I read with interest Chuck Frey's recent Mind Map Insider report "Everything you ever wanted to know about dashboard mind maps but were afraid to ask". There are some good ideas there, but also a couple that will send you down the wrong path; one example appears to summarise dynamic information, but the data is actually entered manually. Another would be frustratingly inefficient to use, requiring you to review the whole map at each visit and keep it up to date by moving things from one list to another. The theme behind these dashboard maps seemed to be holding up a mirror to the features of mind mapping software, rather than exploiting it for a higher purpose.
The fence at which nearly all dashboard map designs fall is this: a tree diagram provides only one perspective. It can't be a top-down view of a project and a list of critical things to do by the end of this week, in the same picture. Each may contain the other, but the secondary role will be compromised in some way, requiring you to work harder to extract it. If your dashboard map consists of lists of things to do, it will be hard to step back and see the big picture. If your dashboard map is the big picture, you will have to be careful not to overlook something crucial that might be out of view while you are blue-sky thinking. Neither compromise augers well for maps that should be ergonomic and efficient to use in the long term.
Power Markers for MindManager version 2 was released on the Olympic web site last week, and addresses this exact problem. Power Markers enables you to design effective dashboard maps by focusing on projects and overviews in the map, and letting Power Markers compile the lists in a side window. So you get two views of the same subject - a graphical overview as a map, and a set of sorted lists that work as shortcuts to any part of the map, even the deeply buried areas. Power Markers calculates lists dynamically, and can show you lists like "unfinished items due this week" without you needing to manually deduce and assign that status.
There is also a free white paper about the design of dashboard maps, which defines the seven key factors that make a map into a dashboard map - no subscription required!
Power Markers v2 breaks new ground in the business model for add-ins. Most extensions with real value have a price tag attached, so you have to open your wallet for a second time - and while MindManager remains the gold standard in mind mapping desktop software, it could never be accused of being cheap. But Power Markers Standard edition is free to use, and does not require a license key. The Standard edition supports up to 15 lists per map, which is plenty for many applications. The download includes two template dashboard designs that need only 15 lists. To use more than 15 lists requires a license key, but you can make that decision when you get to that level, rather than being pressured by a time-limited trial.
A dashboard map is a snapshot of a process, and the design of the dashboard sets out the key staging points in that process. At one level, it is like a sophisticated version of the "Whack a Mole" arcade game, where your job is to keep hitting the moles down as they pop up. When no more appear, your project or process is either finished, or someone pulled the plug.
If you are an experienced MindManager user, the sense of control over a map that is provided by the Power Markers Hot Lists is quite a revelation. Your maps quickly divide into two types - the ones that use Power Markers, and the ones that don't. They each have a very different feel to them. You don't need them everywhere, but in places where you do, they can literally transform the usability of a map.
If you use a defined process with your clients or colleagues, and can profile the status of a situation or project in 15 lists or less, then Power Markers v2 gives you a simple way to document and share your expertise for free. Over the coming months I hope to publish some more dashboard templates, and would be very glad to share examples from others too.
I would like to thank everyone who took part in the version 2 beta and took the time to send suggestions and feeback. Here are the links again: