News and thoughts from CS Odessa, maker of the ConceptDraw product line: ConceptDraw PRO, ConceptDraw PROJECT and ConceptDraw MINDMAP.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

ConceptDraw and Evernote

CS Odessa announced this earlier in the month, but I wanted to make sure everyone saw it:

A new solution, Note Exchange, that lets you put ConceptDraw mind maps on Evernote with the press of a button, and then view them on any computer or mobile device.

You can save any part of a mind map, including topics, branches, and entire maps to Evernote, for instant access on any device. This means that ConceptDraw MINDMAP information can now be accessed from most smart phones, tablets and computers.

And since Evernote supports iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Web OS, Mac OS X, Windows, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, ConceptDraw's new development dramatically opens the number of possibilities where you can use your map data.

Here's what you need to get started with ConceptDraw MINDMAP v 7.4 and Evernote.

How to Find a Fresh Angle for Your Writing

Dan Ochiva writes for a select group of top feature film editors. He also runs a popular website, NYCPP: NYC Production and Post News, about film and video production and post-production technology, facility openings and people making film and video industry news in the New York City area.

To stay current with local events—and to stay ahead of industry trends, Ochiva says he searches just about everywhere for news and information. He uses ConceptDraw MINDMAP as a single interface to capture all of these disparate information types.

Hobie: How do you get started on a new article?
Ochiva: Before I start writing, I’ll do a combination of interviews and research. I might visit user forums to see what new issues are on people’s minds, and what’s happening in research and development. I check out industry groups that might be holding meetings or giving talks about future trends. As I go through all this stuff, I'll put it all into a mind map. With so many mixed types of information to deal with, mapping helps me pull it all together and make sense of it.

Hobie: How did you first find out about mind mapping?
Ochiva: I started out just trying to find a better way to manage information. That led me to reading about mind mapping. At first, I did my own version of it. I’d buy these big sketch books—two or three feet on a side—and tape sheets to the wall, and hand draw the maps. I worked that way for a few years, and it helped. But then mind mapping software came along.

Hobie: You wrote an article about storage and networking in film and video post-production. But you were telling me that since these are such big topics, you wanted to find a way to focus what you wrote to help readers get their brains around something so complex. How did mind mapping help you do that?
Ochiva: There’s a certain kind of insight that comes from using mind mapping. I think that's due to a combination of seeing relationships between things and from being able to see everything on one screen. In planning the storage and networking article, I could see at a glance that a lot of people were thinking and writing about how hard it was to get the technology to work with the rest of the editing suite. So that helped me see a trend that I could address in my article. Being able to spot a trend early on is a great skill for a journalist to have, and mind maps really help you see the connections that are leading to trends.

Hobie: So how do you go from mapping to writing?
Ochiva: I use ConceptDraw's built-in numbering capability to organize the different nodes of the map into something that’s more or less what I think the final article will develop into. Then I just export it out as an RTF file, and just go from there. And I find that this saves me time and frustration since I don’t have to go through so many iterations to get to the final structure.

Hobie: Do you see yourself continuing to use mapping?
Ochiva: Oh, yeah. There've been some major changes in the industry over the years. So there’s a lot of information to keep in your head, juggle, and pull together to make sense of new developments. Mind mapping is by far the best way I've found to keep information fresh and viable because I can organize all this information in a way that makes sense to me. Instead of having to review a big file I've created, I can just scan the map. And it's easy to drop new information and ideas into the map as they occur. At the same time, I can visually navigate to go deeper into any one section of the map if I want more detail.

Hobie: Do you think mapping is particularly well-suited to writers?
Ochiva: I think that mind mapping helps you bring form to the information you’ve gathered and the ideas that've come from it. Knowing that you can add structure to information and ideas, and that that structure will make sense to you in the future, that’s a great benefit to me as a writer—and a great relief.

Learn more about how the ConceptDraw product suite can focus and accelerate your thinking.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mapping Lean Six Sigma in a Hospital Environment

Hospitals and health plans know that the high cost of care is squeezing the U.S. economy. That’s why so many of them are using Lean Six Sigma to control spending by refining internal processes—while still satisfying customers in a highly competitive market.

