Thoughts on using mind maps

I’ve heard that people can identify with either visual, auditory or tactile methods of learning, or some combination of the three. This is called Fleming’s VARK model of learning. The concept is pretty simple. Visual learners learn best with visual aids, like diagrams, pictures and books. Auditory learnings learn best when they’re listening to things like lectures and discussions. Tactile learners learn best when they’re doing things, like experiments and demonstrations. Most people will probably use a combination, but show a preference for one method more than the others.

I know from experience that I’m a very visual learner, so I love drawing diagrams and writing very structured documents to visualise information. Tactile learning works well for me too, but I usually struggle with audio information. So mind maps are a really useful tool for me. I can create mind maps very rapidly because each node already has the context of the previous node.

When I’m using mind maps for requirements analysis, I’ll make initial nodes for each main component, then break each component down into smaller feature nodes. I’ll add nodes for any questions or test cases that I think of along the way. I used to make the questions and test cases a different colour, but I found that it was a waste of time because I’m really just capturing raw data, which forms the basis of my questions and test cases. Once I’ve written test cases, I don’t really look at the map again.

I think this is because mapping isn’t so much an information capturing exercise as it is a learning exercise. Visualising requirements helps me to form a more complete mental model of the system under test, which helps me to work out scenarios based on this understanding.

I tried to use mind maps for mapping out functional areas of a system, but it didn’t work because mind maps only allow a tree hierarchy so they can’t show an adequate level of interconnectedness between functional areas.

I think that at their best, mind maps will be a visual representation of the author’s own thought process. For this reason, they may not be useful to anyone other than the author (especially non-visual learners). This has been my experience, but perhaps others are finding it useful in collaboration if they are using them in a different way.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts on using mind maps

  1. Hi Trish,

    Good thoughts! I’ve seen many different uses of mind maps – for learning, progress mapping and recording.

    I use them more on the learning side – occasionally to a map overview (for learning or a strategy plan). But I think they’re main power, for me, is the learning side.

    When I first used mind maps they were drawn on paper – so I didn’t have any tool restriction imposed on me. Maybe that’s a way forward for you – and when you get something that you’re happy with it, take a photo and store/distribute it digitally.

  2. On paper is a good idea. All too often I forget about the paper option. I’m getting a whiteboard in my office soon, so that’ll be a good option as well.

  3. Whiteboards make a huge difference to me. In our last office, the whiteboard was occupied as our taskboard – the new office has whiteboards everywhere and it’s made a big difference to how easy it is to grab a couple of people and actually get detailed feedback. I think I get way better contributions from people when we’re standing at a whiteboard and they don’t have to ask for the keyboard & ask me to move in order to start adding details.

    How do you deal with discussions on new features being mostly verbal? I need to *see* things, & found for me this was one of the biggest hurdles I faced in getting used to an Agile team – we’d talk about cards but I’d be sitting there thinking “I’m not *seeing* this”.

  4. Hi,
    I mainly use mind maps to organize my thoughts to prepare some works like projects or test strategy, presentations and other kind of documents. Mind maps are also great to write meeting minutes and of source the best support for brainstorming sessions.
    This is also a great tool for collaboration and I use mind mapping to gather requirements from business users and define test suites with them or with testers.
    Your last point is very true. When mind mapping is used to write down your own way of thinking it is hardly reusable by others and even by yourself a few days or weeks later.

    I also found that mind mapping has also great value when used to organize data and not only thoughts or ideas. This may require a little process and rules. And I think this is what you do with your requirements, tests and coloured question nodes. And as there is some kind of rules accompagnying the map, it can be reusable of others if, they know these rules. On this principle, I created a little application – still in beta – to convert mind maps (from freemind and xmind) into requirements or test suites (for testlink at the moment) ( Maybe would you be interested in and have suggestions to improve the tool and the rules (described in the online help).


  5. Great post. I agree that Mind Mapping is a learning experience. For example if I read a good book, I find it good practice to create a Mind Map as a summary of what I’ve read. This helps reinforce the main points and is a great point of reference to return to in the future.

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