Can a mind map help improve refinements?

Yamini Hundare
Yamini Hundare
Scrum Master
Posted on
May 18, 2022
Updated on
Jun 5, 2022
Table of Content

Let’s start with understanding what a mind map is. A mind map is a simple diagram that allows you to visually represent information. It helps distributed teams to brainstorm, plan projects, map out information architecture, create org charts and develop sales strategies. A mind map is a free-flowing depiction of thoughts that branch out from a central concept. Mind maps boost creativity, assist in problem-solving, and can help connect relevant information.

This technique was first introduced by Tony Buzan, and its popularity is on the rise.

Designed using Canva — By Yamini

How can a mind map support the teams during refinement?

Both virtual and in-person refinement sessions can benefit from the mind map concept. When introducing the topic for the first time, begin by discussing it and allowing the team to brainstorm. Brainstorming can be accomplished by drawing a mind map to represent the thinking process.

Use a keyword to write the main concept at the center of the form, which is sometimes accompanied by an image. Ask the team to write all the questions they have. For example, why are we building it? The main purpose of introducing this topic? Who are the stakeholders? How do we plan to implement it? Do we need UI/UX designs and are they approved? Group these questions based on relevance and create branches that fork from the central idea. Try to make use of keywords or simple phrases rather than long descriptive text. Using colors, images, or symbols can make the interpretation of the mind map more effective. 

Mind Map Designed using MIRO — By Yamini

The person who knows the answers is the one who gives them. Maybe the team won’t be able to find answers to all of the inquiries. Depending on how many unknowns there are, the team may decide to seek answers and regroup for further refinement. Alternatively, if the team has enough knowledge based on the new information, they can either create a list of follow-up questions or labl the topic as refined.

Mind Map example

Let’s take “Adding search filters” as our refinement’s topic, and create a mindmap in steps. 

Step 1. The topic is introduced to the team by the Product Owner. The Product owner defines the reason for implementing the search filters and the impact they will have. Each team member should take short notes while doing so; these are then added to the Purpose and Impact branches.

Step 2. The team starts to add branches to the topic, such as 'UX experiment.' A team member inquires as to whether any UX experiment is required before the UI design can be finalized. This particular question arose from a previous experience in which the team failed to account for the time delay created by a UX experiment before proceeding with the final design. "Search filters have already been introduced to several screens, and we need to recreate the same UI design on the profile page," says the UX designer, who is also present for this meeting. The UX experiment branch now has a new sticker.

Step 3. On the same lines, team members will add other branches to explore and elaborate on the idea of adding search filters, finding answers along the way.

Step 4. The team recognizes a backend API dependent on the Quantum team, which is within their domain. The team continues their discussion and comes to the conclusion that the Product Owners must agree on priorities and set expectations with respect to the delivery date. During the current refinement, the Product owner does not have a response to this question; they must find an answer before the next refinement.

Step 5. The team reiterates that feature delivery will be dependent on the Quantum team, but they may still make estimations based on the present refinement. The team prefers to play poker and keep estimations on sticky notes on each branch. The issue is subsequently transformed into an EPIC or a Story in JIRA, depending on its size (complexity + effort). These figures are then converted into story points. For the WEB API, the Product Owner creates a ticket in the Quantum team's backlog. This ticket is then marked as blocked by the WEB API ticket. 

What are the benefits of using a mind map for refinements?

  1. The team can better comprehend how information flows by the visual depiction of thoughts. 
  2. Mind mapping makes it easy to reconnect during follow-up refinements. 
  3. If new people are brought in at different phases of the refinement process, they will be able to relate to the structured information in the form of a mind map.
  4. The mind map can effectively evolve at each stage of refinement as new information or decisions are uncovered. For example, if the team encounters new issues during the development process, they can refer to the mind map and add new questions to address. This procedure assists the team in documenting issues and determining how to address them. Gradually, the team begins to form a mind map template, making it even easier for them to respond to these queries or arrive well prepared for possible future refinements. They start thinking about issues early in the refining cycle, based on past refinement experience.

Mind maps can be easily made available to the teams through online tools like MIRO, Lucidcharts, Mural, Canva, MindMup, and many others. 

The use of a mind map throughout the refinement process in-person

Even when doing in-person refinements, the team can still work with the same set of online tools. This way, the mind maps can be used in hybrid, in-person, or virtual refinement meetings.

How to motivate teams to start using a mind map for refinement 

During the initial few refinement iterations, the team may face difficulties. A Scrum Master can coach the team on how to properly use mind maps; Starting with a mind map displaying the many components of DoD (Definition of Done), constructing a mind map during retrospectives, or leading another enjoyable workshop for the team to explore the potential of a mind map could be the best way to start.

Simple mind map activity

 Ask team members to write one word on a piece of paper. It could be a food item, a choice of clothing, a season, a number, a color, a vehicle, or a career. Fold and shuffle these notes, then choose one piece of paper and ask the team to create a mind map around it. Consider the following scenario: If the word was ‘watch,’ have the team consider anything that has to do with watches. Its purpose, use, brands, types, colors, vowel usage in the word, and everything or anything related to watches. To make a mind map, have them fork information branches from a primary thought based on relevance. This activity can help the team figure out how to make a mind map.

Mind maps can be used as a tool to improvise the refinement sessions. I hope you will explore its use and share your experience.

About the author

Yamini Hundare
Scrum Master

I am an agile enthusiast, focused on learning and facilitation. I am passionate about building and supporting the agile community. I love experimenting with writing I actively write articles and children's storybooks

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