I have been talking with Ralph Jarvis, principle of Jarvis Business Solutions of Grapevine, Texas (I love that name). He and his staff used ConceptDraw MINDMAP to kick off a Lean Six Sigma implementation at a Texas hospital, then used ConceptDraw PROJECT to manage the process. The project resulted in a dozen ways for the hospital to improve its insurance validation process.

Hobie: What were you trying to do to help the hospital?
Ralph: The goal was to improve the patient experience by reducing wait times. By improving the way it captured and reused information, the hospital could reduce the amount of paperwork needed to move patients within and between hospitals in the consortium.

Hobie: That sounds like a big project. How did you get started?
Ralph: We kicked the project off with brainstorming sessions with our team and key hospital stakeholders. The goal was to gather ideas and insights that would help identify potential trouble spots. We used MINDMAP to capture the ideas:

Ralph: We decided early on to use the DMAIC methodology (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control). Critical to DMAIC is the ability to gain a clear understanding of the “voice of the client.” Experience has taught me that while the client may have already identified a main problem, it often turns out that the real problem is somewhere else. Part of the Lean team’s job was to combine the DMAIC roadmap with empirical data to identify and then solve the real problem behind the validation process.

Hobie: How did you go about finding the "voice of the client"?
Ralph: We found it by talking a lot. The fun part about any kind of consulting is when you get to brainstorm with the client, to extract information regarding the issues, regarding the problem. This is an opportunity to tap in on the creative side of your clients. Once analyzed, this information can lay the foundation for a successful project.

Hobie: So what was the result of the brainstorming?"
Ralph: It was pretty interesting. We discovered that what they thought was one problem was, in fact, three separate but connected problems: One customer-focused, one focused on the hospital and the doctors, and the third focused on insurance. It took us a few meeting to make this realization. But it was worth the effort.

Hobie: Okay. So you found increasing complexity. That's always fun. How did you handle that turn of events?
Ralph: We created three project teams. Each team included from 15 to 20 participants, from senior executives to the data entry clerks. And each team used mind mapping to keep track of their progress. In fact, mind mapping made note-taking a central byproduct of each team's meeting process.
One person on each team was responsible for creating the notes. But unlike most note-taking methodologies, mind mapping enables that person to be an active participant in the meeting. And by projected on a wall or screen, we could use the mind map format to give each team member instant feedback on if and how new ideas fit into the overall plan.

Hobie: So you used MINDMAP to kickoff the project, then to capture team meetings. Anything else?
Ralph: The maps started to get really useful when we wanted to add relevant data. The DMAIC road map is a data-driven process. That’s why, as part of the DMAIC process, participants must agree at the beginning of the process to provide needed data.
In a sustained environment, stakeholders from, say, accounting, IT, and process owners would capture that information through system usage. But in this case, the data wasn’t immediately accessible.
So each team set about linking the maps to new information and data in the form of reports, spread sheets, slide shows, and Web sites. MINDMAP's drag-and-drop functionality made it pretty easy for us to place supporting data immediately adjacent to the relevant insight or idea:

Hobie: So you added this empirical data to the same map that you used for brainstorming?
Ralph: Yes, we did. Being able to combine information and data with the ideas and insights of the members of each team is what makes MINDMAP so interesting. I think it really promotes good thinkng and planning. Because it enables you to see what kind of objective information there is to back up any given idea.
And then it enables us to actually start sketchiing out how we're going to put those ideas into action:

So you used MINDMAP to manage tasks and everything?
Ralph: No. I'm a licensed project manager and wanted to be in that environment to run the project. So we used ConceptDraw MINDMAP's connection to ConceptDraw PROJECT to put all the tasks we'd gathered in the map into a regular PM environment.
We could instantly view our planning details inside of Gantt charts. That enabled us to jump right into establishing project timing, coordination among the various departments, and milestones and guidelines:

Ralph: Being able to go directly from mind mapping to project management was a great information-management tool. But what made it really stand out was that it also made it easy for us to demonstrate to hospital execs how our Lean Six Sigma approach was producing results.

Jarvis says that the combined power of mind mapping plus project management supported his teams through the entire project lifecycle and made it possible for them to provide hospital management with 12 critical recommendations for its customer satisfaction improvement – all under “Beat the Clock” conditions.

