How to Solve Problems with Idea Maps

FreeMind 0.9.0 RC4 - Mind Map with User Icons
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Problem solving is a problem in itself for many companies and at times can be one of the most daunting tasks to undertake during the course of an otherwise regular work day.

For some, problems seldom occur while for others this may, unfortunately, be a daily activity.  Since problem solving is not usually part of the typical daily agenda of “routine” activities, our ability to find the time and solve them efficiently and effectively is compromised.

For many, just finding time seems to be one of the greatest challenges and perhaps a problem to be solved in itself.  Sweeping problems under the rug may be efficient but it is certainly not effective.  (So … broom is not the solution we’re proposing).

Using IDEA Mapping Techniques can help you solve problems effectively and efficiently.  IDEA Maps, Process Maps, and Mind Maps are variations on a theme.  We may use the terms interchangeably in the discussion that follows.

Background:

While there are several different approaches and “forms” that can be used to manage the overall problem solving process, the two most critical steps that will determine the effectiveness of the solution are:

  1. Define a Clear and Concise Problem Description / Statement
  2. Determine the Root Cause(s) of the problem defined by the Problem Statement.

While the first step seems relatively simple, the second step requires a little more effort.  There are at least two (2) root causes for most problems that stem from two simple questions:

  • Why Made?
  • Why Shipped?

These questions imply that defective product was made for a reason (process) and it was shipped to the customer undetected (system).  In other words, the customer is not protected from receipt of defective product.

The root cause analysis process forms the basis for all subsequent problem solving activities, including verification, interim and long term corrective actions.  A lot of time can be wasted simply because the real root causes were never identified.

Problem Solving Tools for Root Cause Analysis:

Many different tools can be deployed during the Root Cause Analysis process including Ishikawa Diagrams (Fishbone Diagrams), 5 Why (discussed in a previous post), Fault Tree Analysis, Q&A (Question Board), and Brain Storming to name just a few.

Mind Mapping or Process Mapping is a technique that provides an unconstrained approach to the thinking process for multiple input and contribution streams.  Maps can also be used to identify interactions or relationships to other elements.

Mind Mapping (Process Mapping)

The center of the map contains the problem statement.  We then surround the problem statement with potential inputs or contributors to the problem.  These statements in turn become the “center” of additional levels of inputs and contributors.  In some respects, the process map can be very similar to a Bloom Diagram and certainly supports the logic found with fishbone diagrams.

The   The draw back to “Mapping” is that most are usually developed on Whiteboards and not easily or readily translated into a software solution.

Software Solutions and Templates

While there are many spreadsheet based solutions, few provide an effective interface to support the use of mapping techniques.  Even most fishbone diagrams developed in Excel are quirky and awkward at best.

While we typically do not endorse specific software solutions, however, FREEMIND is one software that we consider to be among the best of available solutions and can be downloaded free of charge.  The download and installation process only requires a few minutes.

The developers of FREEMIND provide a clean, intuitive solution for creating and maintaining process or mind maps.  While other commercial packages are available, FreeMind is more than capable of handling most problem solving challenges and quite simply is time and money well saved.

The FreeMind homepage provides a better description of the software and it’s capabilities than we could provide here.  Our goal was to introduce “Mapping” as an effective and efficient tool that can be used in the problem solving process.

After spending some time with the software, you will quickly discover that there are many other opportunities where this software can serve you.  We have a mind map that we use to manage weekly and daily reports, another for key metrics, and yet another for our business structure.  The ability to use hyperlinks makes it an easy process to access external reports and resources .

The FreeMind main page provides an excellent overview and provides examples of their software in action.  This is definitely worth looking into and may just save some time for real problem solving.

We are presently using FreeMind version 0.9.0 RC 6.

Home: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/

Copyright 2000-2009 Joerg Mueller, Daniel Polansky, Christian Foltin, Dimitry Polivaev, and others.

Click here to see a sample process map to achieve delivery of 100% on time – in full:  Mapping with FreeMind.  We have also uploaded two documents (one of the original map and a word document showing a pictorial of the mind maps we created) into our Free Downloads box.  See the ORANGE box on the sidebar to get your copy.

If you have a copy of FreeMind, simply change the extension on our Delivery file from “.txt” to “.mm”  Of course, don’t type the quotes.  This is just a sample for example purposes only.  Feel free to edit or modify these files  in any manner you choose.

If you would like to learn more about IDEA Mapping we would encourage you to also read Idea Mapping – How to Access Your Hidden Brain Power, Learn Faster, Remember More, and Achieve Success in Business by author Jamie Nast (twitter:  @JamieNast) or you can visit the website at:  http://www.ideamappingsuccess.com/.

Click here to review or purchase your copy of Idea Mapping: How to Access Your Hidden Brain Power, Learn Faster, Remember More, and Achieve Success in Business

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

IDEA Mapping, Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey, Published simultaneously in Canada (ISBN-13:  978-0-471-78862-1, ISBN-10:  0-471-78862-7), 268 pages.  The book includes a companion CD-ROM featuring a 21 day trial for Mindjet MindManager 6.
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4 thoughts on “How to Solve Problems with Idea Maps”

  1. Dear Mr. S.,

    Excellent article!! “Idea Mapping” (Nast) is an excellent introduction to Mind Mapping. The great thing about mind mapping is the versatilty of application and out-of-the-box thinking it helps with. I find it a great tool for taking notes (like during an audit), summarizing books or concepts, etc.

    Another great book to assist with visual problem solving is “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam. It helps focus the use of visual thinking on solving problems and selling ideas.

    Keep up the excellent work. You’ve got my attention!

    Doug Clark

    1. Doug, thank you for your comment. “The Back of the Napkin” is also a very good book and we can certainly attest to the practicalilty of the approach to problem solving.

      Many great ideas and concepts have been developed on the back of a napkin. Often times we tend to think better when the pressure is “off”. Free flowing discussions at the “water cooler” can prove to be more beneficial than the formal brainstorming session in the boardroom.

  2. I agree with your approach. I think it’s even more powerful if you ensure that your idea maps obey four basic rules:

    They consistently answer to “why” or “how” (depending on your key question)
    They progress from the key question to the analysis as they move to the right
    They are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE)
    They use an insightful breakdown

    1. Arnaud, I like open structure, however, I like the “rules”. I especially appreciate the “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” (MECE) terminology – this is what helped me appreciate the potential of idea maps.

      By the way, I call maps without any structure “Splash Maps” or “Brain Spills”.

      Thank you for commenting – Redge

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