Project Management Software, Mind Mapping, Weak Ties and the Human Brain

I have already mentioned that many-to-many structures employed in project management 2.0 software offer a better way to organize your projects. Here is an interesting angle on the same topic. Have you ever thought about how our mind organizes ideas? We do not organize all the information we know in one strict hierarchical tree, life is too diverse for that. Associations radiating out (or in) from many different connection points help our brain to navigate through a vast information pool and quickly make decisions. Many connections in many different directions connect items together. We could say that the structure in our mind is a network of connections or a many-to many structure. Many-to-Many Mind Map This phenomenon of mind functionality inspired a psychologist, Tony Buzan, to invent the Mind Mapping process. In his popular title called "The Mind Map Book," Buzan calls this phenomenon “Radiant Thinking.” “Most people are trained to think in a linear way, thinking of one thing, then the next thing, and then the next, in a series of singular associations in one direction,” notes Buzan in one of his interviews. “The way our minds really work is in multiple thoughts and multiple directions at the same time. The way the brain fundamentally thinks is radiant, meaning that it thinks primarily from image centers and then radiates out.” Buzan used this capability of the human mind to introduce a technique of arranging words, ideas, tasks, or other items connected to a central key word or idea. Presenting these connections in a radial, non-linear graphical manner, the method encourages a brainstorming approach to any given organizational task, eliminating the hurdle of initially establishing an appropriate or relevant conceptual framework to work within. Once you augment a radiant Mind Map structure with associations between different nodes, it becomes a many-to-many structure that resembles the way your brain works. You can build a structure that perfectly reflects the way you think. If you use adequate project management software to record this structure, you can then apply it to manage your business and personal activities. Project management 2.0 brings collective intelligence into this, so your team can share this structure and work on it together. You can share your tasks with people from another department, or from French or Japanese office of your company or with your clients. The best part is that you can combine your structure with other person's structure without breaking the connections that are important for you. Associative connections between different people’s hierarchies now play the role of "weak ties", linking people from different departments, offices and even companies. Weak Ties Leverage Weak ties are recognized by sociologists as the best bridges between people to spread new ideas and innovation. Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist and the author of the one of the most influential sociology papers, “The Strength of the Weak Ties”, states that “weak ties bridge social distance.” He also notes that “weak ties provide people with access to information and resources beyond those available in their own social circle”. Granovetter’ ideas are summarized by Harvard Business School associate professor Andrew McAffee, who points out that weak ties help solve problems, gather information, and import unfamiliar ideas. They help get work done quicker and better. This is what makes these ties so powerful.

When speaking about weak ties, Andrew McAffee says, "My former HBS colleague Morton Hansen, for example, found that weak ties helped product development groups accomplish projects faster. Hansen, Marie Louise Mors and Bjorn Lovas further showed that weak ties helped by reducing information search costs." So a structure that has a lot of weak ties turns out to be more beneficial for a project. To find out the principal advantages of this structure it will be useful to compare it with one-to-one and one-to-many structures. The limitations of one-to-one (linear) and one-to-many (strict hierarchical) approaches can easily be extended into the project management space. Traditional project management software like Microsoft Project enforces a strict hierarchy that requires a manager to select only one way to organize information. In this case project managers have to sacrifice all weak ties and even some of the strong ties in favor of one hierarchy. This makes plans harder to navigate when your perspective of the project differs from the selected hierarchy. Let's take a look at a typical example. An engineering manager builds a product development plan around a structure that he considers as best one to organize information. Then a marketing managers needs to augment this plan with marketing activities. If the tools that these managers use support only a one-to-many hierarchy, there is a great chance that the managers will end up with two separate plans, so all of the connections between these related projects will stay in the managers' heads. Some of them will be forgotten, and others will have to be managed manually. We don't even need to walk to the marketing department to understand the importance of weak connections. There are different roles in the engineering team. The importance of particular associations between tasks differs from one role to another. The "one-association-fits-all" approach makes plans hardly usable by some of the team members. This burden can easily be avoided with the right tools. The Power of Collective Brain Project management 2.0 software supports many-to-many structures, connecting different team members’ views on the project. It gives a bigger and more comprehensive project scope. It enables project managers to view one project from different angles and helps them find better solutions, which would not otherwise come to the manager’s mind. As more people can get different views on the project and can build more associations, their collaboration becomes more affective. The project team works like a huge collective brain. Many-to-many structures allow all of the team members to contribute to the plan productively. This enables collective intelligence and leads to collaborative planning. In turn, collaborative planning makes organizations more agile, productive and transparent.

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