Ralph: What you're really trying to do with Six Sigma is to create a perfect process that eliminates defects--all the things that don’t add value to the end customer. You want to increase the customer's satisfaction with your products or services, and reduce costs associated with defects and inefficiencies. It’s all about focusing on what you need to get to the marketplace and satisfy the customer's needs. It's as simple as that. And the ConceptDraw MINDMAP/PROJECT suite helped us get there quickly and accurately.

ConceptDraw gets a lot of kudso for having such a nice integration with project management functionality. Other mind-mapping products can export to PM apps. But only ConceptDraw MINDMAP has its own "sister" app that, like all siblings (!), immediately understands what the other one is trying to say. (No, really. They do understand each other. These are two computer program, after all--not two people.) To learn more about (and get a free trial to) the ConceptDraw MINDMAP/PROJECT family of apps, please visit

And for more information, please see Project Management Approach for Business Process Improvement.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Flowcharts Help Companies Save Money, Get Accurate Audits, and Satisfy the Government

The following is the first of a series of interviews with ConceptDraw users. While this blog tends to focus on ConceptDraw MINDMAP users, this interview features ConceptDraw PRO user Brianna Reams, an auditor for one of the Big 4 auditing firms.

In the interview, Reams describes how using ConceptDraw PRO to create flowcharts can help a company in three primary ways.

Hobie: Give us an example of the kinds of things a company might use a flow chart for.
Reams: Well, consider how a company recognizes revenue. For instance, when a software company sells a license, it can recognize that revenue immediately. If it also sells maintenance contracts, the revenue would have to be recognized over the contract period.

Or maybe you’re a custom manufacturer and your contracts say you get a third payment up front, a third when the project is half finished, and the final third on delivery. That involves a totally different kind of revenue recognition. Each process involves a unique set of internal controls.

Hobie: This sounds pretty complicated. How do companies usually capture this kind of information?
Reams: Usually with text. But as you say, these kinds of processes can be complicated, and wading through text can make it seem even more so. Representing these processes visually in a flowchart makes them easier to understand, and easier to catch mistakes.

Hobie: So what's in it for the company? Don't they pay auditors to figure all this stuff out?
Reams: Yes, that is what they pay for. And if it's hard for us to figure it out, they pay us more. But there's another rreason for companies to create flow charts--the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

The PCAOB is nonprofit corporation established by Congress to oversee the audits of public companies in order to protect the interests of investors. The board used to just want written descriptions of a company's internal financial controls. But now it's starting to ask for flowcharts--for the same reason we do. Visual representations just make it easier to understand complex processes.

Hobie: So the flowcharts help the auditors and satisfy the PCAOB. What else?
Reams: Well, one of the best reasons to create flowcharts is to make these internal control processes clear to the company itself. When key personnel understand the controls, there's less chance that the financials will be misrepresented. So flowcharts help everybody: the company, the auditors, and the regulators.

Hobie: What are the risks of not communicating these internal controls clearly?
Reams: Well, as I said, the company might have to pay more for the auditing agency's time. But a much more serious risk is that the company may have to reclassify its financial statement because of a misunderstanding between the company and the auditor.

Hobie: And what's the fallout if that happens?
Reams: It never looks good to have to make an adjustment to a financial statement. It can cause both the company and the auditor to lose credibility. And if the markets have already responded to your filing--and then you have to file again with new numbers...that can cause a company's stock to get slammed.

Hobie: Okay, so clearly, creating flow charts to document internal financial controls is something companies should seriously consider. So why do you recommend ConceptDraw Pro?
Reams: In cases where a company has not created flow charts, sometimes I have to go in and make them myself. I've found ConceptDraw to be easy to use, and it works on both PCs and MACs. And while there are lots of expensive flowcharting software applications available, ConceptDraw PRO is affordable and relatively easy to learn.

Learn more about ConceptDraw PRO, and get a Free Trial!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Write Like a Consultant

Have you ever had a writing assignment that required you to write in a new language? I don't mean a foreign language--just a new one.

I recently began preparing to ghostwrite for a consulting firm. I'd glanced over such articles in the past. But this time I needed to take a deep dive. I was surprised to learn how different it was from everyday English. So the first step I needed to take was to become familiar with the words, phrases, and syntax used in this fairly arcane world.

