Thursday, 26 March 2015

A More Effective Way of Working...

Biggerplate Unplugged returned for 2015 earlier this month, and our very own Jamie MacDonald was in attendance, flying the flag for MindGenius in London.  

We were once again among a great bunch of experienced and knowledgeable friends from the mind mapping community, with a few friendly MindGenius user faces in the crowd!  

For his speech at the conference, Jamie decided to discuss some of the barriers that prevent individuals and teams being effective contributors in day-to-day working environments. In a business mind mapping software perspective, Jamie demonstrated how mind mapping software, such as MindGenius acts as a catalyst for more effective and productive way of working.  

Until next time – thanks Biggerplate!

Think Strategy; Think MindGenius

Countless books and articles have been written on Strategy, Strategic Thinking, Strategic Planning and other associated topics on Strategy. 
This short article provides a synopsis of the important area of Strategic Planning. Its aim is to act as a useful step-by-step guide to help with the sometimes complex aspect of business planning. 

What is Strategy? 

In his book “The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning”, Henry Mintzberg highlights some common views of strategy, they include:

·         a plan, a “how”, a means of getting from here to there;

·         a pattern in actions over time;

·         Position; reflecting decisions to offer products or services in particular markets;

·         Perspective – vision and direction. 

Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter argues that competitive strategy is “about being different”. He comments: “It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value”. In one of his early books Porter defines competitive strategy as “a combination of the ends (goals) for which the firm is striving and the means (policies) by which it is seeking to get there”. 

There are many textbook definitions for a Strategic Plan, but in basic terms it could be described as:

·         A high level roadmap for the business

·         A “compass” for the business vision and direction

·         A platform for communicating the vision, mission and goals for the business 

The following mind map provides a visual overview of a typical Strategic Planning framework…
1. Review Past Performance

 Most Strategy Planning starts with a review of past performance – a critical look at “current situation” where each area of the business is reviewed in terms of performance, what worked well, what didn’t go so well, and areas for improvement
This is an important facet of kick-starting any strategic review or plan and provides meaningful insights into both positive and negative aspects of previous and/or current performance. There are many ways of doing this, including tools and techniques such as SWOT analysis, etc, but it is important to execute this part of the involving the right people (for credible and accurate insights and for decision-making and direction setting as the exercise progresses).
2. Develop a Vision Statement

A Vision Statement should be both an aspirational and inspirational description of where the business is going and what it aims to achieve in the medium to long-term.
It serves as a clear guide for the direction the business wishes to take, setting out the high level primary goals. 
3. Develop a Mission Statement 
A Mission Statement outlines the core purpose of a business and its reason for existing. It should help guide the business strategies, articulate its overall goals, provide a roadmap and guide any decision making.
A Mission Statement should also clearly outline products and services, which markets will be served and how; and communicate intended direction to the organisation, customers, and stakeholders.

