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OK, so techniques for managing our time are common place such as calendars and to-do lists. But what about managing your thinking?

Being an Architect is a practice, not a process, so arguable the most important tool we have is our brain as it is our central repository for knowledge and logic but it's not like a computer. Often useful information comes flowing out it, almost randomly in no particular order that's if your lucky. Sometime the brains requires some exploration and provocation to tease that useful nugget of information out. All of which is pretty hard to do just writing lists on a pieces of paper, talking over with colleagues, or more often than not, writing straight into Word or an email.

As you can imagine this was all to ad-hoc for me, I need a technique to get my thinking in order, structure my thinking and capture my areas in away that was easy to understand and communication that allowed continued refinement.

Richard and I discovered a technique called Mindmaps many years back, which is literally creating a list of items around a central theme that documents the relationship between items just be drawing a line. So Mindmaps can basically look like a morphing spider.

Image:MindMapGuidlines.JPG

Mindmaps are a simple way to explore and capture ideas fully. My problem with them was the application. Drawing it on a white-board or piece of paper is messy as these things change a great deal in their development. A drawing system on a computer would be a logical answer and indeed there is a vibrant market for such tools. However only recently have I discovered that these systems have become very good indeed which makes using the Mindmap a viable option for structuring your thinking.

The market is dominated by two options,

  1. The open-source tool and market leading tool FreeMind 
  2. Microsoft Visio as part of the Flowchart template which comes with the tool.

Both of which are great places to start but they both fundamentally suck in different ways which left me thinking that creating Mindmaps isn't as a pleasant experience as it could be. If you want to explore creating Mindmaps, don't start with these two, they can colour your judgement of Mindmaps and it's usefulness.

What about some of the other tools on the market then?

  • ConceptDraw is a nice tool and has a Mac version, the basic offering is also free. It is however a real drawing tool and doesn't assist you as far in making Mindmaps as other tools do.
  • Personal Brain is a wonderfully wacky tool that is mindmapping for geeks that have no problem with seeing complexity. I would live in fear of giving this tool to a non-geek but it's great for exploring problems from different angles. Again there is a Mac version. Using this tool did at times feel like playing a computer game. Fun but I would scare people to death with it.
  • Mind42 is Web 2.0 answer for Mindmapping, with a web-based tool that specialises in collaboration. At the moment it is a free to use and doesn't have as many features as some other products, but worth a try.
  • Other tools worth mentioning are Matchware's OpenMind, VisualMind, Mindmapper, etc ... you get the picture it is a large and vibrant market. All of which are worth downloading the free trials and exploring all of which I did and had a great deal of fun with...

However there is a outright winner IMHO and that is Mindjet Mindmanager Pro 7 which is a tool that is feature rich with the most common ones being easy to use. The tool balances the feature list with a very high userability level. The level of intuition is natural allowing the mindmap creation process to flow. The Office 2007 style toolbar is a genius addition to a product like this as seeing changes before commiting to them is a god-send. There is also a Mac version, a free-viewer and a great deal of pre-made Mindmaps ready for you to customise to your individual situation saving time.

The selling features are,

  • The high level of polish, it's not buggy. it's intuitive and consistent through-out.
  • The easy of use! Intuition features like 'Drag and Drop' shows that a lot of thought and care have gone into this tool.
  • Item Notes editor. Writing notes on items and sub items should be a standard thing you would want to do. Infact I think you will spend most of your time writing notes and having a full-featured Live-Writer like editor is just brilliant.
  • Interaction with Microsoft Office. The chances are you don't want all your work trapped in any one tool and will want the information you have captured in it exportable to other tools. Even better if it transforms the content to fit appropriate the tool it's going to. This is the utter genius part of Mindmanager Pro, this realisation. Take for example the export to Microsoft Word. The item and sub items become headings and sub-headings and the attached notes become the text. This does indeed increase the chances of you sending out a fully-formed document from export.
  • It's not really expensive, I want to buy the Lite version for use at home to help write this blog. It's not much more in price than an Xbox 360 game.

Now the words of caution,

  • Mindmapping isn't a skill for everyone, it's a personal preference, some people get on just fine with OneNote, notepad or even pen and whiteboard and/or paper. So don't expect everyone to use mindmaps.
  • Mindmapping isn't the only technique you can use to explore, capture and structure what's going on in your mind, after all Edward de Bono and countless other have been writing about different methods for years. So go explore and experiment and find a technique that works with you. But don't sit there and not use anything!

Mindmapping has become an essential part of my role and Mindjets Mindmanager is my weapon of choice.

Posted on Monday, March 10, 2008 2:46 PM Main , Technical Architecture , Enterprise Architecture | Back to top


Comments on this post: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.

# re: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.
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Hi Dave:

I enjoyed your post. I was interested in learning how you intend to use MindManager in the work that you do? I have been blogging about mind mapping for some time and always enjoy learning how others are using this wonderful tool.

Regards
Brian S. Friedlander
http://assistivetek.blogspot.com
Left by Brian S. Friedlander on Mar 11, 2008 12:41 AM

# re: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.
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Hi Brian,

This is actually a really good question so thank for asking and worth a series of blog posts to answer it in full (... ding! ... ideal light goes on! :-)

The short answer is when I write a strategy or policy on a chosen topic I use mindmaps to explore the topic fully. It's all well and good having a standard document template but that doesn't mean that all things that need to be considered are covered. Mindmapping allows you to capture your thougths so then you can then build your detailed plan.

Mindmapping is a natural fit for Technical and Enterprise Architect, I wonder why more of us don't use it ... yet!

Anyway Thanks again for the great question, I look forward to more.

Regards,

Dave Oliver
Left by Dave Oliver on Mar 11, 2008 1:33 PM

# re: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.
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Dave, you have really gone all out on this post. I have been a huge fan of mind mapping for a long time now, I started out using the traditional pen and paper, then moved on to computer programs, and now I do a little of both. For me mind mapping has been crucial in developing business plans, which is where I use it the most. You really managed to convey the importance and usefulness of mind mapping, along with providing some great resources, so thank you for the wonderful read.
Left by Mind Mapping Maven on Mar 11, 2008 5:07 PM

# re: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.
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I have a site that has screenshots and pricing information for just about every mind mapping software package (87 right now!) here:
http://www.mind-mapping.org

Vic
Left by Vic Gee on Mar 12, 2008 8:07 AM

# re: Managing your Mind. Mindmaps, a handy tool for the Enterprise Architect.
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Have you tried using SmartDraw for mindmaps? Works great! And, it does a whole lot more than just mindmaps...You can download a free trial at this link:

http://www.smartdraw.com/specials/mindmapping.asp
Left by Christine on Mar 13, 2008 12:11 AM

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