Collaboration should be a given in practically every task a knowledge worker undertakes.
Frequently, however, it isn’t and, in many cases, where collaboration does take place, it is not used to its best advantage. Part of the reason for this is due to much collaborative work taking place without a full a picture of the project at hand.
Indeed, there exist different dimensions to collaboration and there is a significant need to connect knowledge workers, the collaborative process itself, and the organization with relevant complex information, ideas, and processes. Given the trend towards both a dispersed workforce and the need for collaboration among multiple entities, the need to effectively manage a project requires new approaches to joining people with information.
One approach that will make collaboration between knowledge workers more effective is to ensure that the supporting information is captured in a form that adds context and is easily shareable. To add context, information must be linked to people, documents, and other supporting content. One method of doing this is to create a mind map. Mind mapping is a technique for brainstorming and organizing data that starts with a central point and then adds branches with related content such as links, documents, attachments, notes, and tasks. The resulting diagram is a visual guide to a set of information that allows knowledge workers to see the big picture and understand the context of what they are doing.
One company active in this space is Mindjet. The company has made its reputation through the development of mind mapping products, such as its MindManager product line. Adding further value to the company’s mind mapping capabilities, Mindjet recently launched Mindjet Catalyst, an online visual collaboration platform. The offering has clear roots in Mindjet’s visual approach to mind mapping that the company is know for, and adds a team-based collaborative element.
Catalyst is an online service and can be accessed from anywhere via any Web browser and hooks into standards-based document repositories such as SharePoint. Multiple users can make edits and attach supporting documents and other content to a mind map and have the changes reflected in real time. The offering also includes pre-built map templates for common business situations such as online meetings or idea generation sessions. Once maps are generated, they are shareable with colleagues (both users of Catalyst and with those who do not use the product) via links that are e-mailed or posted on social networking sites. Workspaces are assigned with permission levels to assign reader, author, and owner access. In addition, the environment is persistent, meaning that users are able to see changes that have occurred.
Catalyst also features integrated online chat functionality, and (optional) Web conferencing capabilities. The integrated online chat embeds community into the work environment and allows for communication between colleagues without forcing them to leave the environment and switch tools. The Web conferencing module includes desktop sharing, video and VoIP support, file transfer, and session recording.
Mindjet has taken a good and underappreciated idea, the visual mapping of information, and successfully integrated into it collaborative capabilities and tools. Displaying information in a visual and connected way gives the knowledge worker context that is critically important for making informed decisions, capturing new information, and understanding business processes. The addition of powerful collaborative elements extends the value of mind mapping by allowing knowledge workers to use the environment for the kind of collaborative team-based work that is a reality in the knowledge economy.
Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.