I began by reading through a number of articles already published by the firm. As I read, I used a ConceptDraw mindmap to begin to capture and categorize the language:

I noticed right away that the verbs used by the consultants were different from the ones I normally use. So I just started typing them into the map, along with accompanying words to help me understand the context in which the words were used:

I did the same with the other major parts of speech, such as adjectives:

I also started a branch in the map to capture some of the tendencies in the writing. Part of the magic of writing like a consultant, it seems, it creating long, meandering sentences--and using passive verbs.

Like all professionals, consultants also use a smattering of "terms of art" and acronyms for which I had to find definitions. I'm keeping them in the map as well:

And as I read an article, I add it to the "Articles Reviewed" so I know which articles I've already parsed for the map.

There is much more to learning to "write like a consultant." But having a concise way to capture and organize this niche language is a good first step.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

ALLTOP Bookmark. Mindjet's Pay-As-You-Go Plan

In looking at our stats to see where traffic to our site comes from, I ran across ALLTOP, a site that provides current and "Top" stories for hundreds of categories. The ALLTOP page for mind mapping stories is segmented by the blogs on which they appear.

Mindjet's New Pricing Plan
And in case you are wondering about the public reaction to Mindjet's decision to move to a monthly fee rather than purchase price, see the threads on The Mindmapping Software Blog and in the Mindjet Community area.

There seems to be pretty clear agreement that the new pricing strategy may optimize revenue from corporate users while leaving individual or small business users without much of an option... within Mindjet, that is.

Check Out Your Alternatives

There is an embarassment of options when it comes to mind mapping software. But for the money, ConceptDraw MINDMAP at $199 is a bargain considering the great customer support and feature set. And if you do project planning or business graphics, ConceptDraw OFFICE is a crazy wild deal!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to Uber-Manage Your Home Remodel Project

It's pretty cool that you can use the same software to manage words and... garage door hardware. That's quite a range of uses.

Last year my wife and I wanted to finally get some hardware on the garage doors we'd been holding closed with a bungee cord.

So we did what most people do: We got onto Google and started looking for hardware we liked.

But how to you manage information like that? I guess you could:

  1. Print out a picture of every piece of hardware you like.
  2. Make sure that you can remember which website each piece of hardware was from.
  3. Keep track of any communication you've had with the vendor.
  4. Find a way to group different styles of hardware you get from different sites.

I guess that now that Pinterest is around, you could pin the different hardware options so you could see them all at once.... show them to whoever is going to install them to make sure they'll work and work together. But that's kind of a clunky solution.

That's why we created a mind map for the project:

(Click on image for larger view.)

As you can see, ConceptDraw enables you to put a whole bunch of info on one screen:

  • Name/Skew, dimensions, finish, and price of product
  • Link to vendor website
  • Picture of each piece of hardware
  • Contact info for vendor
  • Record of communications with vendor

This kind of info makes it much easier to keep track of your options, vendor promises, and decisions. And this is just a simple map for a very simple project.

Imagine how useful it would be to have a map like this to help you keep track of the kind of appliance choices, woodwork styles, lighting options you have to consider for a larger project. You can even build a map to help you compare your choice of contractors.

As with all other projects, from coming up with blog ideas to putting on an addition, being able to mix images, web links, ideas, and information all on one screen just makes life easier. And heaven knows that when it comes to remodel projects, you need all the "easier" you can get.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mind Mapping: Your New Secret Weapon?

An article I just wrote on mind mapping, "Mind Mapping: Your New Secret Weapon?" was just published on

The focus of the article is how bloggers can use mind mapping to come up with topic ideas for their blogs.

Like all kinds of freelance writing, it can be really hard to continually generate new blog ideas. Mapping can be used to come up with the ideas themselves, and also to think about new sources of ideas.

Some of the ways you can get your mind working include:

  • Taking a class in something you've always wanted to learn.
  • Teaching a class in something you're good at--and especially those you want to be better at. (Nothing focuses the mind like knowing you're going to be standing in front a room full of people.)
  • Get out more. Go to cultural events. Just walking through a museum always get my mind turning.
  • And don't forget to seek opportunities to write guest blogs. Once again, putting yourself in a position where you have to organize your thoughts can help you think in new ways. Plus, most blogs allow you to insert a link back to your blog. Those inbound links are precious!

My wife and I just used mapping to manage a small home-remodeling project. I'm going to blog next about how to use mapping to manage all the little details that go into a remodeling project. It's an example of how versatile mind maps are. You can use them for the most ethereal and the most concrete things...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Do You Create Mind Maps by Hand?

