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Software for Real People Part One: MindManager Feature and Functions

Written By: David March
Published On: January 31 2005

Introduction

Throughout history, economic growth and wealth creation has been the result of one thing: productivity. In its simplest definition, productivity is the improvement in the ratio of output to input. To remain viable and competitive, every firm must continuously improve productivity. If it fails to accomplish this, the firm's very existence is a drain on economic resources. Ultimately market forces (Adam Smith's "invisible hand") will find more productive alternatives in order to restore the overall economic balance of productivity within the market.

Knowing the quantitative definition of productivity and understanding that it is the fuel of economic growth does not address the most important question: Where does improved productivity come from? It is easy to get caught in a circular discussion, using quantitative examples to restate the definition. But what is the foundation of productivity? The answer to this is very simple: The foundation of productivity is human creativity, plain and simple.

Productivity is really the result of someone looking at a situation in a different way—of someone taking the same information and seeing an alternate reality.

There is probably little disagreement in this observation, but the reader is most likely asking why an article discussing human creativity is in a publication dedicated to technology evaluation. The integrating theme is productivity. Organizations continue to invest in technology in support of ever-greater levels of productivity. Yet it is quite possible that, by actually restricting creativity, the workflow structure of the applications we invest in could actually be reducing productivity.

The problem is that creativity is a function of the mind and the mind works very differently than the software tools and applications that we use to try to harness intellectual capital. The mind is a neural network that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years to be an incredibly efficient network pattern graphics processor. Unfortunately the tools and applications we have developed to help improve productivity, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), business productivity management (BPM), customer resource management (CRM), project planning, and word processing, are basically linear processes that primarily rely on textual or numeric structure. Despite their inflexibility, these tools have come to be seen as an important to the operation and management of the enterprise. As a result, we require the user to adapt to the tool rather than the tool supporting the user. Like the old saying, "If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail". As silly as it seems, we are trying to make the creative mind a nail so we can hit it with a hammer. There must be a better way, and there is. It's called MindManager X5, from Mindjet Corporation. (http://www.mindjet.com)

This is Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will discuss competition and make user recommendations.

MindManager X5

MindManager X5 is a software tool (yes, a real tool and a visual one at that) for planning, collaboration, and business process management that can take you where you have never gone before. MindManager accomplishes what no other software product has done: it captures and leverages the non-linear creative processes of the mind. Then it supports this creativity with strong behind-the-scenes technology for planning, task management, communication, collaboration, and knowledge management by seamlessly integrating with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Project.

Possibly one of the best descriptions of MindManager X5 is the following quote from PC Pro Magazine.

"If you never do any planning, writing, research, organizing, learning or thinking, then you can probably manage without it. But for the rest of us, MindManager is a must have product."

MindManager has also won a number of awards Laptop Magazine, editor's choice, PC Plus editor's choice, PC Magazine Top Ten Software Products, and the Computerworld Innovative Technology Award

Let's take a behind the scenes look at how organizations, the mind and software really works—or rather need to work in order to be successful.

The goal in business is to harness and leverage the power of the human mind. If this were not the case, then there would be no need for people in business. Computers and their associated rules engines could run everything. The challenge is how to marry the highly non-linear and individually unique pattern-association process of the mind to the linear and sequential-task orientation of business execution.

Individuals are unique. Each person sees something different, finding unique possibilities and opportunities in the same data and information. As such, the presentation of information is extraordinarily important if you wish to foster the greatest amount of creative input from a team. Linear lists, no matter how well semantically grouped the information may be, simply do not foster creativity because the mind does not process information in a linear form. Semantic grouping is also ineffective because the neural-network linkages of the mind have many important but illogical associative patterns that semantic grouping stifles. Again, each individual sees something unique in the information. This is the power of teams.

How MindManager Works

Task lists, priority lists, project plans, PowerPoint presentations, budgets, Word documents, outlines, all of these information-communication forms require the mind to work in a process that is unnatural to its network pattern processing methodology. Let's look at an example: the creation of a web site.

If we were to "map" the mind's conceptual thinking process (which is exactly what MindManager does) from the mind's perspective the web site would look like the following MindManager map:

This map embodies the network-pattern creative process of the mind. Each person that views this map is able to quickly scan the totality of the information and come to their own conclusions about how the information should be associated. The drag-and-drop flexibility of the map is then able to capture the creative contributions of each team member.

