Review: ConceptDraw MINDMAP [2009]

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ConceptDraw Office is an entire software suite designed around the project management lifecycle.

The first piece in the suite is ConceptDraw MINDMAP, which is “a business and personal productivity tool that collects ideas and organizes them into a visual map.”

It’s a tool for on-screen brainstorming. I’ve never used mind mapping software before, being more a back-of-an-envelope kind of girl. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to manipulate the ideas afterwards into mind map that actually means something.

On opening MINDMAP you have a couple of options. You can start from a blank document, which is daunting, as the screen is busy with icons. Or you can choose from one of the pre-loaded mind map templates, which you can then edit with your own ideas. Or you can select ‘Brainstorm’.

The ‘Brainstorm’ option is quite cool and would be a good tool to use during a project team meeting. You can set the title and a time limit. When you click on the timer the minutes start counting down. One of the brainstorming rules is for the session to be timebound, so this is a useful addition and saves someone having to be timekeeper. Then you type in all your responses, everything that comes out of the session – instead of using a whiteboard or flip chart.

Afterwards, you can edit the results. It’s easy to join topics together: drag and drop and they automatically link into a radial diagram of your ideas.

There’s a bewildering array of display options. You can change line style, colour, weight. All the text editing options you’d expect from a graphics package are present.

You can add relationships between topics, floating topics, clip art, links to websites, symbols. Each individual topic can be customised to display as text only, in a shape or you can even import your own image to illustrate a topic.

And if that’s all too difficult, you can just apply a theme. There are 14 themes and only 2 that I would consider using. I suppose if you are a student using the ‘Exam Preparation’ mind map template you might not be as fussy as me, and the pink ‘Glamour’ theme might be just your thing.

Still, a good feature is that on clicking the theme icon, it automatically applies the next theme in the list, so you can cycle through the themes quickly until you find one that suits your purpose. You can always customise it afterwards with tweaks to the colour scheme, lines or shapes.

Personally I wouldn’t use a mind mapping tool to prepare and present task lists and related project data, but I work with people who are visually-minded and who would find a tool like this useful.

I think that one of the risks of using software at all for mind mapping is that the end result looks polished – especially if you use all the formatting tools at your disposal here. If you then present a task list in this, polished, format to your stakeholders they will see a finished product, not the results of a quick brainstorming session.

This is one of the points Meri Williams’ makes in her Principles book: if you spend a lot of time on your project plan when really all you have is a very rough outline, somehow those draft dates, that look so neat and shiny in a pretty Gantt chart, become reality in the eyes of a stakeholder.

Especially if you use the functionality to export to .pdf (maybe useful if you have to share your document with clients and you don’t want them to edit it) or one of the many supported standard graphics formats. You can also apparently export information from your mind map into iCal or as html, although I didn’t try this.

I can’t compare ConceptDraw MINDMAP (this is version 6.1.1) to other mind mapping tools as I haven’t used any. If I did have the requirement to write up a brainstorming session then this software would certainly make it easy, and you can’t doubt that the finished results are pretty smart.

Right to reply:  I shared this review with the team at CS Odessa, and they pointed out that there is also an export to PowerPoint function.

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