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

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Building Relationships Between Mind Map Topics

Screen shot from ConceptDraw MINDMAP showing how to setup a relationship type

In ConceptDraw MINDMAP there are many ways to establish a relationship from one topic to another topic. The simplest is a visual representation that this topic here has a relationship to this other topic over here. For instance you need to get budget approval to make that new hire. It is easy to draw a line between the two topics to show that there is a connection. We call this a general relationship.

When you are looking at relationships from a project manager’s point of view there are four other types of relationships that can be built between topics in a ConceptDraw MINDMAP map. These different relationships determine the order of how things are done. For instance the example I have used, about hiring someone is a “finish to start (FS)” relationship in project management. One would not start the hiring process, until the budget for the position was approved.

There is a “finish to finish (FF)” relationship where to finish either task they need to finish together. For example you cannot receive final payment for a project until the client has signed off, or you are not able to see the last commercial of the Super Bowl, until the Super Bowl ends.
The next type of relationship is a “start to start (SS)”. Here both tasks need to happen in the same timeframe. An example of this is that project outcome goals need to be approved by stakeholders before project management activities are started.

And of course “start to finish (SF)”. Here a task does not finish before another task starts. An example of SF would be that in a factory the next shift of workers can not start until the current shift ends.

The ability to setup these relationships in a map is very handy for maps that pertain to project management tasks. To establish a relationship, just click on the “Insert relationship” icon. Click on the first topic in the topic pair you want to build a relationship with, and then drag the line to the second topic in the topic pair. Release the mouse button, and you have just setup a general relationship.

It is also possible to click on the “Insert” menu item and then select “Relationship”. Click on the first topic in the topic pair; drag the line to the second topic in the topic pair. Release the mouse button, and a relationship has just been established.

By clicking on the relationship line to bring up the related menu for that relationship it is then possible to determine the type of relationship that exists between these two items. That is all there is to it. It is very simple. Now if only it was this easy to setup relationships between people.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Guidelines for Efficient Team Brainstorming

In this post I am going to be discussing brainstorming as a group. It is very much like working as an individual, the primary differences being that it is necessary to have one person designated as a facilitator and some guidelines to work by. The facilitator should be a person who understands the brainstorming process well and has the knack for keeping people on track. I find that an electronic projector connected to a computer in a conference room with a projection screen or wall, and of course ConceptDraw MINDMAP is just about all the hardware and software that is needed.

It is good to pick a facilitator who is a strong typist who can capture the ideas as they come up. I have seen brainstorming meetings were the keyboard is passed to the individual whose idea it is. This takes too much time and is disruptive to the process. It is much more efficient to have one person type. It is OK to pass the keyboard to someone else when starting another session. But during the session the keyboard should be with one person.

I am going to present a few guidelines here that I find helpful when brainstorming with a group.

  1. The facilitator controls the keyboard, clock and reminds people to stay on track (if a person is not cut out to be a facilitator, replace them).
  2. Mention at the start that there is no such thing as a bad idea (this rule is only for during the session) and that everything that pertains to the discussion topic is recorded and then sorted out later
  3. Spelling is important but not in a brainstorming session, all typos can be fixed after the fact.
  4. When doing a drill down or brainstorming session on a subject it is good to break the brainstorming into two sessions. For the first session 10 minutes is a good time frame, and then make the second session much shorter (say 2 minutes). If after 5 minutes there are no contributions that are still coming from the group, cut the session short. No need to look at one another with a blank stare for 5 or 10 minutes.
  5. Watch the clock. The clock is so easy to use in ConceptDraw MINDMAP. Just go to the box labeled with a numerical 2 and type the amount of time you are going to spend on the session. The default is set for 10 minutes, and I find that a reasonable amount of time for the first session. Click on the clock icon and the timer starts to count down. Someone who is involved in the process has to step out for a minute; it is easy to pause the time by pressing the icon a second time. Session back in, press the timer again. It is very easy to toggle the clock on and off. And when your time is up a small screen comes up and says “Time is up!” Press OK and the window goes away.
  6. When session is complete you can press “Finish Brainstorming” in box 4. You are now in map mode and can start to place the items in their appropriate places on your map. Let’s say your map is not complete and you feel it is appropriate to brainstorm some more just go into brainstorming mode again.
  7. I have found that these basic rules work in the meetings I have participated in. One last item that I feel is important and I would like to share with you is that it is important to share the results by giving everyone who participates an electronic or paper copy soon after the event. This goes a long way to building agreement on the team. If you send out the map a week later, people will have forgotten and it will not be as impactful.