4. Identify Strategic Objectives
 At this stage, the aim is to develop a set of high-level Objectives for all areas of the business.
They need to highlight the priorities, goals and objectives that will ensure delivery of the vision and mission.
A view of the end-objectives and results required for each objective is a must.
Aligned with the first stage of Review, in particular the SWOT analysis, other key aspects of setting these objectives would be: building on the identified strengths; ensuring plans and actions are in place to take care of areas of weakness; identified opportunities are factored in and included; actions are in place to counter any perceived threats.
This stage is very much aligned with the next stage of implementation…
5. Implementation Plans
The distillation from the Vision, Mission and higher-level Strategic Objectives needs to filter down to Departmental, Team and individual Objectives and Action Plans.
The “who, what, where, when, and how” needs to be agreed and communicated.
Plans are now more “operational” and “process” aligned with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related) objectives agreed and put in place.
These objectives also need to take into account Performance Indicators, Resource allocation and budget requirements. 
6. Performance Management
 All the Objectives and Action Plans need to be continually reviewed against the agreed outcomes or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Targets and results need be continually monitored and reviewed.
The whole Strategy and related objectives, plans, projects, etc, must be managed in such a way that strengths and weaknesses can be quickly and easily identified and acted on, with the ethos of continuous improvement and business excellence at the core of the strategy.
In terms of the executing and managing the whole end-to-end process of Strategic Planning, an increasing number of planners, managers, directors and business leaders are now turning to business mind mapping software to map, visualize, shape, present and communicate in key aspects of:
• Brainstorming sessions at the scoping and planning stages
• Creatively applying problem solving and other tools and techniques such as SWOT, etc.
• More efficient and focussed planning, running and follow-up of meetings
• Capturing individual and team contributions to ideas, knowledge and experience
• Gaining understanding on the both the big picture and component parts
• Better, well-informed decision making and prioritisation
• Scoping, planning and authoring documents, reports and presentations
• Creating, allocating, monitoring and managing Objectives, Tasks and Actions
• Planning, scheduling and managing Projects
For those of you engaged in any of the Strategic Planning process, from the initial performance review, through to implementing and managing objectives, actions, projects, etc., I would thoroughly recommend the use of mind mapping software. 
It truly does augment and add value to your existing suite of daily-use applications through its highly intuitive and engaging “capture – visualize – manage” processes and functions, enabling increased productivity, clarity on all work activities and higher quality outputs (to name but a few!).



Overcoming Writer's Block

Dr. Peter Moir of Relequa Analytical Systems Ltd shares his use of MindGenius to overcome “writers block” when writing a Research Paper. He has also created a template map to help others with the same process…

"If like me you struggle getting started writing, anything, and find yourself staring at a blank screen and the cursor flashing saying “come on type something for goodness sake". A technique that I use, just as I am using now, is to start writing just what’s in my head without thinking about sentence structure or choice of words.

Another great technique is using MindGenius. It’s a way of pulling together information that I think I might need to work into my piece of writing at some point. To facilitate this I construct a MindGenius map. In this case I’m writing a research paper and to help you get started on your own paper, I’ve turned my efforts into a template.

The really useful thing about this template is you don’t have to be thinking in terms of a beginning, middle and end, or, in this case, Introduction, Results and Discussion, before you can write. Basically we’re talking about a means to get around the so-called “Writers block”.

Just to get going, copy and paste the tile and authors of possible relevant publications into the Introduction arm as separate branches, add a sub-branch and paste in the abstract if you want. Copy and paste from the pdf, or write in sentences or small sections, from the text of these papers into the branches where you think a comment in your own words may be required.

Alternatively, you may like to just quietly sit and think, “why am I writing this paper?”, “who is it for?” and as you come up with some thoughts put them into the Purpose branch. Start in your mind to build logically how your idea can be described. Start laying out this logic by writing your thoughts as Results branches. As you do this, have in your mind to create a Hook, something about your research that will grab people’s attention. Place this hook right at the beginning of the Introduction.

Our goal is to communicate your idea. Communication skills were not taught to scientists when I was at third level education. Thinking about the best way to communicate and what I’m hearing these days is simple. We learned to read and learned about life through people telling us stories. Why not tell your idea as a story? The Introduction sets the scene for your story. A journey is travelled and Results collected on the way. Our finale is the Discussion showing how it all comes together and wouldn’t it be good to have a bit of a cliff-hanger to have your readers wanting more.

Give credit where credit’s due. Inspiration for my template came from a lecture by Professor Simon Peyton Jones, University of Cambridge. There will be key aspects of your work that has come from other researches. Don’t just acknowledge these contributions but show how they are important to you and where they fit in. Use the template to structure these references.  Doing this will bring focus to your work, clarify your thinking and show you do actually know what you’re talking about.

Once you’ve got your background information and the results sections to support your idea on the template, drag, copy/paste the information to re-organise what you have into a coherent story. Add/delete branches as you see fit. My most recent effort started with 3 Results branches, expanded to 6 and then ended up at 4. Two of the branches marked as “next paper”. Yes, only include what has merit in supporting your idea and don’t use up precious column space just because you think people want to see you’ve done loads of work. They don’t and it doesn’t matter.

