Mind mapping keeps Defence projects on track

One of the many secrets behind Australia's Defence Force could well be the mind mapping software that underpins many of its projects.

Logistic Engineering Services (LES), which provides training and services primarily to Australia's Defence Force, relies heavily on Mindjet MindManager software to help it deliver projects on time and in budget.

LES senior consultant and training manager, Shane Layt, turned to Mindjet MindManager software 12 years ago and now half of his 35 colleagues have done likewise. Layt says the software results in a 30 to 60 per cent productivity increase and greatly encourages creativity, collaboration and brainstorming.

The MindManager software has subsequently been used in several Defense initiatives contracted to LES. These include the project development of the F/A-18F Super Hornet Air Vehicle Weapon System Database (WSDB), the development of the Defence Technical Publications Template Suite, which includes the user help manuals and web help interface, project development planning for the ANZAC Ship Boat Crane training, integrated logistic support project management for the Ground Surveillance Radar Project for the Defence Materiel Organisation and in development and process management for a review of the Defence Landrover Fleet of Vehicles.

Layt said that before he found MindManager, he used to stick to the project management 'status quo'.

“When you embarked on a project you would just use Microsoft to create a project schedule and put everything you needed to do against that schedule and then manage all the extraneous items externally in separate documents. This software just brings all of that together,” he said.

Layt has used other mind mapping software such as MindGenious and some of the free online tools, but he said he has not found anything with the functionality of MindManager.

“Mindjet MindManager has given me the flexibility and ease of use to achieve project and task outcomes very quickly because it allows me to see the whole picture, not just the element of a task I’m working on at the time,” he said.

“Nothing else permits you to use the data you create in so many ways. You can create a map, create your Word document, your project plan, your Web view and information page, the presentation on your plan, the minutes of meetings - all from one map.”

He says the ability to use mind mapping and brainstorming directly into electronic media eliminates any errors introduced by duplicating actions. A map becomes the focus of activity for all collaborating members and as it grows into the central management interface, all users know and understand the state of play via a Web interface.

Rather than re-typing meeting notes and distributing them for approval, the notes can be presented directly on screen and approved during a meeting. All participants receive a copy of the notes, exported to MS Word (with the map graphic on the front page), as they leave the meeting room. This allows participants to concentrate on the meeting requirements instead of focusing on their part of the task and jotting down notes.

“Meetings go faster, people achieve more and because everyone understands everyone else’s tasks and requirements, there is no confusion as to who does what, when and why,” said Layt.

Layt said the software also assists in bridging cultural divides when working with international colleagues, clients or stakeholders and it assists in inspiring creativity and collaboration.

As an example, he cites a project by a Victorian university which contracted LES to project manage and develop more than 300 competencies in support of the Singapore Government, which sought to adopt and introduce a complex technical engineering training program modelled on the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).

Layt and a colleague used MindManager to structure the competencies into a matrix from base trade to senior diploma level. They drafted the procedures, processes and management documents and published them directly from MindManager on to the Singapore Government Training Website. This allowed Singapore’s major engineering companies to download and review the attached .pdf and pass on their comments through the website so that LES could re-post the updates.

Layt said that he and his colleague had turned to MindManager when they were hitting a brick wall in meetings through this project.

“China and Singapore are very different worlds to do business in and everything has to be black and white. MindManager was a great way to map where things were going, how things were sitting and what the relationship was. It was a way for us to get over a major hurdle,” he said.

“[Being able to look] at a map as opposed to a bunch of text and without having to describe it to the same extent is a huge benefit. Just pointing to a map and getting understanding nods from the audience of engineers was great. One of the things about doing business in the Chinese environment is that they generally don't say anything unless something is wrong.”

Layt said that the mind mapping software helped encourage more dialogue.

“Being able to publish an HTML web browser interface was good too. There I was sitting in a Microsoft building in Singapore on the 17th floor using a VPN connection to my home office and publishing it through my home domain so that they could view it in Singapore because they did not have a very good Internet connection at the time,” he said.

“By graphically displaying information and adding pictures, colours and ideas, people open their creative thoughts and processes. They step outside the normal confines of their daily working environments and actually have fun doing work. MindManager turns the mundane into the interesting by switching on the creative juices.”

Another feature of MindManager that appeals to Layt is the flexibility of use it offers.

“Some of the developers at LES also use it in the software development and design process and in doing the progress reporting. One of the great things about the software is that everyone uses it differently.”

Layt, a self-confessed geek who has used a lot of software in his time, has not had any significant problems with the software in the 12 years that he has been using it, but there is room for improvement in one area.

“The only change I would make is in terms of the task scheduling. I am a geek. I love computers. MindManager, is one of those things that once you try, you wonder why you haven't been using it your whole life,” he said.

“The only problem I have had since I started using it is the task times. The minimum task time in its schedule is one hour. If I want to develop a training schedule, I can't use it because it does not have that level of granularity."

Layt believes that if Mindjet increased the granularity in task times there would be a whole untapped training market in Australia to be served.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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