Mind Mapping in the IT World

You're in a meeting and it's going well. The team is brain storming for a solution to a critical problem and the ideas are flying. You get back to your desk, meaning to review your notes and start on some action items but the phone rings. You get off the phone and someone stops by your office. Then it's into another meeting. By the time you're able to go over your notes, a few days have passed and they don't make sense anymore.

You wrote "talk to Al" in the margin, but there's no frame of reference to remind you what exactly you wanted to talk to him about. There's a note about making sure the Active Directory migration project is aligned with the new application development work being done, but was that because of the firewall updates or the new password security policy?

If you're anything like me, your note taking is quite linear. The problem is that our brains work in a much more free-flowing manner. This can lead to notes that look like chaos (as mine often do). However, last night I had the privilege of hearing Don Spencer, IT Manager at Pano Cap Canada, speak to a group of IT professionals at the Waterloo Wellington IT Pro user group about mind mapping and how he uses this technique in his day to day work.  It's a method to chart the chaotic ideas and thoughts from your head to give them order and sense. It allows you to form a frame of reference around your ideas, and to find a pattern to your thoughts. I had heard of mind mapping before, but hadn't used it myself. However, I recently saw it in action at a brainstorming session with Eileen Brown. Don's presentation showed me how I could use make use of it in my own work.

In my mind map here, I've charted out a hypothetical problem from the hypothetical meeting above. Keep in mind, I'm a total novice at this. I've started in the middle with the central topic and then radiated out from there using key words: Impact, Cause, Solution, Damage Control, and Prevention. As the ideas flow, each is connected in the appropriate area. It's highly customizable and you can use pictures, colours, etc. as you develop your own style.

mind map

What floored me about Don's presentation is the sheer number of situations where he makes use of mind mapping to help him organize his work, schedule and tasks. What you see above is a hand drawn map, but there is software (of course) and Don showed us Mind Manager in his presentation which he's been using for a number of years and which integrates nicely with Microsoft Office products such as Word, Excel and Outlook. Sunday evenings he sits down with his computer and mapping software and maps out his week, usually from the map used the week before, moving and adding tasks as needed. He also uses it to prepare for presentations, capture meeting minutes, troubleshoot problems and take lecture notes, among other things.

Don is a much more disciplined person than I, and learning any new technique and using it consistently takes a certain level of discipline. However, I'm going to give this a whirl. While I don't promise to mind map as pervasively as Don does, I'm going to start by using it to put together some presentations and take meeting notes. In fact, I've already downloaded a 21 day trial of Mind Manager 6. I'll let you know how it goes.

[Update] I didn't realize that Visio had mind mapping capabilities but after reading joshmaher's comment, I took a quick look at it. It looks pretty basic but it might do the trick. However, after Don showed us all the cool things that Mind Manager can do, I think I might be spoiled. Anyway, I'll take a look at both of them and post back here in a few weeks.

Anyone else have any experiences with mind mapping software?

Comments (6)

  1. Josh Maher says:

    Microsoft’s Visio product does the same thing….and it’s included without the trial 🙂

    I tried mind manager for the same reasons that you did and was seriously considering the purchase after the trial. Then I searched a bit more and found Visio already had it built in! I’ve been using it ever since….

  2. nick says:

    I’ve been a big fan of “mind-mapping” for a while now as a way to augment regular note taking.  I use the basic thought-tree and expand on that a bit to diagram out a problem in terms of where it fits in the overall architecture.  One of the biggest benefits for me is that I can pick-up notes from old conversations, and at a glance be re-engaged.

  3. Ruth Morton says:

    See my [Update] at the end of the blog entry on joshmaher’s comment.

  4. Don Spencer says:


    IT Pros interested in all the options in Mind Mapping should visit the Mind Mapping Software Blog at http://mindmapping.typepad.com/the_mind_mapping_software/. All the dedicated applications for mind mapping are listed. The author also has links to eBooks which compare and contrast all the software options available.

    In addition, there are some online versions of mind mapping software in which MindManager maps can be imported from the desktop and then shared with others, including collaborating in real time.

    Visio does have a template for brainstorming, but as you indicated, it doesn’t even come close to the functionality and features of a dedicated tool.

  5. Graham Jones says:

    The early stages of project planning, especially if it is new technology, is basically "mind mapping". You may not apply that formal handle but whatever "idea generation" technique you apply (eg. brainstorming) is trying to flush out the main activities so that you can go on to discover related issues and how things hang togethor in time and space. "mind mapping" as described here may force a certain kind of discipline in recording which is useful for follow-up but we have been "mind mapping" in one form or another for centuries.

    In the past I have spent many hours (probably too many) in project planning/scheduling meetings for engineering projects and different meeting "facilitators" tended to have their own favourite approach to "idea generation" and recording. The core problem from a "mind mapping" standpoint is of course the project.

    One major difference today is the ability to use custom designed software for the recording process and I assume the ability to store and recall "macro" components for future use. "Problem Patterns" frequently repeat themselves. So there is no value in "re-inventing the wheel".

    In the past we were limited to "cards on a wall" to facilitate a shared team view of the problem. Today team study is much better becuase of electronic display technology. Combined with something like "mind mapping" software I have no doubt that it greatly improves communication and most importantly a "shared" view of the "problem". I would like to put emphasis on the "shared" part. My experience has taught me that very often mistakes get made simply because not everybody thinks that they are solving "exactly the same problem".

    At the end of the day it is all about getting a shared "view" of a problem/project recorded for the next equally important step which is to apply some form of "structured" analysis to ensure complete coverage of the problem. Idea generation should not be coupled with "evaluation". That should come later to generate a feedback loop to iterate to a shared, understood and practical solution to go forward. In project terms that is basically a target specification (including quality objectives), a schedule and a budget.

    The article has intrigued me and I might just spend a little time exploring "mind mapping" myself. It never hurts to add one more idea generation/problem definition tool to your arsenal.


    Graham J.

  6. Graham Jones says:

    I just discovered that Techsmith (Snagit, Camtasia, etc.) and MindJet have joined forces. For those who are interested in finding out how Snagit is to complement MindManager you can use the following link to register for a webcast:



    Graham J.

Skip to main content