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Mind Mapping for Generating New Product Requirements

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According to Wikipedia, “Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing. …… Mind maps are, by definition, a graphical method of taking notes.” Mind Maps can be used to organize customer requirements during the conceptual stage of product development when the vision of the product is yet unclear. They help organize brainstorming sessions and document results in an easy to understand manner. Mind Maps usually start with a very simple idea or product description and branch out from there and are a visual representation of everything a product must do or that customers want it to do. They branch out and document a product development team’s trains of thought until the details emerge. (Fishbone diagrams are actually a form of mind map.)

Mind Mapping is not new. It’s been around for centuries. However, it’s been done manually with pen and paper. What is new is the software that allows users to create, modify and utilize mind maps quickly and efficiently. There are many software programs on the market today, both paid a freeware. Mind Maps can usually be exported into Excel and other programs for documentation and tracking.

I used mind mapping techniques to lead a customer team through the initial requirements gathering and development for a large scale factory automation project. There were technical and operations people on the team which lead to a multitude of business and technically related requirements. During the first day, the team generated over 130 separate requirements for the system. Some requirements were at a very high level and some were at the lowest levels of detail. Every suggestion was documented, no matter how trivial it might have seemed at the time. Over the next day and a half, Mind Mapping software was used to lead the team through a series of exercises to group the requirements into major headings and develop subgroups. All requirements were documented in a mind map within the appropriate group or sub-group. The resulting Map gave the team a “picture” of what the system would do.

 

After examining the map over the following days and weeks, the team added requirements that they hadn’t thought of during the initial sessions. Having the pictorial version of the requirements enabled people to easily “see” interactions between requirements that might not have been as evident with some other product requirements definition techniques. Mind Mapping allows one to draw relationships between requirements and describe out they’re related or perhaps in conflict. Conflicting requirements must be resolved. Identifying the conflict in the first place is a major part of the battle.

Performing Product Requirements Definition using mind mapping techniques in a setting like this achieves several key things:

1.  Generates a uniform picture or vision of what the product should be.

2.  Team building across functional areas

3.  Helps to develop and document a complete set of requirements and specifications for the development team to act upon.

4.  Enables the team to quickly identify holes or omissions in the requirements definition.

5.  Reduces the risk that a key requirement of the product will be left out. Said another way, it ensures that customers will be satisfied (or even elated!) with the product when it hits the market.

Mind mapping techniques and software can help New Product Development teams focus their efforts quickly and easily communicate the results of Product Requirements Definition efforts. It keeps everyone on the same page.

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