The reader might say this is all well and good for capturing ideas, but this parallel-network map is not how we need to structure, design, and manage the development of the website. The development team needs page designs, project plans, tasks, and due dates. Yes, this is true, however, you must have the creativity and concepts first—then move forward with linear task management. Moving forward is where MindManager's behind-the-scenes technology shows its strength.

The tasks and objects that the mind conceives are no different than those that need to be developed and managed. The difference arises in the format required to capture the creative process, to effectively communicate the way the mind associates and patterns the tasks. MindManager's mapping metaphor is simply a more "brain-friendly" way to represent the way the mind actually conceives any given project plan and its associated tasks.

Each task on the map represents a collection object within the powerful MindManager object design. Each object incorporates XML-specified methods and properties that are integrated with the Microsoft Office and Outlook object model.

For each task on the map, the project lead can specify

  • Start date
  • Completion date
  • Resources
  • Duration
  • Completion percent

In other words, MindManager can accommodate all the attributes of a Microsoft Project Object. Therefore, project-planning information can be gathered and specified during the creative brainstorming session, with the information still presented in the most effective communication format. This method of working helps to identify interdependencies and problems more effectively than when the information is presented in a standard project format such as Microsoft Project.

Once everyone is in agreement, the MindManager map can then be exported and synchronized with Microsoft Project or in an MPX format for use with alternative project management programs. Projects defined and planned in this method (in the author's experience) tend to be more complete, more well thought out, and more readily accepted by those responsible for project delivery.

Integration

If that was all that MindManager did, it would be enough. But the developers of MindManager understand that communication, documentation, and execution management are also key processes for successful project completion. So in addition to seamless integration and synchronization with MS Project, MindManager also supports integration with Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint.

Projects need to be communicated and sold, both internally and externally. For most organizations the communication standard is Microsoft PowerPoint. Accordingly, MindManager maps can be exported directly to PowerPoint to create a complete presentation of the conceptual thinking and planning that went into the project development. Coming directly from the teams visual mapping of the project plans, the PowerPoint presentation reflects the mind's most efficient network process. The resulting slide show is much more effective than those derived from more traditional planning applications.

As anyone who has been in project management (especially software development) knows, initial planning and documentation is the most important aspect of any project—ensuring that the right specifications and features are developed. Unfortunately, functional and requirements specifications are traditionally the most difficult to develop, finalize and achieve agreement. Again MindManager steps in with its integration to Microsoft Word.

A single click will export the MindManager map to a fully formatted Word document. The same heading structure of main topics, sub-topics, and sub-sub-topics reflected in the map are retained in the Word document. In addition, all the additional details of the task, such as notes, start and end dates and resources can also be exported. In this way, the two most difficult aspects of project definition are almost complete: first, agreement (since it was achieved with the map prior to export) and second, the structure of the document (which is exactly the same as the map).

Supporting Execution

The last aspect of successful project management is support for execution. MindManager's Outlook integration addresses this need very well. Map tasks can be synchronized with Microsoft Outlook so that what needs to get done is automatically integrated into the user's Outlook task list. MindManager's powerful object model and open XML design have motivated many independent companies to write extensions to make MindManager even more productive.

For people that need to manage and monitor a number of projects, UK-based Gyronix (http://www.Gyronix.com) has written a plug-in for MindManager that directly implements David Allen's "Getting Things Done" methodology. (For those of you that do not know David Allen, he is the US's foremost authority on personal productivity). In Gyronix's solution, the tasks from multiple projects are consolidated into an executive dashboard and synchronized with Outlook tasks by category. What is uniquely powerful about Gyronix's solution is that tasks are placed on the dashboard and synchronized with Outlook only when they are actionable. For example, if task A must be completed before task B, then only A will appear on the dashboard and in Outlook. Once, A is completed, then B will automatically appear both on the dashboard and in Outlook tasks. In this way, each project participant knows exactly the Next Action they need to complete.

This concludes Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will discuss competition and make user recommendations.

About The Author

David March is founder and managing director of FirstRule, a company dedicated to helping enterprises learn how to more effectively define, plan and execute corporate strategy and build a performance accountability culture. Prior to founding FirstRule, he held numerous senior executive positions in enterprise software and high technology companies, as well as serving as CEO and founder of a scientific instrument firm. March has been a lecturer at a variety of universities and has published numerous articles on sales and marketing strategy, management, creativity, and personal productivity. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Lehigh University (US) in Engineering Chemistry and received his MBA in Finance from the same institution. He can be reached at http://www.firstrulecorp.com.

 
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