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Mind Mapping

Although structured writing is a great technique for presenting information, it doesn’t help that much with the actual process of capturing it. For this, we need a more flexible tool and mind mapping, invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s [Margulies 1], is a good choice.

Mind mapping is simple: you start with a central topic, and on branches radiating out from that topic, you capture information about it. It’s powerful, flexible, dynamic, and is a perfect tool to use in stakeholder interviews.

The real power of mind mapping is that it works by association—the same way your memory works. You use the central topic as a starting off point and then you branch out from there, following chains of association. Creating associations as you go along has several important advantages:

  • As you create associations, you begin to actually understand the material. This is in direct contrast to most other note-taking methods that focus on getting the information down on paper and then assume that you will come back to it later to understand it.
  • It is a generative process. As you create branches, ideas are sparked that lead you to further branches and so on.
  • It is inherently flexible—you can start a new branch at any point in time to pursue new lines of inquiry.
  • You can fill the page as you see fit because you are not confined to a linear narrative.

There are very few mind mapping rules:

  • You must have a central topic. A mind map is a hierarchical structure rooted in a single topic.
  • Try to use just one keyword per idea.
  • Use pictures where you can because they enhance creativity.
  • If you need to write significant amounts of text, draw a "call-out" box, or write in the margin of the page and cross-reference it to an idea.

It is a brainstorming technique, so just get the information down on paper—you will analyze it later

The one-keyword-per-idea rule is particularly important when you are learning to use mind mapping, but you can relax it when you gain some experience. The rationale is that in mind mapping, you try to understand the information as you go along, and one of the best ways of doing this is by summarizing it in a single word. This process forces you to think about it and understand it as you go along, which can be difficult at first.

Figure 1 shows an example mind map for this section.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Example of mind mapping

There are lots of ways to use mind maps in OOAD:

  • Capture information
  • Generate ideas
  • Uncovere relationships between ideas
  • Memorize information
  • Summarize information
  • Remember information

For example, sometimes you don’t have an opportunity to take notes in a meeting. Try creating a mind map after the meeting—it’s amazing how much you can recall.

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