Brainstorm project solutions with MindView mind-mapping software

Read the five-step process for using the Nominal Group Technique and MindView software to facilitate brainstorming sessions and then export data into Excel.

In unstructured brainstorming sessions, there is a tendency for some project team members to be overbearing, while others may be shy about participating. IT project managers can use the Nominal Group Technique (NGT) as a brainstorming tool to address this type of problem. The NGT eliminates group bias, group think, or any social influence. Figure A depicts NGT in a mind-map format. Figure A

NGT process. (Click the image to enlarge.)

The NGT is a five-step process: generate ideas, collect ideas, review ideas, prioritize ideas, and record results. When this technique is used with the MatchWare MindView mind-mapping software, project teams can conduct a brainstorming session and then record and prioritize the results using MindView's unique integration features with Microsoft Excel. Follow this tutorial to learn how to conduct the NGT with MindView.

Step 1: Generate ideas

In the brainstorming session, you should ask each team member to silently write down solutions to the problem; this process eliminates bias or influence from other team members. Be sure to establish a time limit to facilitate this session.

Step 2: Collect ideas

The next step is to collect the ideas and record them in MindView. If you want the answers to be anonymous, you should ask team members to hand in their solutions, and then you can build the mind map in MindView using the cards. I prefer to have each team member share one idea, and then I record each solution in MindView (Figure B).

To record these ideas in MindView, follow these steps:

1. Create a new mind-map file.

2. Click the center node and type a new name.

3. Click the Insert key to insert a new node.

4. Change the name of the node to the first idea.

Repeat these steps until all the ideas are recorded.

Figure B

Record a brainstorming idea in MindView. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Step 3: Review ideas

Now you need to review the ideas for clarification. The team members should not debate the ideas but simply clarify an idea's meaning for common understanding. During this process, if you find duplicate or similar ideas, here's how you can group those ideas in MindView (Figure C):

1. Click a node.

2. Drag the node to another node, and it will become a subnode to the idea.

3. You may need to insert a new node, rename it, and move the other nodes as sub nodes.

Figure C

Review and group ideas in MindView. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Step 4: Prioritize ideas

Each team member should prioritize a subset of the ideas. According to Kenneth Rose in his book Project Quality Management: Why, What, and How, he suggests using these prioritization rules:

  • 20 ideas : Prioritize four ideas
  • 21 to 35 ideas : Prioritize six ideas
  • 36 or more ideas : Prioritize eight ideas

The highest priority should receive a weight of 4; the second priority should receive a weight of 3; the third priority should receive a weight of 2; and the last priority should receive a weight of 1. You will enter these values into Excel to calculate a weighted priority. Since we're using MindView, I can export the mind map directly into Excel and set up the exported map for a quick tally.

To export the mind map into Excel, follow these steps:

1. Click the green and black MindView logo in the upper left corner (Figure D).

2. Select Export | Microsoft Excel | Quick Excel Export.

Once the export is complete, click OK to open the file.

Figure D

Export to Excel. (Click the image to enlarge.)
The final exported file is displayed in Figure E. Figure E

Exported MindView map

The next step is to prepare the Excel file to record the results.

Step 5: Record results

Assuming we had 10 people in the brainstorming session, I inserted 10 columns to record each participant's results. I then inserted a Total Column and inserted a formula to summarize each row. When recording the results, you can ask each person to submit their top four prioritizations (anonymously or in a round-robin) and record them in the matrix (Figure F). Figure F

Exported matrix with prioritization values. (Click the image to enlarge.)
When all the values are recorded, the Total column can be sorted from Largest to Smallest to identify the top four priorities (Figure G). The value of this technique is it promotes unbiased brainstorming with individual voting. By calculating the prioritization, the team can quickly establish the top solutions to a given problem. Figure G

Prioritized list


MindView is one of the few mind-mapping tools that exports directly to Excel, and it also has several useful built-in project management features. You'll find plenty of applications for mind mapping and project management with MindView.

Another benefit of using the software is that it is simple for remote team members to participate in this process because the entire exercise can be conducted using a laptop and a web conferencing solution.

If you are interested in exploring mind mapping for business, try MindView's free 30-day trial. If you decide to download MindView, read my TechRepublic article about how you can build milestone charts faster with this mind-mapping software.

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Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit

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