During a professional project manager’s career they are likely to experience a range of projects in all shapes and sizes. At least that is what we all like to hope would happen to bring variety to our careers, but what about when you have worked on project after project in the same field, in the same organisation and with little variation in the scale and complexity of the projects? It is inevitable that the whole process begins to feel a bit stale and that we begin to feel unenthusiastic about yet another round of the usual processes of understanding the requirements, converting these into actionable tasks, managing those tasks whilst dealing with risks and change etc. etc.
Sometimes we just need a fresh perspective…
There are a number of techniques that a project manager can use to facilitate the typical problem solving scenarios that crop up in most projects; one of these is the process referred to as mind mapping but it can also help us to see a new project in a different light; and to re-gain some enthusiasm for the role of project manager.
But, first of all, what is mind mapping?
You can visualise a mind map fundamentally as a spider diagram; the body representing the main subject with various topics radiating out from the body like the legs of the spider. The topics themselves are usually further divided into “sub-topics”. These topics and sub-topics represent all the individual elements relating to a particular subject. Organising all of these parcels of information into a diagram and using colours, symbols and any other appropriate coding can help to make the information clearer and easier to understand.
Mind maps can be created during a single meeting or brain-storming session but further ideas and other issues can be added over time as the topic is better understood. They can help your brain to process and remember information and to think innovatively.
You can create your own mind maps on a piece of paper or in a simple drawing tool but there are also mind-mapping applications available specifically for use within a project management environment.
How can mind mapping bring a fresh approach to project management?
Mind mapping, either individually or collaboratively with other team members, can help to generate new ideas and this innovation not only helps us look at a subject differently. By viewing a project from a completely different perspective you may be able to achieve a more successful project, which will have the knock-on effect of helping your personal motivation and career progression. It could be the tool you need to break out of a rut in your career where you simply complete the same type of projects in the same way.
For instance, at an individual level, try developing a mind map before the project kick-off meeting to clarify your thinking on what the project brief is all about, to find gaps in your knowledge and also in the information provided to you, and note any points that may require clarification. Getting your brain busy thinking about various aspects of the project before project initiation will give you confidence and help you convey to your team a clear overview of the project. If you have already clarified certain areas and thought through potential problems (even if there is not yet a solution) it will give your team confidence in your abilities and get the project off to a positive start.
As the project progresses there will be other potential uses for mind maps – they can be useful for motivating the individuals in the project team and for boosting team spirit when used in a collaborative environment because they give everyone on the team a voice and a sense of ownership in the project. They can help to build loyalty within a team by involving and engaging all members in decisions. A motivated, loyal team will go a long way to overcoming any problems and issues that arise during the course of a project and successful projects, of course, will reflect well on the project manager.
So don’t just embark on your next project with a lack of enthusiasm – get mind-mapping; you may be surprised at the results both at a personal level and for your team.