mind mapping for project management is one such technique, and it’s one that’s definitely worth more than the sum of its parts. It requires no special tools, no prior training, it’s really simple to do — and best of all, you can adapt it to suit you and your team. Ready to find out more? Read on.
What are mind maps?
Mind maps (aka ‘spider diagrams’) are diagrams that start with a core idea written in the center of the page. Subtopics then radiate outwards around the central theme, each one connected with a line or arrow. This makes it possible to link ideas across topics, which helps deepen understanding.
Project management mind maps are no different — they’re just used in project-specific contexts. Here are some of the benefits:
- They help teams think creatively and brainstorm ideas
- Mind maps simplify complex information and processes
- They show project scope in an easy-to-understand format
- Mind maps can help you solve complex problems
- The visual format of a mind map helps with meeting notes and recall
How to use mind mapping for project management
The beauty of mind maps lies in their flexibility. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Have a pen and paper handy? That’s all you need.
Rather than writing linear notes, create a mind map instead. Not only will it be easier to look at later on — but it’ll also show links between ideas and points, which helps secure the knowledge in your mind and improve understanding.
2. Collecting project requirements
Use a mind map to break a project down into its component parts, adding more detail to each layer.
Start with your project title in the middle, then add phases and tasks. To make sure you don’t miss anything, work with the wider team and project stakeholders to get their input — either by creating the mind map collaboratively in a meeting or starting it off digitally then inviting others to access and edit.
3. Presenting project scope
Mind maps are ideal for presenting complex project information in a digestible format. Firstly, all the information is simplified and displayed on one page. Secondly, diagrams and images are easier to process than pages and pages of text. And thirdly, connecting phrases and elements with lines helps your audience work out why each element is important.
4. Storing information
As anyone who’s started a new job and been handed a 20-page document explaining what the company does, who sits where, and what the fire drill is will understand — documents filled with lists are boring and easily forgotten.
Mind maps are a far more engaging and helpful way to present information. Information is organized by topic, with links drawn between each piece of information, making it easier to understand how it feeds into the bigger picture. Mind maps are also more visually appealing, especially when colors, clear shapes, and images are added to the mix.
With a mind mapping tool like Cacoo, you can use the mind map as a central jumping-off point, then add clickable files and documents to each topic. Your mind map is also editable, so everyone will always have access to the most up-to-date version.
5. Resource repository
When it comes to big or complex projects, the resources you’ll use will be varied. Keeping track is a project management essential — and mind maps can make that task all the easier. Group things together, link them up according to usage or project phase and add folders or links to make information easily searchable. Instead of scrolling through badly-named documents and folders, you can see everything at once and easily hone in on the element you need.
When it comes to brainstorming, quantity wins over quality — and mind maps are ideal for this way of working. There are two ways to do this: Gather everyone in a room and work together on bits of paper or a whiteboard, or use a cloud-based diagramming tool.
The best thing about virtual mind maps is the fact everyone can log in and work on the same document at once. Great news if your team is remote, or you want to open up the floor to others not in your building.
Top tip: Not everyone works well in a traditional brainstorming environment. An advantage to virtual mind maps is they make it possible to collaborate asynchronously. Meaning those who prefer to work with fewer distractions and more independently can do so while still adding ideas to the mix.
7. Defining project requirements
Whether you’re rebranding a company, building a new website, or planning an event — mind mapping for project management can help you define how you’ll achieve that goal. Record tasks and phases, as well as the requirements of stakeholders, project sponsors, and those working on the task. This helps you capture and prioritize every idea while making it possible to spot opportunities or conflicts between different requirements before they become big issues.
It also means that if someone asks you why you’re not including something — whether that’s an app feature or an event — you’ll be able to refer to the mind map and explain why it wasn’t prioritized. Seeing everything connected and ordered makes it easier to explain your decision.
8. Generating content ideas
Blank page paralysis is very real. To get over your writer’s block, try creating an inspiring mind map to spark your imagination. Invite others on the team to log in and add their own thoughts — or create your own personal one filled with inspiring themes and topics for sparking further ideas.
9. Creating a marketing strategy
Marketing strategies are notoriously complex, with multiple channels and tactics to consider. This can get overwhelming, fast. With a mind map, you can set out your tactics and group them according to channel, audience, budget, and so on. As you add ideas, you’ll end up with a list of tactics you can fall back on if needed.
10. Defining processes
With short processes, working out what’s next is simple. But in bigger organizations, or when you’re working on longer projects with multiple phases and teams, setting everything out in a mind map can make all that complex information easier to process. To do this effectively, bring everyone together across the organization for a joint session (in-person or virtually) to share information. That way, nothing will be left out.
11. Defining goals
We’ve all been in a quarterly company meeting where pie-in-the-sky goals were set. Everyone leaves fired up… then a month later, everyone’s forgotten all about it. With mind maps, you can create specific goals and assign them to individuals. Virtual mind maps are even better because they’re easily accessible, and team members can be notified when they’ve been assigned a job, making it easier for everyone to stay on track.
Mind mapping for project management: Tips and tricks
- Get your ideas down as quickly as possible. You can format and neaten things up later. This helps prevent creative block.
- Open up the floor to other people. The more diversity in your ideas, the better.
- Use colors, shapes, and images to hierarchically organize your data and make the diagram visually appealing — both of which make the information easier to process and recall.
- For complex projects, create several diagrams so you can both filter content and see the wide-angle view.
- To move from ideas to action, first, decide as a team which ideas you’ll move forward with. Then add them as tasks to your schedule or kanban board.
How to create a project management mind map with Cacoo
Cacoo, our own mind map software, is really easy to use. Here’s how:
- Browse our mind map templates.
- Choose the template you need.
- Create an account to get started. You can access a limited version for free!
- Once logged in, you’ll be taken to the editor tool. It’s drag and drop, so you’ll pick it up in minutes.
- Click text inside bubbles to edit the text.
- Click and drag to add shapes, text, or rearrange items — or delete those you don’t want.
- Decorate your design with colors, images, and icons.
- Share your creation with others and invite them to leave comments. The more feedback, the better.
- Evaluate and prioritize your ideas together. Use voting to help you reach a decision as a team.
- Use your ideas to create a project plan in your project management system.
The toughest part of any project is getting things started. Whether you need to brainstorm ideas, plan a workflow, or solve a problem, mind maps are an easy way to turn those goals into reality.
To get the most out of your mind map, use a diagramming tool. Pen and paper are fine for quick brainstorming sessions, but when it comes to collaborating, sharing, and presenting your work, a digital version is better. Not only does it look neater and allow you and the team to collaborate virtually — it’s also editable, shareable, and interactive. And when it comes to project management, the more control you have over your tools and processes, the easier it’ll be to juggle all those tasks.