Project management programs often sound great in theory,\n but once IT hands them out to end users, complaints about ease\n of use and inscrutable interfaces start rolling in.\n Industrial-strength charting programs like Microsoft Visio\n please IT veterans, especially those who draw network diagrams\n for a living, but often prove frustrating for line-of-business\n execs. Sometimes, as Neal Benz, CTO of Healthwise, learned, you have to think\n differently to crack your company's project management\n problem.\n MORE ON CIO.COM\n \n ABCs of Project Management\n \n Understanding the Project Management Office\n \n 4 Project Management Tips\n And, as Benz learned, you may find that a project management\n app today can do more for a business than keep projects running\n smoothly. The program that he chose, Mindjet's MindManager,\n turned into a product development tool for his company as well.\n (The most recent version, MindManager Pro 7, lists at $349 with\n volume pricing available; the company offers a 21-day free\n trial if you want to gauge your reaction to the interface.)\n Healthwise, a nonprofit organization founded in 1975, works\n with managed care groups like Kaiser Permanente, consumer portals like\n WebMD and hundreds of hospitals to\n provide information that helps consumers make informed\n health decisions. The company calls it Information\n Therapy.But when it came to managing their internal project\n information, including hundreds of pieces of health-related\n content that would be involved in an upcoming product line\n launch, the company realized about two years ago that it needed\n to do some surgery. Among the company's 50 technology employees\n and 211 employees overall, a variety of project management\n tools were in use, including Microsoft Project and Microsoft\n Visio. At this time, the company began developing a complex new\n product line called the Ix HealthMastery Campaigns. This is a\n series of information programs that send a variety of e-mailed\n information, questionnaires and reminders to consumers on\n topics like asthma, back pain and smoking cessation, during the\n course of about a year. The project would require close\n communication by a diverse group of people."We had a team of people working on this project ranging\n from doctors to writers to project managers to technical\n people," says Lisa O'Toole, a software engineer for Healthwise\n tasked with the HealthMastery launch. (O'Toole reports not to\n Benz but directly to the company vice president responsible for\n new product development.) "We needed a way to develop the ideas\n so that we could all see where we were going," she says. The\n company briefly tried group meetings with sticky notes on a\n board, she adds, but while sticky notes can paint a picture of\n related ideas, they can\u2019t, of course, organize the\n related electronic files.As Benz notes, many companies actually end up running\n projects like Healthwise's new product launch in Excel, simply\n because the user interface is one we all understand. But that's\n a mistake, he adds. "Something like Word or Excel is linear, it\n can\u2019t deal with the different legs of the campaign."\n\n Goodbye Lists, Hello Maps\n Some people inside the company were using MindManager, an\n application from Mindjet that was born as a brainstorming tool\n but has since become more of an organizational and project\n management tool. MindManager lets users draw visual charts representing an idea or\n project, with all the related branches and pieces. "We saw\n that we could take MindManager to the next step, for product\n development," Benz says.Compared to traditional, heavy-duty project management\n applications like Microsoft Project, MindManager is an unusual\n application because of its emphasis on graphic charts or\n "maps." Anyone can get going with MindManager by drawing a\n graphical map, which appeals to people who are not project\n management experts. Some project management programs force\n people to start with a list of project milestones, dates and\n team members, and this can make you feel like you're filling\n out an endless spreadsheet.The MindManager program presents little learning curve for\n business users, Benz decided. Plus, thanks to XML\n functionality, it lets users link out to the related project\n documents directly from the visual "map." In Healthwise's case,\n the links take users directly to all the documents for each of\n the 15 campaigns inside the HealthMastery line.The development team for the new product line (ranging from\n doctors to IT people) used MindManager for design and authoring\n at first, then later for implementation and finally as a\n testing matrix, to make sure all the pieces of each campaign\n were lined up in the proper order.Each HealthMastery campaign sends different messages,\n depending on patient responses to certain questions, for\n example, whether they've had a setback or a change in emotional\n health. So there's a series of if\/then branches and timing\n triggers on the visual maps. "People here refer to our maps as\n 'the bible,'" O'Toole says.The program's visual look-and-feel won over the diverse\n group working on the project, O'Toole says. "I was surprised\n how quickly the users embraced it," O'Toole says. "When you\n compare it to Microsoft Visio, which is a great tool, Visio is\n kind of hard to use. I did have one of our writers try to do\n something in Visio and she ran screaming from her office," she\n says. "Some doctors still write everything down on paper."Some of the company's IT staff still use Visio, but they\n don\u2019t ask end users to do so, Benz and O'Toole note. IT\n staffers also use Microsoft Visual Studio Team System and Team\n Foundation Server to support the group's agile development\n methodology.IT also discovered that the MindManager application aids\n with quality assurance efforts. When one of the campaigns is\n ready for testing, Benz says, all you have to do is open the\n map. That's because the map links to each piece of content that\n a consumer receives in the course of a campaign, on a topic\n like managing asthma. The map also links to the triggers and\n rules that govern which piece will be sent at what time."That made a great testing document," he says. "You could\n look at every action and ask, Does it have the right question\n branches, the right questions, the right time-based triggers?"\n For example, a newly diagnosed asthma patient would be sent\n different materials, in a different order, than say, an asthma\n patient who became pregnant. Healthwise has to ensure its\n system sends the right material at the right moment in\n care.Today, the company continues to develop new campaigns inside\n of HealthMastery and to use MindManager to do the work, from\n development to testing. At the start of the project, the group\n will often put a Mindjet map up on a flat panel display in a\n conference room, Benz says, to start the discussion. Each\n campaign takes 10 to 12 weeks to develop from start to finish,\n Benz says. "Without it (MindManager), every person on the team\n would be spending more time than they currently do to complete\n a campaign," he says.\n Implementation Tips\n Healthwise CTO Neal Benz learned these lessons while\n implementing Mindjet's MindManager for project\n management and new product design:1. Bring the application into your\n organization in a gradual way, say, by first\n using it in cross-departmental brainstorming\n sessions.2. Stress the user interface, since\n some project management apps center on complicated\n lists and this one centers on visual maps akin to\n flowcharts.3. Customize the program using the\n terminology and vocabulary of your organization, to\n maximize adoption by your users. In Benz's experience,\n this wasn't hard.4. Take advantage of the XML storage\n features to connect to other tools in your\n enterprise.5. Investigate whether your visual\n maps might make a good set of quality assurance test\n cases for IT.Looking ahead, the company will try to connect more of its\n internal data to the Mindjet maps and investigate whether those\n maps can be extended to consumers, to collect and present\n information in an even more structured way, O'Toole says.What's the next step that Healthwise would like to see\n vendors take with this type of technology? "Getting to an\n enterprise map server, where maps can be centrally served up\n and shared and updated by multiple users simultaneously, would\n be a tremendous step forward," O'Toole says.As for the bottom line, Healthwise's Benz says IT execs\n should think about what this or any project management\n application can do beyond just tracking dates and\n milestones."MindManager can be a disruptive technology in your\n organization, needing little to no training, and being used in\n innovative ways by all levels of staff for product design,\n content authoring, implementation and QA," he says.