Monday, 28 June 2010

Milestone Planning

Question: Is there an effective way of producing a milestone plan using mind mapping software?

image Mind mapping and other visual mapping techniques are great for generating a list of milestones for a project.  Using mind mapping software, the milestones are created as a set of topics.  Most mind mapping software will let you set “when” dates and owners (probably as “resources”) for each milestone. 

mileYou will also have a range of formatting choices and structures to alter how the milestones are displayed.  This is a great for a simple set of milestones.  Next you will want to add dependencies between milestones, to create what some practitioners might call a milestone path.  You will create these dependencies using relationships.  The normal links between topics and the parent or central topic are not relevant to the milestone path and many mind mapping applications will let you hide these.

MilestonePlanSo far so good.  Now, what if you want to add sub-milestones or high level activities to each milestone?  In milestone planning, these sub-milestones need to be achieved (or passed) on the way to reaching the overall milestone.  Before it can be said that Milestone 1 has been reached, Sub-Milestones 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 have to be reached first.  Such a scenario is normally modelled in linear fashion (in logical and chronological sequence) and in appearance might look like an inverted hierarchy. 

imageMind mapping software generally assumes a "top-down” hierarchy – but this would place the milestone above or before its sub-milestones, as in this example. 


Graphic1What we want is the sub-milestones to come before or above the milestone “parent”, as in this mock up.


imageA compromise solution is to accept the in-built top-down hierarchy as is and to use relationships to indicate the sequence in which the milestone plan is to be read.  It might look good but its not necessarily easy to understand.

Has anyone else tried mapping milestone plans using these tools? 

What solutions did you come up with?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Visual Documentation

Back in 2007 I created a visual CV, based on an original idea by Michael S Scherotter (see Visual CV).  Recently I’ve been preparing project briefs (or terms of reference) and communication plans that can be documented on a single sheet of A3 paper, an idea adapted from the Toyota “A3 Problem Solving Report” approach. 

imageThe initial results were fit for purpose but lacked visual impact.  Using MindManager and the ideas developed in the Visual CV work I was able to create a visual template to capture the project brief. 

The beauty of using MindManager is that the template is very flexible.  If a section expands and a column becomes out of balance with the others, one can simply move a topic or two to other columns to restore the balance.

The terms of reference template loosely follows a simple standard I was taught many years ago …. BOSCARD.

  • B – Background
  • O – Objectives
  • S – Scope
  • C – Constraints
  • A – Approach
  • R – Reporting
  • D – Deliverables.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Context Organizer

Context Organizer has been recommended to me in the past by several colleagues and I have never found the time to investigate this summarising tool in any detail.  Until now.

I don’t think I ever really “got” summarising tools before – I seemed to be concerned with what might be being left out.  Having experimented with Context Organizer for a while now, this view is changing.  Undoubtedly the text summary is useful but for me the key to this lies with the keywords.

image Prompted by several postings by Andrew Wilcox on the Applications of MindManager Blog, it occurred to me (Doh!) that scanning the list of keywords gives a quick way into the text and easily highlights what was important to the author.  The text can then be explored via these keywords – helping you to focus on what attracts your interest and helping you navigate the text in a non-linear way.  All this, I have found, provides a faster understanding of the text and greater retention of the key themes.

Users of Context Organizer will know that text can be analysed in the software’s own window and also from within MindManager if the text is linked to a topic as an attachment or hyperlink.  Both methods provide great ways of exploring the text.  Using the Context Organizer window allows the text to be searched and filtered by selecting or checking the keywords once the initial analysis is complete. 

imageUsing the MindManager approach, the results are presented as a mind map with the keywords as topics. 

Context Organizer links sentences containing the keyword as sub-topics.  MindManager’s drag and drop tools allow the summary and analysis to be moved around and presented more visually. 

New links between text can be added as relationships, icon markers can be added and the map filtered using these.


The more I use the tool the more I get from it – it is beginning to change the way I study documents.  There is more than one way of absorbing the contents of a piece of text – and they are not all linear.  Happy reading.

p.s. Why not pop over to Andrew Wilcox’s blog and see his analysis of the UK election and the coalition government’s initial statement.

imagep.p.s. I performed a quick summary of this posting using Context Organizer.  The three top keywords were: “keywords”; “Context Organizer”; “summarising”.

The next 6 keywords were:

A pretty clear summary of what Context Organizer is about, I think.