Project Management Institute

X marks the spot




Anyone who has participated in a brainstorming session knows that without guidance, a democracy of ideas can result in a chorus of “ums” and “uhs.” That's where mind mapping comes in. By visually placing concepts and ideas around a central theme (e.g., “How can we finish this project by the end of the quarter?”) and connecting those ideas like a giant neural tree, the software can help project teams devise innovative solutions. Think of it as playing connect-the-dots with conceptual ideas: The lines reveal the solution.

You can make a mind map on a napkin, a giant sheet of butcher paper or a whiteboard, and then admire your achievement and capture a grainy picture of it with your cell phone camera for posterity. Or, better yet, you can make an editable map on your desktop to share interactively with all your team members (even the ones in Belgium).

Because the whole idea of a mind map is the development of innovation through creative fluidity, software that encourages ongoing additions and revisions is the order of the day. Now connect that mind map with a detailed Gantt chart view and you're looking at real project management power.


Project managers have plenty of mind-mapping software options, ranging from decent open-source betas to robust pay-to-play packages. in the free category, the laudables are FreeMind, Freeplane and XMind, all of which perform on windows and Mac operating systems (with Freeplane and XMind also working with linux).

FREEMIND has mind-mapping and project-organization features, including tasks, subtasks and time recording, along with a “folding” feature that allows you to hide map branches to free up screen space.

As a newish but separate development branch of FreeMind, FREEPlANE adds a spellchecker and improved data filtering, as well as nine non-English-language versions. Both have XHTMl, PDF (read-only) and RTF (text-only) export capabilities. On the downside, both also share hoary interfaces from the olden days of the windows platform.

XMIND‘s Web 2.0 look is much friendlier and intuitive, requiring little more than a few click-and-drags to start setting up nodes and associations.

In the proprietary realm, there are some true standouts:

NOVAMIND is a family of products, with Nova-Mind 5 (Windows, with a preview version also available for Mac) being the most relevant for project managers. The software's screen elements have an illustrated feel, so final maps look fantastic and presentation-ready. its interface will be familiar to MS Office users, assuring that the learning curve is painless. Future plug-ins, including Projectlinker (for sharing mind-map data with MS Office applications) and Presenter (which will allow easy overhead presentation of mind maps), sound promising but don't yet have release dates.

Developed by education consultant Tony Buzan (who trademarked the term mind map in several countries), iMINDMAP already integrates with MS Office, and iWork, has iPhone and iPad versions, and runs on linux in addition to the big two operating systems. it can export in SVG format for vector-based drawing programs like Adobe illustrator. The fully integrated presentation view allows you to zoom in and out of specific map sections and link directly to websites, files and other mind maps mid-presentation, without need for slide-based software such as PowerPoint.

like others in its category, MINDVIEW by Match-ware is cross-platform and enables document export to MS Office or as a fully enabled HTMl website. where it stands out is in its work breakdown structure, Gantt chart and timeline features—taking your mind map input and deploying it with attached jpegs, spreadsheets or whatever other useful files your team might need. in fact, its Gantt chart options are as impressive and deep as any professional project management software's, including dependencies, constraints, definable lead and lag times, and critical path identification.


whatever the software chosen, project managers leading brainstorming sessions must teach, think and organize information organically, the way the brain—and mind mapping—does.

Some project managers report wonders after using mind mapping, says Cathy Byrnes, a training consultant based in cambridge, Ontario, canada. what used to take them four weeks’ worth of gatherings around the conference table is delivered in just one ultra-productive meeting of the minds.




I enjoyed Kelley Hunsberger's list of worthwhile project management blogs in the November issue (“Blog Roll”). I‘m a regular visitor to The Critical Path, A Girl's Guide to Project Management, The Tao of Project Management and Voices on Project Management.

It's a great list, but you left out my blog: The Practicing IT Project Manager (

In addition to writing one or two articles of general interest to IT project managers each week, I post a list every Sunday evening of articles published during the past week on the web that should be of interest to project managers. I even have an IT Project Manager Bookstore, courtesy of Amazon. Check it out!

—David A. Gordon, PMP, las Vegas, Nevada, USA

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