Use a Mind Map to Define Project Scope

If you ask ten IT project managers what are the three biggest challenges they face, I’ll bet nine of them will mention scope creep, and the tenth will belatedly agree with the others.  For years, I struggled to find a way to define the scope, create just the right level of detail, and document it in a way that facilitated communication and decision making, but still supported change control.  Then my friend, Steve Miller, introduced me to mind maps.

Mind maps are a graphical technique for collecting and organizing ideas.  If you’ve never used them before, check out the Wikipedia entry for some background and guidelines from noted mind mapping authority Tony Buzan.  I’ve used the technique on white boards and on paper, and lately with software.  Today, I went looking for an online tool, and found Mind42 (pronounced “mind for two”).  It’s a free, online mind mapping tool that allows you to collaborate with team members in developing a mind map.  And it is just about perfect for developing a project scope statement.

First, I registered with the site in order to get access to the tool.  They sent me an Email with a link which I clicked, and I was ready to go.  I began by opening up a new map, although the site has a number of sample maps published by various users.  I used “Project Scope” as my central idea, and then added branches for various activities, including “manage procurement,” “software development,” business analysis,” and “manage project.”  I then added some branches to each of them, as I thought of them.  After about ten minutes, I had about thirty branches in various combinations.  I then dragged individual items around, deleted a few, added a few more, and took a moment to neaten the appearance.  I then decided two of the branches should be “out of scope,” so I changed their font color to red.  I changed several actions that would be performed by the vendor to green.

I then went back in and added some icons to indicate progress, actions that would involve spend authority, and “keys” to success.  I also marked three items with a green “plus” sign, to indicate items that would have a scope of their own, to be determined later (business process re-engineering and integrations to other systems).  Finally, I added a “people” icon, to denote activities that would require heavy user engagement.  Then I saved the drawing, and exported it to a JPEG file.  Click on the drawing to expand it.


The cool thing about using mind mapping software to document your project scope is that you can maintain your map throughout the project, as change requests are considered and approved (or denied).  Mind42 allows you to color code, add graphics, attach files, and use icons to incorporate the details.  Freemind, an open-source desktop product written in Java, allows you to create clouds around branches, to group them together.   And of course, Visio Professional includes mind mapping components in the Brainstorming template, which should allow you to incorporate any number of diagramming and graphic features into your mind maps.

Give it a try, and post a comment with your thoughts.

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About Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon is a project manager with over twenty five years of experience in implementing human capital management and payroll systems, including SaaS solutions like Workday and premises-based ERP solutions like PeopleSoft and ADP Enterprise. He has an MS in IT with a concentration in project management, and a BS in Business. He also holds the project management professional (PMP) designation, as well as professional designations in human resources (GPHR and SPHR) and in benefits administration (CEBS). In addition to his articles and blog posts, he curates a weekly roundup of articles on project management, and he has authored or contributed to several books on project management.