Mind Maps and Mind Manager

More often than not, I’m brought in to project kick-off meetings and told of a project schedule in which I am to start QA on a project of which I know nothing about. Due to the fact I’m usually busy testing, I don’t necessarily have the time to really dig in until the requirements are all nailed down as my other 10 projects have a very HIGH priority as well. Or at least nailed down enough where I can start some testing.

Before this happens, everyone wants to see a Test Plan. Of course, after asking for all the materials needed to actually write this Test Plan (somewhere on the server), I normally come to the conclusion that after reviewing all of this content, that it is incomplete and out-of-data. I’m guessing the IA guy was also busy as well IA’ng, so he had no time to update these highly detailed, and highly important documents that serve as the very foundation of my testing. That’s another story for another day.

My story for today is that I am now stuck bobbing for requirements. Instead of these requirements being in a huge barrel of water, in which my hands are tied behind my back, and I easily grab these requirements with my teeth like a great white; something I would more than likely prefer; I am now stuck on the requirements gathering conga-line. But unlike a regular conga line, this one is 5 times as long as a lot less fun; and there are no steel drums, and coconut shakers either.

So what is a tester to do? I first came across the idea of using Mind Maps after reading the 1st edition of “Extreme Programming explained” by Kent Beck. I was pretty psyched about using my first mind map but never really got the opportunity. Since a picture is worth a thousand words; I could only imagine a picture can be worth just as many requirements.

Let’s start with what a mind-map is. A mind-map is a graph-like structure that starts with a central concept and the user is able to start drawing out branches from the center developing each feature from that core concept. You can even draw out small branches, and more details pertaining to each branch.

Here is a mind-map I drew while coming up with my Test Design for a recent project. See Figure 1.0

My map
[Figure 1.0]

What I was able to do here was just start with a central idea and since I knew of some ideas and requirements I was able to build this out in a clear and visual manner and I was able to convey the minimum information to move forward while welcoming changing requirements and also adding new ones. I was able to centralize some of that older documentation because it still had some use, and instead of reproducing it in a testing document, it was reused and distributed in a map.

Since the site was also still in Development, this allowed me to test certain features of the site that were testable, while Development was still happening much easier. We were also awaiting other pieces to the puzzle so it was important to know what we were waiting for, what was tested already, and what had passed, and what was dependent on other requirements. This is really hard to follow in a very long Word Document that you have to keep updating. Instead, anytime I had a question about a requirement or had learned of a new one; I was able to add it to my map easily and visually see all of it’s dependencies; informing me what to hold off on testing until that piece is ready.

For this particular map, I was using Mind Manager by Mindjet which comes with another host of options that would make your mouth water. I was able to place green flags for what has passed, red flags for what failed, even flags for requirements that might make it, and requirements that had to be deferred because of a dependency. With 5 clicks of the mouse, and approximately 10 seconds later I was able to put a Quick Filter on my flags in order to determine on a daily basis where we were with each requirement. When we moved the site into our hosting environment, I was able to do the same. Because everything is on one page, it’s easy to see the big picture and to start connecting things in some very surprising and truly inspiring ways. The true beauty of this is that I was able to summarize the entire site in a single page while the project was constantly and rapidly moving.

There’s some research that states that using Mind Maps engages both sides of the brain and using colors help you exercise the neglected part of your brain that may be analytically busy describing a concept using a linear list and slides with bullet points. I also noticed I was able to see new associations between concepts which made my tests more thorough.

So what about the Test Plan you might be wondering? Well after coming up with a comprehensive mind map in a relatively short period of time; using Mind Manager I was literally able to export this file into a 120 page Word document that could be used for military use showing what has to be tested, what is pending, and later, what had passed and failed. I ended up doing an HTML export and coming up with a small site that has a Table of Contents, The Test Plan, the Test Design Specification which was the map (since Mind Manager makes them look really sexy), the test scripts, and even the datasets that I had automated to submit with Selenium, in addition to screenshots.

I will get into how to write out Test Scripts using Mind Manager in another future post, but for now, I’m pretty excited about using mind maps and I certainly plan on using them extensively for all my projects.



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