So as you can see there are not many guidelines and they all are very logical. The next step is to get your ConceptDraw MINDMAP out and be productive. If you have any experiences you would like to add about brainstorming I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Individual Brainstorming Using Mind Mapping

FIgure 1: Sending brainstormed topics to a map page.

Mind mapping software can be a great tool to make all of us more productive.

How? Mind mapping software provides us with the ability to capture our thoughts, shape them into a visual format that is useful to us, and then enable us to make changes as our thinking evolves.

With the right software, you can communicate, plan, resolve, and view. Mind mapping is a great tool that is metaphorically similar to an electronic file drawer with some relative Post-It notes attached. Mind mapping is a very visual technique of creating and organizing ideas. With mind mapping you have the ability to transofrm linear data into a mapped representation of thoughts and ideas.

“That is exactly what I was thinking about.”

There are many aspects of a mind mapping tool that are helpful to us. I am going to start with a very basic benefit and describe how I use it, and why it benefits me.

This diatribe is from the perspective of ConceptDraw MINDMAP version 6. Not all mind mapping tools are the same, and not all of them provide the same benefits.

ConceptDraw is in its 6th release and provides great value without burning through your pocketbook.

ConceptDraw MINDMAP is available as a native application for both Windows and Macintosh. The file structure for both platforms is exactly the same and is a great benefit to people who use a Macintosh and want to share with people using Windows, and vice versa. The application and the user interface are completely different, so this is not a PC application that was ported to Macintosh.

(I will always try to include at least one image on each posting, and at times will switch from a Windows image to a Macintosh image.)

OK, now on to the subject at hand: Using ConceptDraw as a personnel brainstorming tool.

When I am at the starting point of a new project, I like to think through all of the elements that will make up that project. I like to also consider what alternatives there might be. I find that by using a mind map, I can capture the overall plan (and many times one or more contingency plans), this improves the quality of the end product.

As a side note, I like to think about many of the alternate plans upfront, because if I do not care for any of the contingencies and their associated outcomes, then I will sometimes modify my primary plan.

Brainstorming with ConceptDraw PRO is easy to do. On the PC you type (Ctrl+Alt+B), or press the jagged lightning bolt icon at the top, or start brainstorming mode from the tools menu. With ConceptDraw products, you will find there are many times two or three ways to go about and do something. I suggest you look at two or more ways and then figure out what works best for you.

Once you have placed ConceptDraw MINDMAP in brainstorm mode you will see the words “Theme of Brainstorm” at the very top of the page. This is the title of your map that identifies what you are going to brainstorm about. It could be “Product Launch”, “Merger Plan”, “Finding a Job” or “Planning a Vacation”.

You then enter the words that describe part of the idea or process in very high-level terms, and keep entering until you are satisfied that you have addressed all of the variables.

I do not set the timer when I do individual brainstorming, as at times I will get called away, without looking at the time remaining. Without setting the timer I can just come back and finish what I started. The timer is great for when there is a team brainstorming session, but for now I am just going to cover how to use the tool as an individual.

By dragging and dropping items, I can start to build up a structure for the most recent brainstorm session. To link one topic to another topic, just drag it over the topic you want to link to, until the parent topic has a blue outline, then drop it.

You can “rubber band” a number of topics and drop them to make a connection to a single topic in one single move. Organizing has never been easier, and if I make a mistake I just go back and move it to where I want it placed.

One other neat thing that I like about ConceptDraw MINDMAP is the ability to right-click a word, and send it to another page. I will give you a quick example, let’s say that “Communicating to Champions” has a separate team managing it. just send it to another page and a hyperlink is established between the topic on your primary map and the topic that is now on another page. This is a powerful way to segregate topics that may have a lot of structure that goes into one idea.

This is just the start of the entire formulation process, but you can see from this example how easy it is to go from your ideas, to a visually organized structure in just a matter of minutes. With mind mapping you can take very complex and involved problems and processes and break them down to manageable size.

That is the end of my first posting on brainstorming. You can now plan to your heart’s content.