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5/21/2012
03:10 PM
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Mindjet Connects Vision, Action In Social Platform

Following up on last year's acquisition of Cohuman, Mindjet creates a social platform that excels at letting users visually map out plans, then collaborate to get work done.



Game On For Gamification Of Business
Game On For Gamification Of Business
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Plan, organize, and visualize your work. Then get it done.

With that approach, Mindjet is branching out from its base as a creator of brainstorming and mind mapping tools to enter the social collaboration market.

The updated Mindjet Connect cloud-based collaboration offering builds on the acquisition of Cohuman announced in September. Mindjet also is updating Mindjet Connect SP, an on-premises environment that works with SharePoint, and introducing Mindjet for Enterprise, which combines the two products for organizations wanting to support both internal and external collaboration.

[ Who leads in feeds? See Yammer, Chatter, Tibbr Ranked Top Social Activity Streams. ]

Mindjet initially rebranded the Cohuman social collaboration service as Mindjet Connect Action and offered it as a sister product to the visualization-oriented Mindjet Connect Vision. As of Monday, Vision and Action have been redefined as two halves of a single application, and customers will get both for no additional charge, according to Mindjet. What this means is that you can sketch a project plan and assemble related planning documents in Mindjet Connect Vision, then highlight any portion of the project plan, assign it to one or more people, and then push the plan into Mindjet Connect Action, where the team can collaborate on accomplishing its assigned tasks.

"There's no solution I'm aware of that brings both of those together," Blaine Mathieu, chief products officer at Mindjet, said in an interview. Although there are countless tools for collaborative task management, they're often disconnected from the planning process, he said. "These tend to be big silos. On the one hand, there's what we want to do and why we want to do it, and preparing the work to do and the teams to do it. Usually, that part and the actual execution of the project are separate processes." One danger of that separation, he said, is losing sight of the original goals of the project in the thick of the action.

Mindjet is best known for its MindManager visualization and planning product, which is desktop software available for PCs and Macs. Mindjet Connect Vision can be used to share documents created with MindManager, but it also includes a Web-based editor for creating and editing these "maps." The PC version of MindManager supports publishing and collaborative editing through Mindjet Connect, and the Mac version will be getting that capability soon, according to Mindjet.

Looking a little like Google Docs, Mindjet Connect Vision also supports sharing other documents, but so far only provides an online editor for the vision maps. Web-based editing of other document types is on the product roadmap, Mathieu said.

Mindjet Connect SP provides a similar set of functions, except that SharePoint serves as the document repository and SharePoint's own task management system takes the place of the Actions module. The approach with Mindjet Connect SP is to provide an improved user interface for mapping project plans.

Mindjet also has created iPhone, iPad, and Android versions of its visualization tool, which it is giving away for free as a way of exciting interest in its technology. Mathieu said many new customers are learning about Mindjet first through the mobile apps, which can be used alone or in combination with Mindjet Connect.

Mindjet's appearance in the social collaboration market is an example of how "the boundaries are still being defined--I don't think of them as being a social vendor," Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz said. Yet with the addition of an activity stream, suddenly a visualization product shows how it can be social, he said.

The structure of Mindjet Connect Actions reflects a trend toward creating social products for semi-structured workflow. Koplowitz mentioned Socialcast Strides as another attempt to define how work can get done through social networks.

"They're taking ad hoc processes and making them a little more structured, a little more repeatable. Activity streams in a social network are an interesting way to capture that," Koplowitz said. Even in loosely structured activities, you need a clue on when to take the next step, and an activity stream can provide an alert prompting a manager to approve something or get more information. If that's structured right, "you might never have to leave the activity stream to do that," Koplowitz said.

Mindjet Connect's method for assigning work also includes a feature for turning existing assignments into templates, similar to a key feature in the social workflow product Sparqlight.

In one scenario Mathieu outlined, a hypothetical bicycle helmet manufacturer might use a mind map to depict all the steps in creating a new product and bringing it to market. A template created from that project might include a standard list of tasks and assignments for engineering, market research, and marketing teams but not the project-specific documents that would be different from one product to the next. A new plan created from that template could then be edited to add or subtract participants or change the deadlines.

One enthusiast for Mindjet's approach is Gary Hielkema, CEO of Sensor Link, which makes high-voltage testing devices and other equipment for electric utilities. Hielkema is a longtime user of MindManager, but he is new to social software and not a particularly big user of social media, either. Mindjet Connect Action "opened my eyes to the social aspect of communication among the team," he said. "It's so much more efficient than an email."

He and several other employees have adopted the tool to the extent that it's the first thing they look at in the morning, before checking email. More importantly, when someone asks him for a status report on a project, he can check Mindjet Connect and see, visually, exactly where it stands, he said. "I can get a better assessment over a three-minute period than if I walked over to someone's desk and asked, 'Hey, where do we stand on this?'"

Hielkema said he was introduced to MindManager eight or nine years ago by an executive coach he was working with who also used the tool. "It just became an integral piece of my everyday life. It's how I think and how I work now," he said. Further, he's made it available to every Sensor Link employee, he said. "It's just a tool that we use, period."

As Mindjet enhanced the tools capabilities for teams, Hielkema came to see the visualization tool as a simple alternative to product management tools like Microsoft Project. "People want to be able to see something, and have it be as simple as possible," capable of showing "some complexity" but not an overwhelming amount, he said.

Sensor Link has about 30 employees, and its collaborations through Mindjet Connect also include employees at partner organizations--one of the features Hielkema said he really likes. A typical engineering project might start with "scouring the earth for product ideas," with the process outlined in a map that shows how the initial brainstorming flows into research and development and eventually to product development. The lead engineer works with the map, filling in tasks and resources and defining the flow into manufacturing and engineering, Hielkema said.

"Another project that came up the other day was figuring out how to open up the European market to certain products. We're managing that in Mindjet Action, where we've defined something like 22 tasks that have to be done over the coming months," Hielkema said.

Hielkema also uses Mindjet's applications on his iPhone and although the mapping program is "not as robust" as the desktop version, he said, "Action is awesome on my iPhone--I use it a lot." The task-oriented activity stream has proven very useful for tracking projects on the go, he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

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