Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Project Planning in MindView 3

In a previous post, I had asked my readers to share their thoughts and ideas about project planning and management and mind mapping software. I had created a short 10 question poll about the issues and features that you are looking for in your mind mapping software and just how important and integral is project management to the tool. Not surprising a large percentage of the respondents felt that using mind mapping software for project planning was a very important reason for using the tool.

Earlier this week I posted a review of MindView 3 from Matchware, Inc. which focused on the mind mapping environment and thought that you would be interested in some of the unique project management features that are built into MindView 3 BE. With this in mind, I had a chance to take a look at MindView 3 Business Edition (BE) to see how it handles project planning. MindView 3 BE has project planning tools integrated into the mind mapping application and it is easy to go from mind mapping to the Gantt View with a single click. Once you are in the Gantt View you have a full range of tools at your disposal which you would come to expect from a project planning application. Once you go from the mind mapping view to the Gantt View MindView 3 now will treat your Main Topics as Summary Tasks and all your subtopics as your working tasks. In the Gantt View it is easy to set the Start Dates and the Duration for the task and watch the End Date automatically recalculate. MindView 3 BE lets you select the dates from the standard calendar picker which makes it easy to enter the data. You can link your Tasks as well as your Summary Tasks with the Linking tool that is provided in the Toolbar and watch as your Gantt chart is recalculated when changes are made. MindView 3 BE supports a number of common dependencies such as Start to Start, Start to Finish, Finish to Start, and Finish to Finish. To make changes to the type of dependency, simply double click on the link between the tasks and select the dependency type from the drop down menu. Entering task completion is easily accomplished by placing your cursor in the task bar and dragging the completion bar to the right. You could just as easily extend how long a task will take by clicking on the outer edge of the task and dragging to the right. MindView 3 is very responsive and changes are automatically updated. MindView 3 has several overall styles that you can apply to your Gantt chart as well as allowing you to fully customize individual tasks with your own color schemes if you so desire.

Setting up your resources for the project can be accomplished in several different ways. For small projects it is easy to just type in the name of your resource. For larger projects you can import your resources from you Address Book or from your Active Directory. There is also the option of importing your Resources from OpenMind, MindView, Microsoft Project and from MindManager. Once you have entered your Resources into your project you can allocate the Resource by selecting the resource from the Assign Resources dialog box. I would have liked to been able to select the Resource right within Resource area without the need to bring up another dialog box to do so.

Setting up the Project Calendar for the Project is quick and intuitive and allows you to define the standard work day as well as set days off for the project. Setting up non-default days was accomplished very quickly. It is important to understand the each Project Calendar is set up for each project that you are working on. It is not possible for MindView 3 to be able to share Resources among multiple projects you are tracking and so Resource leveling is not an option in this application. To view the Critical Path you simply click on the Critical Path button which is prominently located on the toolbar.

Setting up project costs within MindView 3 BE is accomplished by using the Calculation Panel. As you see in this Gantt Chart, I have set up three different branch values for each task; Labor Costs, Materials, and Total Costs. Once these values have been set up I can then click on any task and enter a dollar value. Using the formula tools within MindView 3 BE, I can also sum up the Total Costs which are based on adding the values of Labor Costs and Materials for each task. Creating the formula to do this was straight forward and intuitive. MindView 3 BE has a very powerful SUM tool that can be utilized to roll up all of the values in your project and provide you with and overall cost for your project. To get a sense of the power of the Calculations-simply use the Export to Excel Advanced feature to generate a fully formatted project cost analysis spreadsheet with all of the data in one place. You can also use the Project Reports tool that is found within the Gantt View to give you a number of key reports that you can generate on the fly. The Project Reports generates html files and opens your reports within the browser. You will find the reporting to be be very quick and easy to use.

When it comes time for sharing your Gantt chart you can easily print it out using the various formatting features found in MindView 3 BE or export your project to Microsoft Project if you like. You can easily export your Gantt view to a Picture file in a number of formats. I would have liked to see the ability to export to PDF within MindView 3 BE,, which is I believe the standard for file exchange.

For those situations when a Timeline will do to communicate the project, MindView 3 BE provides you with an alternative to the Gantt Chart. The Timeline environment is just a click away and is packed with features to help communicate your project tasks and goals. There are several ways to format your Timeline within MindView 3 to take advantage of both timelines and Gantt charts. This is a really handy tool to have access and gives you multiple ways to represent your project tasks. You will notice in the screenshot that you can also show the costs associated with each task.

Summary
MindView 3 BE gives you some easy yet powerful tools which lets you go from mind mapping to project planning with the click of the mouse. MindView 3 BE provides an intuitive and easy to use interface within the Gantt View to get your project planning done and on time. While the calculation feature provides some powerful reporting features it doesn't go far enough to help link the duration of the task with costs. I would have liked to been able to have my costs for the project keyed into the duration of the task and the cost as related to the resource being accessed so that MindView 3 could automatically calculate the current cost for the project. I believe that this is an area for improvement but it does not mar the effectiveness of the tool or the ability to work with calculations and the Excel Export to generate your project costing reports. All told, MindView 3 is a formidable mind mapping tool with strong timeline and project planning features.

 
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