You should now have a good feel for what you want to say, so just start writing whatever section or parts feels most comfortable. Update the template as you write. Highlight in colour parts that are completed, needs revisiting (but move on and come back later), “requires more data”, and so on. Honestly, it does get easier as you keep writing and you’ll find your own rhythm or flow.

When you get to a satisfactory draft of your paper, dispense with any fears and get somebody to read it through and appreciate the feedback."

Dr. Peter Moir

Relequa Analytical Systems Ltd

Creating a compelling vision

Former NHS professional Mary Duggan returns with her second blog post. Recalling moments from her role within the Healthcare sector, Mary shares her experiences, challenges and her methods to overcome the most difficult of business matters.

Actually, this isn’t so much about creating a compelling vision as creating the engaging narrative that accompanies it. All of us have probably had the same experience of listening to a charismatic leader describing their vision for the future. It is exciting, it gets our hearts beating faster, we leave the room determined to make that vision happen.

Then we sit down and think about it. That’s where it starts to unravel a bit, and the practical souls among us start to wonder what the vision actually means and what it might look like if it came about, and how would we know that we’d got there. I’ve certainly experienced that little heart-sink moment when I realise that although the vision sounded beautiful while I was listening to the inspirational presentation, once I’ve left the room I am no longer exactly sure what it means in reality. It is very hard to describe something that doesn’t currently exist in concrete enough terms for people to engage with it and make it happen.

A while ago, I was involved in some exciting large-scale transformation work within an NHS Foundation Trust. We had planned a series of public transformation events where we would invite stakeholders to put some meat on the bones of the vision. We knew from past experience that presenting people with slides full of statistics and structure diagrams would not generate much creativity. One of my colleagues suggested that if we presented a set of stories that showed people where we thought we needed to make changes it might be more fruitful.

Indeed, it was. We crafted half a dozen stories about fictional service users (though drawing on actual experiences) that described care that while not being terrible wasn’t good enough, either. They were short, to the point, and told in the first person. At the events, six people got up and narrated the stories. You could have heard a pin drop. The content that was then generated was powerful.

So, what’s that got to do with Mind Maps, you might ask. We used the workshop content to generate some new stories that described the desired future state. Then someone pointed out that we didn’t have corresponding stories from the point of view of the staff who would be delivering the transformed services. We started trying to draft them but while it had been fairly straightforward to create service user perspective stories, it was much harder to get into the mechanics of how the services would actually be delivered.

I assembled a group of experienced staff, along with my laptop, a projector and a set of simple questions that I had placed in a Mind Map. The questions really were simple:
Imagine a future, say 5 years from now. The transformation that we are talking about now has come about and the changes are now part of normal working practice.
  • What would staff be doing that is different from how they are working now? 
  • How might working relationships be different? How might this feel? 
  • What sort of things might happen between now and having a completed/embedded transformation? How might those events feel? 
  • Are there any places we don't want to go? 
The Map, with these questions, was projected for the group to see. People were invited to reflect on the questions and share their thoughts. A couple of hours of intense conversation followed. I captured comments and thoughts in the map as they were spoken – I made no attempt to sort or analyse. The group was able to see themes and patterns emerge for themselves and people were able to select which they wanted to explore in more depth. The end result was a rich and detailed picture of how both concrete working processes and more nebulous cultural issues would need to change, and the actions that would be needed to drive this.

So far, you could argue that this was simply an electronic brainstorming process. One of the problems with brainstorm output is that it remains as a set of hastily written flip-chart sheets that lose clarity very rapidly. I suspect that when something is handwritten, it takes more of an effort to correct it or choose more effective wording, but when something is digital it can be edited quickly and cleanly. This encouraged the group to seek precision in what they were saying.