I recently communicated with someone who creates mind maps by hand. I know that mind mapping was first done with pen and paper. But talking to someone from "the old school" made me wonder how many people prefer to mind map this way... and why.

If you or anyone you know works this way, I'd be very interested to learn why you/they prefer to use pen and paper instead of a computer.

I can think of one reason: Like "Geek PDAs" (a bunch of index cards bound together), hand drawing a mind map doesn't require a "connection." You can do it anywhere, anytime.

What else?

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Small Solution to a Big Problem: "Borrowing" images.

I ran across something yesterday that I thought was pretty impressive in a small but meaningful way. I was in the process of writing an article and needed an image. I googled my search term (I was looking for an image of a hand-drawn mind map) and found one that I thought would work. The image was accompanied by the usual warning that "Images may be subject to copyright." So I clicked on the image to see who owned it.

The image was the property of Jane Genovese, who runs the blog Live the Solution. Genovese was named the Young Environmentalist of the Year at the 2009 Western Australian Youth Awards. She says her blog aims to help people:

  • explore alternatives to materialism and consumerism.
  • educate and empower people to take action and combat global warming.
  • understand global warming through the use of mind maps.
  • and provide freedom from mental traps and negative conversations that inhibit people from making a difference.

Pretty inspiring stuff.

But what really impressed me was a comment on the side of the page where I found the image I wanted. It said simply: "Please donate if you wish to use any of our mind maps," and was accompanied by a PayPal link.

As a writer who understands the importance of adding visuals to blog posts, I thnk this is a brilliant solution to a common problem. There are so many images available on the internet. Some are free, others are not. They are the ones to which copyright laws may apply.

The problem is that as a freelance writer working alone, I have a hard time figuring out who owns an image and how to go about getting (or paying for) permission to use it. Jane's simple solution really worked for me--and for her.

I think it's particularly brilliant because:

  1. It makes it clear that the image has value.
  2. It makes it easy for the "borrower" to compensate the creator of the image.
  3. And by simplifying access to the image, it puts the ball in the borrower's court: You know creator or owner of the image thinks it has value. They've made it easy for you to pay. So... are you going to pay? Or are you going to just use the image "without telling anyone."

The internet can be an unruly, uncivilized place at times. A place where people are tempted to think they can get away with things--including using images without compensating the owner or creator.

Jane's small gesture, minute in comparison to the work she's doing on the environmental front, helps brings a sense of civility and responsibility to the web. It's gentle, respectful, and puts the burden on the conscience of the user. Not a bad model for all of us to live by.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Website Creation Rule #1: Think First (cont'd)

In the previous post , I created the general skeleton for my new freelance writer's website. Now I'm going to add some content.

The first thing I want to do is to start composing the messages I want to appear on each page. In the first post, I made a list of the major areas I work in, each of which will be its own page on my new site:

  • Media Campaigns
  • Social Media Campaigns
  • Content Creation
  • Influencer Programs
  • Customer Evangelist Programs

Create Content Right Inside the Map

I want to start sketching out my ideas for each page. So I create a "Note" that is automtically attached to each branch of the map:

I work my way through the list, making notes of what I want to say on each page. When I collapse the Notes window to reduce clutter on the screen, all that remains is just a small icon:

I can also put in icons to let me know at a glance how far along I think I am in getting to final copy for each page:

Add Links to External Content

The other thing I want to do is add links to examples of my writing. I do that by opening up a browser, navigating to the examples, then just dragging the URL onto the appropriate :sub-branch" branch of the "Content Creation" branch:

The beauty of using ConceptDraw MINDMAP to design your website is that you can:

  1. Aggregate all these different kinds of content into one document.
  2. Add icons that communicate information without words, making the document more compact.
  3. Get a broad overview of how you're designing the site.

See Your Site as a Whole Entity

As you look at the overall map, it's easy to see what's missing from the site. You can go back into the map and create placeholders for other pages you know will be on the site, as well as any thoughts you have on content.

The use of visual icons just makes the map more concise and maybe a bit more entertaining and fun to create than a regular outline or list:

Try it Yourself!

These two posts give you just a brief overview of how to use mind mapping to design your website. The ways writers can use mind mapping is just about endless. Get a trial version and play around with it!