MindManager Review

I've been meaning to write a review of MindManger for many weeks now (August 2002). My current consulting engagement has me working for a Department of Energy contractor at a former nuclear weapons plant, Rocky Flats, www.rfets.gov . The work involves that wickedly complex task of Information Technology Strategy and how to develop one for a "business" that is actually going out of business - site remediation and closure.

In the past such an effort would entail the generation of plans and strategies tied to the business goals of the enterprise. This approach is still in use, but with some updated methods. First, Balanced Scorecard is the means of identifying the needs of the organization and how they will be fulfilled. I'm using MindManager, Balanced Scorecard and Visio to do in weeks what would have taken months before.

So where does MindManager fit in?

  1. The process of developing an IT Strategy involves many "moving" parts. These parts are typically hierarchical in nature, starting with a set of goals. Measures and Actions in support of the goals are developed next.

  2. Supporting materials for the Measures, Actions, and Outcomes need to be assembled in some structured form with links to electronic documents and outside sources (computer files, books, web sites, emails, three ring binders with tracking numbers, etc.) BTW a full text indexing tool is mandatory for any serious work in the "knowledge worker" area. So add this to the tools list for Project Management.

Putting all this together in MindManager changes how the work can be done. MindManager becomes a integrative technology, not just a tool for making maps or organizing thoughts, but for managing all the content associated with these thoughts.

Side Bar

I have a company web site where I park lots of information for use in my consulting practice, mostly for my own use. Clients and hopefully strangers go to the site for information. MindManager is a great way to organize "views" of a repository. Arranging the "view" is very simple, as is publishing the navigator for such a view. I can make a view for DOE Stewardship, or another view for Agile Project Management. Change these views as the information evolves. The content of the navigation site can include documents on my server as well as external links. In a sense this is a "poor man's" content management system. Static for sure, but easily updated and with a great user interface.

End Side Bar

How is the work process changed?

  1. Using a desktop folder paradigm is the first approach to organizing thoughts. This of course runs out of gas very soon. Indexing, cross indexing, content management, and all the other "document management" issues soon make this unusable.

  2. Not only documents, but URL's as well as "notes" need to be assembled into a structure for the strategy.

  3. Dates, deliverables, dependencies, and other "project" like activities also take place during the "thinking process"

The management of all these "items" and their relationships can be done within MindManager.

So what's to like?

The real problem with a graphically based productivity tool is it is hard to describe what it does and how it works to improve work just using words. I'll try to give you the "elevator" speech:

  1. Imagine a graphical hyperlinked "map" which can be rearranged by adding, deleting, and dragging the nodes and links around.

  2. Imagine a hyperlink tool that can have links, clever graphics associated with the links, links to local documents, and moderately extensive notes associated with each node in the hyperlink tree.

This would describe the MindManager tool. But since it is a visual tool, words alone are insufficient. One needs to "experience" the product on the glass before the words really mean anything.

So what's missing? Not Much

As with any productivity tool today, the original author's intentions are not how the product gets used. "Mind Mapping" is a concept that has been around awhile, and it has some formality behind the concept. A quick search will turn up the "theory" of mind maps. The original Mind Mapping was based on pencil and paper processes, which limits its ability to interact with modern software based processes. More than mind mapping, the current product could also be called "project mapping," or "work process mapping," or any other automation process creative thought process.

So what's missing that gets in my way?

  1. Not much. I can build maps very fast, just by typing, talking with the content providers and a few mouse movements. One test of an application is "do I have to read the manual?" For MindManager, I NEVER opened a piece of documentation. Almost everything is intuitive. There are some quirks (below) but those don't prevent progress from day one. This is not to say I got it right the very first time. But I never had to call the help desk or had to stop trying something because I couldn't figure it out. I'm not a wiz at figuring things out either. The product is just "obvious."

  2. The integration with MS Project is "interesting." It was not obvious how to get started. (Remember the test is to not read the directions). Once I did read the directions it was working in a few minutes. I use the Critical Tools WBS and "hanging" PERT tools and they appear to be a bit more seamless than this approach. The one very clever thing though is that the URL's from the map are carried over to MS Project. From Project I can then build the WBS and Hanging PERT's used for the "real" PM activities. This 3-way connection now does everything I ever wanted to do as a CIO-type.

What would be nice to have? ... some free product marketing input

  1. It would be nice to have the dependencies created in MS project show up as "links" in some way in the Mind Map. This would likely clutter the map, but it would also be useful. So have this feature normally turned off would be the smart way to implement it.

  2. The single hyperlink for a node turns out to be limiting for me. Many times there are multiple URL's I'd like to associate with a single node in a map. This could be down with a simple list of links. If there is more than one, then the navigation process would present me with the choices.

  3. The spelling checker is "internal." This is almost unforgivable in today's desktop environment. Integration with the Word spelling checker needs to be done soon. Also the current spelling checker is a bit on the weak side, since you have to tell it to start checking a second time through a "begin check" button. Also the standards MSFT wording is not present. Finally there is no way direct way to add words to the dictionary from the UI, so rechecking intentionally misspelled words (acronyms) is not possible. Turns out that selecting "ignore" adds the word, which is a bit counter-intuitive for me. But in general its a good start.

  4. There is a problem I have not chased down, so like ant good software person it really can't exist yet. There appears to be a memory leak (at least in the early versions). I haven't taken the effort to run Dr. Watson and watch, but the application behaves badly at times when I run other "poorly" behaving apps, like Word with lots of embedded Visio. The MindManager apps does not fail, but other memory sensitive apps do. I attribute this to "early stage" releases which will surely be fixed in coming releases. I've been told it has actually been fixed, so I'll try to break it again.

  5. The web site production - which is one of the best features of this product - has some behaviors which are a bit confusing. It's a bit hard to example in writing, but the level of detail for each branch "appears" to be inconsistent from my expectations. I need to work with this much more before I can provide a suggested solution. This will in no way prevent powerful use of the web publishing capabilities. The most important thing is that all the documents that are local as well as all the other elements of the map can be put in a folder structure and sent to someone as well as published on the web. For those of us using "thin clients," (like the Wyse) this is a great feature - since everything is now accessible from a browser.

Overall Rating

Of all the "mind mapping" tools I've used (maybe 3) this is hands down the best. It is clever but not too clever. It is blazingly fast. It makes use of logical folder structures for storage that can be moved around the disk with breaking internal links. The UI is nice - a bit too fluffy for my taste but I'm a engineer/scientist by training not a "marketecture" person. It's priced right for the value, and people who have not seen Mind Maps before are impressed with how fast they can convey information.

Buy it, use it, find new ways of expressing difficult concepts. Give your feedback to Mindjet, they like to hear from users.


Niwot Ridge Consulting