Whenever I think about examples of mind maps there is a scene from Sherlock Holmes that immediately springs to mind. In the BBC adaptation, Sherlock says, “I need to go to my mind palace.” Sherlock proceeds to enter into his “mind palace,” connecting pieces of information stored deep in his brain and rescuing himself from his latest predicament.
While product managers are less likely to need to problem solve their way out of the terrifying circumstances Sherlock finds himself in, you do need to take in, manage, and analyze a lot of information to make the best decisions for your product. Also, you often need to work between logic and creativity, and collaborate with a lot of people in the process.
In this article, you will learn about mind maps, which are a critical tool for product manager’s looking to organize a wide range of information to support problem solving and communicating complex information.
A mind map is a visual way of organizing information that allows you to see connections between ideas, concepts, and data. Starting with a central theme, question, or thought, you can map out ideas and concepts that connect. It is ideal for visual learners and allows the free association of concepts and ideas, enabling you to connect logical and creative thinking.
Personally, I love mind maps. Like how a to-do list calms me down, using a mind map brings me solace when I have lots of ideas and thoughts that I need to organize.
Because mind maps are flexible, you can use them for almost any purpose and at any stage of the product development lifecycle. Commonly, they are used for ideation. Also, they are great for figuring out all the activities associated with a launch, or the tasks needed to complete a feature area.
To illustrate how to use a mind map, let’s say that I’m thinking of creating a new training course geared towards product managers. I can use a mind map to visualize my ideas and understand how each segment of the training will fit together. In the center, I start with training and then move outwards from each side to break down the integration:
I surround the main topic with different branches like “target audience,” which represent the main categories or themes of ideas that I associate with creating a training course. These let me think through the segments that encompass the training and the resources needed for each.
Next, I further break down the main categories into subcategories such as “entry level PMs,” or “trainers” that enable me to better understand how to deliver on the main categories.
A mind map like this can serve as a starting point for the ideation phase, allowing you to explore different ideas and themes, and to organize them in a structured and logical way.
Using mind maps can enhance your creativity by generating new ideas. You will find as you start to map out the area you are looking at, the visual layout will allow you to make new connections and come up with new ideas.
Mind maps can also help you identify gaps in your knowledge. Mind maps can help you when you find yourself stuck because they allow you to circle around an idea without necessarily proceeding in a linear fashion. By doing so, you can discover new pathways you otherwise wouldn’t have come to.
Often, the complex and multifaceted areas you want to tackle with mind maps are tricky to communicate and work through with multiple people. However, the unstructured set up of mind maps makes it very easy to collaborate and share thoughts and ideas that are not well formed. They can help build up the shared understanding you need when tackling product problems.
The most famous example of a mind map in product management is the opportunity solution tree from Teressa Torres. As with all mind maps, you start with a core concept and break it down from there. In this case, you start with the desired outcome and then map the opportunities you have to influence the desired outcome, until you can identify a solution and experiment that will test your idea.
Mind maps are also a good way to brainstorm new features or opportunities you want to propose. Another common use of mind maps in product management is for product launches. For these, creating mind maps with your stakeholders allows you to visualize the activities everyone needs to complete and to identify potential risks, as well as how to mitigate them.
Several software tools are available to help create and collaborate on mind maps, including:
These tools offer various features, such as real-time collaboration, cloud storage, and integration with other project management tools. Additionally, Miro has templates to help get you started and is likely a tool you already use.
Although building products might not be as riveting as some of Sherlock’s adventures, having to organize and analyze a lot of different information and ideas is a core part of a product manager’s role. A mind map is a fantastic tool that can be used at all stages of the product development lifecycle, to support better decisions.
Mind maps allow you to be more creative, identify gaps in your knowledge, and collaborate with your team and stakeholders. By bringing together logical and creative thought in a visual way it can help you make better decisions for your products.
Featured image source: IconScout
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