Search Result

Mind Maps in Action: NHS Service Improvement

In our latest 'Mind Maps in Action' story, we speak with Mary Duggan, who is a long term mind mapper, and part of the Service Improvement and Development team with the South Yorkshire NHS here in the UK.

Can you tell us who you are, what your role is? What does your job involve on a day to day basis?

Role: Lead Service Improvement and Development Manager
Employer: Large NHS provider of community health, mental health and learning disability services

Day to day:

  • Business case development
  • Bid co-ordination and authoring
  • Guideline development
  • Service improvement activity, including diagnostic workshops, data analysis, and market analysis.
  • Change management, including event planning and delivery, and project planning/co-ordination.

When and why did you first start using mind maps in your working world?

My first mind map was used at work around 25 years ago... I can still remember this one! I was in a meeting with a couple of colleagues, and we were planning a course that we wanted to offer. I don't know what prompted me to start mind mapping, but I did and rapidly got a clear picture of how the course could be designed and delivered.

I first started using mindmapping software around 2003... I was so excited when I found software that I could use to create mind maps. I couldn't believe how easy to use it was. I still love the way that the software doesn't get in my way. I don't have to stop and think about how to use it - I just get on with capturing thoughts and ideas.

My husband was always interested in using mind maps and I can remember him using one to explore a work problem and then wanting to share it with his colleagues. He didn't want to share a hand-drawn map, and I think we resorted to drawing it in PowerPoint in the end. It took hours. That must have been one of the things that prompted me to look for software that would let me create mind maps quickly and intuitively.

What type of tasks are you using mind maps for?

  • Workload management
  • Meeting management
  • Document production
  • Event planning
  • Project planning
  • Conversation capture
  • Data analysis
  • Presentation design
  • Note taking
  • Creating précis of key documents
  • I have mind mapped entire books. Hasn't everyone?
  • Thinking through, and answering these questions! (See map)

Can you explain how mind mapping helps you with these tasks, and with your job overall?


This is probably the most exciting aspect of mind maps. They reflect the way that the mind works better than a traditional linear document that goes from A to B to C and so on. They also enable people to make connections between issues or concepts that they might not have done if those concepts were presented in a linear, one step at a time format. Using mind maps tends to give a greater creative yield and also a more thorough exploration of an issue.

Dynamic capability

Mind mapping really came alive for me when I started using software as opposed to hand-drawn maps. I love the fact that I can dump my ideas and thoughts into a map with no worries about layout and order. I can then rearrange and sort until I'm happy with the configuration. I use this a lot with people in the early stages of exploring an issue, scoping a business opportunity or developing a project plan. This allows people's thoughts to dot around all over the place, as they do, without interrupting the creative flow.

I also use this in meeting management. Even though you may have set an agenda and people may even have read that agenda before the meeting, conversations don't always fit neatly under the headings. I can use mind mapping to show the agenda and to capture discussion under the various headings without always having to shepherd people back to the point under discussion. It allows people to comfortably range forward and back in the discussion. Meetings may seem less formal and 'managed' that way, but always cover the ground that they need to.

Interface with MS Office

This is where the software gets really clever. I still love it when I work with a colleague on planning a presentation. I can see them thinking 'this is all very well, but then it's going to take hours to translate all of this across to PowerPoint.' It is a real joy to see the expression on their face when I hit the button to export to PowerPoint and all of a sudden, there is a ready to go presentation. It makes it so easy.

The ability to export to MS Office and conversely to copy and paste in from Office is a real productivity booster. For example, I copied and pasted the questions for this interview from the email directly to this map. Having done that, I can move around the map as things about how I work with mind maps occur to me. I guess I could then export the whole thing to a Word document to send it back!

General productivity wonderfulness

Mind mapping is my go-to tool for an awful lot of what I do. If I'm not clear about how to proceed with something, I use a mind map to clarify my thoughts. If I want to capture amazingly rich detail about a conversation, I mind map it as we are talking (it helps to be able to touch type!). If I need to produce a standard document, like a business case or a project initiation document, I pick out a template.

I keep my own to-do list as a mind map on my desktop. It's a bit more than a to-do list, of course. I dump all of my thoughts, ideas, useful information about each of the tasks/projects on my list into this map. Then, say I have a progress chasing meeting with my manager, I have all of this information at my fingertips, and I can then add in his suggestions.

Using mind mapping so extensively saves me countless hours and is a real stress-reducer. It acts as a huge external memory for me.

What has your experience been of introducing others to mind mapping?

I love introducing people to mind mapping. Very occasionally, people will say 'it works for you, but it's not my thing'. More usually, people ask for details about where they can get the software. I find that people get the concept very quickly and are particularly excited when they see how it can interface with the MS Office software that they are already using.

What do you think can/should be done to increase adoption of mind mapping within the NHS?

  • Increase awareness: Case studies, Demo animations, Offer live demos
  • Increase confidence in purchase: Compatibility with other software e.g. MS Office, Post-sales support (Troubleshooting, Advice), Evidence of software reliability
  • Increase off the shelf utility: NHS-specific templates, NHS-focused training - webinars are great

Is there anything else you'd like to include/share?

I still wish someone could figure out how to get mind mapping software to create process maps. I know I can use Visio, but I bet mind mapping software could do it better/faster

Thanks to Mary for sharing this her story with us! Would you like to share your mind mapping experience with us? Get in touch with us on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Author image
Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
London, UK Website