I like experiments, I like to try and encourage others to experiment with ideas. There is safety in a properly organised experiment. Test out your theory but limit the downside. Allow yourself to get an understanding of why something worked or failed. Slowly tinker with the structure to improve the results. People and teams grow on the back of experiments. Fear of failure is not a reason for not experimenting, it is a reason to start experimenting.
I’ve been a fan of mind maps, on and off, for quite a while. In more recent times I’ve become much more consistent in my use of them. The strong visual representation of ideas really works for me. When I move information from the a flat paragraph to a visually rich representation I get a level of insight that really helps my thinking.
Recently I introduced the idea of using mindmaps to the scrum team I work in. There was a lot of positive interest. I was confident that this would work, the team didn’t have the same background, they, reasonably enough, wanted to see the proposal in action. We agreed we could experiment and ensure that if things didn’t go so well we could recover without too much effort. Accordingly we selected a small project.
We approached this by mapping the epic, decomposing to user stories then finally acceptance criteria. Even for a small project this approach led to some amazing discussion because we could clearly see relationships, unintentional crossovers and potential conflicts or gaps. We actually identified a user story we did not need. If this approach is going to consistently trigger this level of discussion, that alone is ample pay off. The result was a very understandable, useful mindmap that could be used to clearly demonstrate the current project thinking, and understanding, to stakeholders. Should we need to make changes the overhead will be minimal and the impacts easy to see.
At the close of this meeting I decided to continue this work and map test ideas in to the framework. At a high level this showed coverage of the acceptance criteria as well as other wider considerations. I do this anyway as part of me thinking my way through testing a story but it was great to be able to tie it back to the same kind of thinking. It delivered a picture of understanding we had not, as a group, produced before. Should something change between now and when I can start physically testing the code, no big deal, these are high level ideas not low level scripts.
It didn’t stop there. After the meeting one of our team members was so pumped about the process and the results she published the example to the BA and PO Guild lead. I love seeing people buy in to an idea and then start evangelising for it. There was an interest in the Guild – awesome! My team has decided we need to do more of this and we have a few more small projects on the horizon that will be great for this purpose. There is some excitement that we have found a way of communicating that will add efficiency to our process and help us improve the quality we deliver. Already we believe this can translate to bigger gains when we move to larger and more complex projects.
I would like to expand the use of mindmaps well beyond our current use, but for the moment I’ll settle for demonstrating value to the business, that will help build trust (I say business as the mindmaps will not get to clients at this point) . We have generated an amount of interest in a key group that will help keep interest bubbling. I’m hoping that this is the start of a meaningful change. As a team I think we are capable of creating the path. I’m hoping soon that one of the other scrum teams will decide to try this approach as well. That kind of organic growth is exciting.
If anyone would like to add comments about their success or problems in using mindmaps I’d love to hear from you.