The second important factor that comes into play is the ability to use the analytical tools that MindGenius offers. The group discussion had already highlighted some themes, which were used as the analysis categories. It took a short time after the group to categorise all of the comments, sort them into category groups and re-present them to the participants as a coherent and powerful narrative. The unexpected part of the experience for me and for the group members was how exiting and moving the process was. The group quite literally saw their vision take shape in front of them.

Look out for Mary's third blog post coming soon.

4 uses of mind mapping that will guarantee you a productive New Year

It’s almost time to down tools, abandon your desk and enjoy this season’s festivities but before then, have you planned ahead for 2015? 
Mapping out tasks, priorities and deadlines provides the ideal format to capture, sort and categorise your own or your team’s workload. The mapping exercise allows you to visualise everything and arrive at decisions on workload levels, importance, priorities and what needs to be delegated.
Additional functionality enables categorisation, allocation of resources and timescales, filtering and other mechanisms for tracking and reporting.
We all subscribe to the adage that “failing to plan is planning to fail”. The use of mind mapping software to organise objectives, tasks and general workload really does help you to plan, organise and work smarter to be that bit more thorough, efficient and effective.
The area of Project Management covers a wide and varied spread of project types and sizes – from relatively small projects covering short timescales, through to complex multi-faceted projects involving many people and covering months, sometimes years of work. The size, type and nature of any project will dictate the amount of time, resources, methodologies and processes.
Our experience and research indicates that, regardless of size and type, many projects fail due to poor or inadequate planning. This is the pre-scheduling stage, the crucial up-front capture of the project requirements and the project work breakdown structure (WBS) – the stage that everything else hinges on, where if important aspects are missed; project success is potentially placed under immediate risk.
The use of mind mapping software to brainstorm, capture and structure the all-important up-front project WBS enables planning to be better focussed and effective. This highly visual way of capturing project data is engaging and more naturally suited to this process than traditional static, linear methods such as schedules and spreadsheets.
More often than not we are required to research or examine and evaluate lengthy or complex pieces of information. It is that sense of being faced with a mass of information to interpret it and make sense of it all that can sometimes be a daunting prospect.
Mind mapping software saves us time and a whole lot of effort in the way we can capture key words and phrases and quickly de-clutter chunks of information. The visual aspect appeals to the way we naturally “chunk” information to reduce complexity and gain better insights into what it all means.
The fact that we can group, move, sort, colour-code, categorise and/or filter on mapped information gives us various options of working with and interpreting information quickly, effortlessly and in a less labour-intensive way than some traditional methods.
In practically everything we do, we almost subconsciously take our ideas and knowledge through an information journey process – capture, understand, analyse and decide. We all embark on these information journeys continually in most of our business activities. We don’t always process ideas, creativity, knowledge and experience in the most effective or efficient ways, the result of which is misunderstandings, misconceptions, missed opportunities and missed deadlines (to name but a few!).
Too many times we miss things; we don’t utilise our creativity as much as we should; we’re not thorough enough; we don’t have the right tools and techniques for thinking things through.
Mind mapping software is one of the best enablers for visualising data and facts. We can take any problem or opportunity and run it through any technique that involves drilling into the detail of who, what, where, why, when and how? Mapping is an excellent way of brainstorming, idea generation and generally capturing knowledge, experience and creativity.

Healthcare Service Improvement

With a career spanning over 30 years in healthcare including front line work as an Occupational Therapist and more recently within Lead Service Improvement, Mary Duggan recalls the significance of mind mapping software within her role. Through her years of experience, Mary adapted her tools and approach in order to achieve a more productive and intuitive way of working. Recalling a particular moment in her career, Mary explains just how much mind mapping software revolutionised her role.

Every mind map tells a story 

Service improvement is generally seen as a systematic approach that walks people through the stages of assessment, diagnosis, problem definition and solution generation.  That's how we like to think about it anyway.  It is as comforting as the London Underground map - logical and straightforward to follow.  Many of us will recognise that it also bears as much relationship to the real world as the London Underground map does.  The process is a useful guide, but at some point you have to involve real people and real-life complex and messy situations.  Then the dissimilarities between the map and the territory begin to appear. 

