Eliciting project requirements with radiance
So many tools have been designed to analyze and prioritize projects with alternative layouts to linear. The brain itself is the most sophisticated computer in the universe. Thinking the way your brain is born to think is organic. Your brain doesn't think in paragraphs or timelines or even in Gantt charts; your brain thinks radiantly, with the main idea in the middle and all of the associated subjects radiating outward. This allows you to see requirements of all areas simultaneously on one page. You can see all associations, relationships, dependencies, correlations, and possible risks. The process is clear and the outcome predictable. This paper will teach you to elicit requirements radiantly, organize your project spatially, and prioritize with ease. This paper also includes takeaway skills that are immediately useable at work and in your personal life through a method of brainstorming called mind mapping!
Some forms of mind mapping have been identified in the notes of geniuses for centuries. Famous thinkers such as Leonardo daVinci (Exhibit 1), Charles Darwin, (Exhibit 2), Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein used methods of visual representation, key words instead of sentences, and associations or diagrams.
More recently, a British psychologist, author, and educator by the name of Tony Buzan named this visual method of note taking “mind mapping” and popularized it. Buzan became very frustrated with linear study and organization methods when he was in university. In his search for a better method Buzan took his notes and began to underline key words, box ideas, add color to important parts, and draw lines between associated words. As he did this he noticed that only 10% of the linear notes were actually the important key ideas.
Buzan studied the notes of geniuses and discovered that there were commonalities among the notes of many geniuses over time. He discovered that the great thinkers in history did not use sentences and linear styles in their notes, but rather doodled, drew pictures, jotted down words, and diagrammed associations.
Exhibit 1: Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings of parachute and flying (Buzan, 1996, p. 297)
Exhibit 2: Charles Darwin: Drawing of the tree of evolution (Buzan, 1996, p. 304)
Evolution of Mind Mapping
Tony Buzan created a structure for mind mapping, created some simple rules, and gave it a name (see Exhibit 3).
The rules of mind mapping are:
- Always use a central image and images throughout.
- Put one main topic on each “branch.”
- Put each sub-topic on its own “sub-branch.”
- Use three or more colors.
- Use one key word per line.
- Print all words clearly.
- Leave space for unexpected topics or new thoughts.
- Let your mind wander!
When we mind map, we start with a main idea in the center and branch out with our related topics. We draw images to represent ideas and make visual associations between branches to show how ideas relate to each other.
Some of the many benefits of using this methodology for eliciting requirements are as follows:
- Save time. Up to 95% of time can be saved by using this method for a number of reasons. We save time by writing only key words and noting only the most relevant information. As we elicit requirements and notice that some information is relevant in more than one category, we simply draw an association or a link from one area to the other instead of re-writing the information. Since we are using only key words, we are not using precious time checking spelling, grammar, or sentence structure. When reviewing our notes later these key words remind us of all associated information without confining us to information held within sentences and paragraphs. In addition, when using mind mapping software, there is no need to type or scribe information into a variety of documents, charts, or reports. We input the requirements directly into the software and can then reproduce it in a variety of different formats with the click of a mouse. Finally, presentation of the project has become a much more expedient process. We can walk listeners through the content while using a visual representation that is all on one page, making it easier and faster to present and much easier to comprehend the information and the associations.
- Gain clarity. By displaying your requirements all on one page and for everyone to see, you can be assured that everyone can capture the “big picture.” People have the opportunity to review what they have said, make corrections, and see clearly how all ideas relate to each other. This is also fuel for more creative conversations and more questions.
- Increase learning and retention. Mind mapping increases learning and retention up to 95% over conventional note taking. The structure of mind mapping is fashioned after the way the human brain actually thinks: radiantly. The color, structure, and pictures in a mind map excite the brain and keep it interested so that it is more receptive to the information. Since emotions are dealt with in the same part of the brain as memories, we tend to remember things that have emotion attached. So when we are having fun learning and we are happy, we remember the information much longer.
Just a few of the many applications for mind mapping are:
- Project management
- Analysis and problem solving
- Decision making
Some of these applications are better served by hand-drawn mind maps than others. When it comes to the specific purpose of project management, some drawbacks can be identified. For example, it can be difficult to move things around and regroup ideas. While eliciting requirements with your team on a huge blank paper on the wall or on a white board is fun and exciting and gets the creative juices flowing, someone will still be responsible for preparing the information for presentation in all of the various formats desired. Changing timelines, dependencies, and responsibilities could be a cumbersome task with a hand-drawn map. Most importantly, as we all know, projects can take on epic proportions and a hand-drawn mind map may not be the best way to manage and organize the project after the initial brainstorming is done.
Mind Mapping Software
The creation of mind mapping software took the entire process to a whole new level. We are now able to record everything in the eliciting requirements stage electronically and can easily edit, update, reorganize, and share the mind map with our team, manager, client, or anyone else to whom we would like to communicate progress. Branches can be added, moved, and edited with the click of a mouse. Ideas can be captured visually, with electronic drawings or icons, and the ability to minimize branches gives us room to synthesize a huge amount of information into one mind map.
There is even some software that is designed specifically for project managers. This type of software considers many of your specific needs and requirements, and has indeed revolutionized project management. Exhibit 4 shows an example of a process map.
With mind mapping software for project managers, eliciting requirements is still highly creative, time saving, and brain optimizing, but also more efficient and flexible. Items or entire branches are created with a simple click and can just as easily be moved or changed, or take on a life of their own. We can assign dependencies and priorities right within the mind map itself. We can determine what resources are needed and assign responsibility for individual and group tasks and the overall project. All of these things can be changed easily, and those changes, and any related changes, will be reflected instantly
Incredibly, all of the brainstorming, organizing, and prioritizing can be done in the electronic mind map and then, with a simple click of the mouse, can be viewed as a Gantt chart (see Exhibit 5) or a timeline. This eliminates the need to recreate or transfer information from one program or system into another. Within your mind mapping software you can manage dependencies, priorities, critical paths, constraints, completion values, durations, lead/lag times, resources, and milestones.
Your project can be exported easily to Microsoft Office programs, including Project, Outlook, Excel, and even Word. You can also import from Microsoft Office programs. This is especially useful for transferring existing task lists and timelines from Outlook. Once you have linked the two, updates to either are reflected in both. What an incredible tool! Now, you can export the entire project to PowerPoint for presentation purposes and to Word to create a cohesive booklet complete with an automatically generated table of contents.
With all of these functions available within one program, you now have the tools to motivate your team, access individual and group creativity, awaken your brains, remember more, and have your project presentation ready at a moment's notice. The task of eliciting requirements has suddenly become more effective, efficient, and fun!
Mind Mapping Summarized
The feedback I've received from project managers with whom I have shared the revolutionary tool of mind mapping is unanimous: It makes their jobs easier, more effective, and more fun!
Mind mapping saves time, eliminates the need for duplication of efforts, accesses the creative genius of individuals and teams, makes assigning priorities and timelines fluid and easy, and makes your presentations stand apart from the rest.
Buzan, T. (1996). The mind map book: How to use radiant thinking to maximize your brain's untapped potential. New York, NY: Plume.
© 2014, Cathy Byrnes
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA