In the previous post, we looked at how the maps, not the software, are the tool that shapes your business issue. In this post, we will look at what makes a map "sharp" or "blunt".
The key to sharp maps is to store not one, but two kinds of information in the map:
- Information about the subject of the map - the plan, presentation, brainstorm or whatever it is, and
- Information about the process of the map and its current status.
The subject information is a snapshot of the output of the process so far. Software maps are capable of easily mixing both types of information in the same space. Very few other containers are as capable as maps. Compare this to the annotation capability in Word to appreciate what a rich container a software map really is.
Most users never make their process explicit. It's just too trivial to waste effort on. Surely it's obvious what the map is about! The trouble starts when the volume of subject matter starts to eclipse the process. This is when a map goes blunt - it has lost its cutting edge. You are not sure quite where you have got to, or what to do next. Individual users have the luxury of putting the map aside, and the excitement of rediscovering their unfinished symphony eighteen months later. Groups tend to panic a bit and the initial enthusiasm is replaced with hesitation and frowns. Nobody wants to be seen to be giving up.
As an example of process, consider the humble brainstorm. The traditional steps are
- Define the issue or problem
- Define the selection criteria
- Pre-expose the audience 24-48 hours ahead of time
- Gather ideas without evaluation
- Group, organise and gather more ideas
- Eliminate the absurd, gather more ideas
- Evaluate the remaining ideas consistently against the selection criteria
- Assign actions
If you dive right in and create a typical "brainstorm map", it is probable that the map only reflects steps 4 and 5. The rest of the process is implicit, or in the facilitator's head, or nowhere at all. But if you allocate a space in the map for communicating the process and tracking its status, then this map can be worked upon repeatedly, and voluminous contents won't overwhelm it. So when you have a flash of inspiration while mowing the grass three months later, you can return to your brainstorm map and understand the implications of injecting a new idea, without undermining the integrity of the map or the thinking that it represents.
Input that is added to a map without consideration for the process weighs it down and makes it go blunt, so that you don't want to work with it any more. To recover a map that has gone blunt and is going nowhere, try the following:
- Make a working space in the map that will hold the step-by-step process of developing this map to achieve an outcome. To do this, you will have to decide on what outcome you want. This may have been one of the missing pieces anway.
- Develop a sequence of gathering, organising, deciding and taking action. This pattern applies to much more than brainstorms.
- Now that you know where you are headed, review the organisation of the map and decide where you are up to in this sequence, and what you need to do to get it back on track. You may find that in some places the map is over-developed and shows premature conclusions. This can make it difficult to cope with information that does not fit with the conclusions.
The ResultsManager Template map is designed to capture information about a project, plus information about the status of the map itself. It also has an "in-box" area where new unsorted ideas can be placed before they are integrated into the existing map.