Many years ago, I was working in a service for older people with mental health problems.  We were fairly sure that we could be using our resources more effectively.  As part of the initial assessment and diagnostic stage, I arranged to interview a group of men whose wives all had dementia and were receiving services from us.  I had a well-constructed question set all ready to go.  Within the first minute of the interview, it all started to fall apart.  I asked the first question.  One of the men replied "I'll tell you how it's been..." and began to tell the story of his experience.  I tried to draw him politely back to the question.  He ignored me equally politely and carried on with his story.  I bowed to the inevitable and listened carefully as he and his companions told me what it had been like to see their wives struggling more and more with everyday life and their experience of trying to get help.  As they ended their stories, I realised that they had answered all of my questions, naturally and eloquently.  Most importantly, they knew that their stories had been heard.

I wasn't using mind-mapping back then.  I had to spend a considerable length of time transcribing a tape recording of four men with very broad West Yorkshire accents.  Then I had to try to sort their answers into themes.  I got there eventually. 

Just a few weeks ago, I did some work with a team who were concerned about the end-to-end time that their referral to admission process took.  They provide a rehabilitation service for people who need longer-term support to regain their independence.  There was a general feeling that the process was lengthy and cumbersome.  The team had specifically requested support with some lean techniques.   

We had done some initial data exploration which seemed to be telling us that apart from a few outliers, the process generally took an acceptable length of time.  So what was the problem?  They wanted to map the process because there were aspects of it that they were still not happy about and wanted to find a way to articulate this.

I turned up to the next session, armed with huge sheets of paper and packs of sticky notes. They sat and regarded the blank paper thoughtfully.  Then they began to talk about the process and how they experienced it.  The conversation was free-flowing and divergent.  I already had my laptop connected to a projector, so I suggested that we used a mind-map rather than a process map.  This let them continue with their exploration of the issues with the added benefit of seeing the mind-map build up as they spoke.  They began to make some very interesting points about the underlying dynamics of the process of trying to find a good plan of care for individuals who may be quite chaotic and who certainly don't fit neatly into any pigeon-holes.  This can create significant levels of anxiety among the people who are trying to support them, and this anxiety easily rubs off onto processes.  The conversation moved away from “how can we speed up the process” to “how can we take some of the anxieties out of the process”.  This required a very different approach from eliminating waste and work-arounds from a process.  It helped the team realise that they needed to work on helping their stakeholders to understand the process, and that to do this they needed to use the right language to help people to understand the part they play in that process. 

Working with mind-maps is a great way to harness free-flowing conversations.  In my experience, this is usually the best place to start.  Then, having heard the underlying story, you are in a good position to select some more structured diagnostic tools.  You will be using your toolkit with precision and intentionality. 

It isn't difficult to create templates for many of your favourite diagnostic tools. If you check out the Problem Solving section in the built-in templates in MindGenius, you will find that there are some there already set up for you such as 5 whys, cause and effect and key questions.   

An added advantage of using a mind-map as your starting point for service improvement activities is that even at the earliest stage, you will find people identifying potential actions.  You are well aware of the dangers of leaping into solution generation before properly analysing the situation, but there is that natural human impulse to offer solutions.  Mind-mapping lets you have your cake and eat it.  You can create a dedicated branch in your map for actions.  After exploring the story of the situation and running some diagnostics, you will be able to see which of those actions are worth pursuing.  It's the work of seconds to then drop them into an action planning map.

Let's get Productive!

Our friends over at Biggerplate have launched a new initiative which will see the mind map library focus on a particular subject theme each month. For the month of October, the team have been focussing on Productivity and encouraging all users to share their own productivity maps. Head over to Biggerplate and check out our latest and most productive maps yet!