Mind mapping as a tool for online collaboration
As the demand for top talent now extends well beyond geographic borders, video conferencing and online collaboration have become a welcome substitute for classic boardroom meetings.
Business Analysts traditionally engage stakeholders for elicitation of objectives, needs, constraints, requirements and other information using various analysis techniques. Some of the most effective techniques include one-on-one interviews, or collaborative workshops within a group. While all elicitation techniques have found effective uses, some of these techniques are more useful in an online environment than others. One of the biggest challenges in an online discovery workshop is to keep the audience engaged and collaborative. Finding a happy medium between talking, listening, taking notes and showing your notes to the audience - all at once, is a challenge. There is one technique that seems to translate best into this type of online environment, although with some trade-offs.
Mind Mapping is a powerful but remarkably simple business analysis technique that can be used to generate ideas from a group of stakeholders in a short period, organize those ideas and present them in an easy to understand format. A mind map can be described as a visual representation of a sequence of thoughts, related concepts, a system or a process.
What makes Mind Mapping such a useful tool is that it is quick, simple and can be understood by anyone. Unlike other diagraming methods, mind mapping does not use multiple shapes and does not need to conform to a directional flow. In other words, it is difficult to use mind maps the wrong way, and it's easy to drop shapes into place without having to worrying about rules that surround other diagramming techniques.
Mind Map Basics
Mind maps start with an object that will eventually become center of the map. This object represents a starting point, which could be a central idea, topic, process name, feature or system. Then paths or "branches" are drawn from the center to other related ideas. Each related idea may then have its own nested branches that represent more related ideas. Simple, right?
Mind maps are somewhat abstract as far as project artifacts go, and mostly should not be the final form of any deliverable. The trade-off I've mentioned earlier is intentionally sacrificing detail for speed and versatility. Best way to approach mind maps is to treat them as a way to quickly generate and capture ideas, show them to your audience and collaborate in real time to correct any misconceptions. Once the mind map looks complete, its contents should be analyzed and transformed into appropriate artifacts where additional analysis takes place and additional detail is added.
Real world examples
The simplicity of mind maps can be quite versatile, here are a few real life examples of how we've used this technique in business situations:
Site Maps - Initial mind map depicts pages along with their notable objects or features. This can then be transformed into a real site map, however, the resemblance is already quite close.
User Permissions - This mind map depicts user roles and their access to an object based on a traditional CRUD set of permissions, capturing permissions in this way allows easy conversion to a document-friendly table format.
Business or Functional Requirements - Requirements may get quite detailed and complicated, however, mind maps can still quickly and effectively capture core requirements which can then become the basis of your requirements register.
Processes - This mind map represents a basic process which may then be further analyzed and converted into organization's standard process notation.
User Stories - This mind map depicts various levels of granularity in describing a user story, which may then be converted to a traditional format and analyzed further to add acceptance criteria.
Mind map toolbox
There are many different diagramming providers that support Mind Maps as a diagram type, and a few that focus solely on this type of diagram.
Here are some popular options:
- Mind Meister
- Mind Map Free
We've used mind maps extensively while working to capture user experience (UX), functional requirements and user stories during design phase of Parsimo mobile app. Check out this case study to learn more about this project.