Having described how to sync MindManager (MM) tasks with Outlook and then how this relationship could be used to create an interactive dashboard as well as some of the limitations and issues involved in this approach in my earlier posts, I’ll conclude by highlighting some of the potential uses for MM dashboard maps.
First, a general comment on the range of people who may find this method useful, and those who may not. Unfortunately the limitations I outlined in part 3 are likely to rule out those users working in team environments because of the difficulties involved in assigning resources to tasks. As I noted, any resource created and assigned in an MM project map is summarily removed by the process of syncing with Outlook. While task assignments made in Outlook are retained they are visible but not editable in MM; in theory it would be possible to manage resources from Outlook, but this is a fairly convoluted approach.
Those users who rely on multiple text tag groups in their maps are also ruled out, as again these groups are summarily stripped out by the syncing process to be replaced by an Outlook-compatible categories group. Similarly, topic properties defined in MM are overwritten by an Outlook-defined status property. Both of these are editable from within MM, but can’t be deleted or replaced. And it isn’t possible to work around these limitations by using icons or labels as proxies either – while these aren’t removed from the source maps, they aren’t synced to Outlook and the dashboard maps.
Users wanting to create dashboard maps without these limitations are probably better off purchasing a dedicated add-in designed for this purpose. The two main contenders are Gyronix ResultsManager (US$297) or Olympic Limited’s TopicTracker (UK£49). Both these programs can create dashboard maps but in different ways. To quote their respective websites, ResultsManager “sweeps maps looking for incomplete activities, and dynamically creates focused dashboards designed to support action and review processes”, while TopicTracker “gives you a way to share specific Topics from your Mindjet MindManager Maps with other Topic Tracker users, allowing them to be kept informed of changes to specific Topic elements when required”.
These are both excellent add-ins but they are expensive (especially ResultsManager) and as I noted in my first post may be overkill for many users. If you currently don’t use features such as resource allocation, multiple text tag groups or topic properties or can at least live without them – for example, if you are managing multiple projects using MM in a single-licence environment– then the Outlook-based model I have outlined may be helpful. This process is not too complicated and it’s also free, provided you already have Microsoft Outlook. Here are some potential uses:
- Creating an interactive snapshot of current task deadlines across multiple projects. This is the most obvious use of dashboard maps and is particularly effective if you use assign a category to each project or major sub-project as outlined in my example. You could create a daily or weekly snapshot of current tasks and then update progress, which after syncing will be incorporated in the original project maps. If task roll-up is turned on in your dashboard map you will also get a visual warning about what tasks are at risk or overdue.
- Prepare an overview of what’s coming up – or what’s already been completed. Similarly you can look at what’s due next week, in the next two weeks or next month – or you can specific any date range from the current date or within a set range in the future. This approach is great for managing your upcoming workload, which will also be visible in the Gantt chart. As well as reviewing what has to be done, you can also look at which projects have been completed in, say, the previous 10 days.
- Review selected categories/projects or tasks with specific priorities or other attributes. As I indicated in my previous post, Outlook queries allow you only to select all categories or only one. There is however a way around this; use a power filter in the dashboard map. You can filter on the basis of categories, or on the basis of any other task topic attribute, for example priority, specific progress level or the presence or otherwise of topic notes or attachments (all attributes which are maintained through the syncing process).
- Prepare and maintain a detailed management map for a single project which incorporates non-task items. While the process I have outlined in this series of posts has concentrated on creating dashboard maps involving tasks, don’t forget that emails, appointments, contacts and even notes in Outlook can also be incorporated. Of these, only tasks and appointments can be initiated from the MM side, but all items can be sent from Outlook to MM and synced (with varying degrees of success). This provides the opportunity to create a complete project management map as a dashboard separate from the initial planning map, with links to these Outlook items as well as to documents and working files. While it is possible to do this with more than one project category in the same map, this approach is best reserved for providing a detailed overview of a single project. Don’t forget however that some topic attributes are item-specific, so if you apply a power filter to show, for example, task due dates or progress status, all non-task items in the map will be hidden.
Obviously there are many other potential uses for dashboard maps, which I’ll leave you to explore. I’ll conclude this series with a minor correction to my previous posts explaining the process, but one that opens up further opportunities. I stated that the categories which underpin this approach could only be created in Outlook and then sent to MM via a dummy task, where they could be applied to topics before syncing. This strictly speaking isn’t the case; while the first category must be created in Outlook, once syncing is undertaken further categories can be added in MM. The dummy task is still needed to send them back to Outlook, which is also the only place where category colours can be added, but this means that you brainstorm your categories in MM first.