Using Mind Maps for Software Design

One of the challenges of promoting Mind Mapping is finding corporate users willing to share their trade secrets. Happily, an exception recently appeared in the November issue of Better Software entitled, “X Marks the Test Case, Using Mind Maps for Software Design”. The author, Robert Sabourin, has more than 20 years of management experience in leading teams of developers to deliver software products as they ought to be delivered and seldom are – on time, on budget, and missing the bugs and glitches that so frequently plague the end user. Sabourin is an adjunct professor of software engineering at McGill University.

He uses Mind Mapping to generate test ideas and his computer generated diagrams show useful and concrete examples. These include defining equivalence class – the variables under test, the identification of explicit and implicit requirements when identifying classes based on the application logic; maps that identify usage scenarios; and maps to identify quality factors. “You will see that misunderstandings and ambiguities are resolved in real time as you build the mind map!” he says.

Sabourin sees several benefits for software testers when they use Mind Maps:

. An intuitive visual representation of the application under test
. Improved communication between the technical and non-technical stakeholders that leads to more realistic and complete test design
. Encouragement of lateral thinking
. Reusable design templates
. Visual notes quickly and easily made during the testing process

I was able to give him one tip that applies to VisiMap and other software when he cautioned that maps can easily get too big. It’s not necessary to restructure or redraw unless you want to. You can cut to a linked map in VisiMap and some of the more robust mapping programs. You can also reduce the branches on all but the one under use or discussion. I’ve frequently found this helpful with seven or eight levels on the one branch open with the others reduced to the primary branch level. That way the big picture still remains on the page.

Sabourin gives his son credit for learning Mind Mapping and bringing it to his attention by showing him his map of the E. B. White’s children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. We can all learn from our kids. It was my son Michael, a fellow software tester, who showed me this article. I don’t know much about software testing personally, but I hope to learn more from Sabourin’s popular book, I am a Bug! It’s designed to teach software testing to children.


4 thoughts on “Using Mind Maps for Software Design

  1. Norah Bolton says:

    I’ve now had a chance to have a very brief look at Spark-Space.

    First of all, any program that encourages users to think graphically is a good thing. This one reminds me of Inspiration in its look and feel. One of the things I liked was the ability to look at both graphic and text formats simultaneously.

    There were some features that I hope would be added in future versions. Mind Maps are branching structures. Most programs add branches automatically. This one does have the advantage of showing connections between branches other than the central one (what Barry Buzan calls the Central Ordering Idea – the main reason for the map in the first place! – but the primiary and subsequent connections should be automatic. I personally prefer a reordering command on a menu to a manual reordering.

    Another feature that could be improved is the necessity of moving text files to correspond with branch moves. Other programs make this connection automatically and never treat the two as separate entitites.

    I didn’t have a chance to look at export capability – and important feature of several programs. While image libraries are a useful addition, these days huge image sources are readily available from places like MS image library or Google images – so they may be taking up unncessary storage space.

    In summary, I think this is a good introductory program and hope that as it develops it will include more robust features for business use.

    Best regards
    Norah bolton

  2. Norah Bolton says:

    I haven’t. and I am always interested in learning of other programs and their capability. I’ll have a look.

    Best regards
    Norah Bolton

  3. Anonymous says:


    Have you ever come across a piece of mind mapping software called Spark-Space? The really clever thing that they did when building the help files was to use their own product to map the help files – result help files that are reallt intuitive. Spark-Space can be veiwed at http://www.spark-space.com

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