Concept mapping is brainstorming with a purpose. Teams begin the process by breaking things down into the tiniest details, using arrows, and linking words to show how concepts are related. The most common use cases for a concept map include planning educational material, laying out a foundation for business strategies, and building a process.
So how do teams master concept maps? In this article, we are laying out an easy 5-step process for planning and designing a standard concept map that works for most of your use cases.
What is a concept map?
Concept maps are graphic diagrams used to visualize meaningful connections among different ideas. They are used as a representation tool by business leaders and educators to inform the target audience on a specific topic of interest.
A concept map always consists of two things: concepts, and their relationships with one another. A good concept map helps you gain a deeper understanding of complex learnings, discover connections through a collaborative and visual approach, and most importantly, have an overarching idea of how seemingly disparate things are related. With BeeCanvas's drag-and-drop objects, flexible arrows, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, you can easily draw out a concept map in just a few steps.
Create a concept map in 5 easy steps
Step 1: Pick a white-boarding platform.
When it comes to visualizing an idea, people traditionally use pen and paper to convey their thoughts. However, not everyone's scribbles are easy to read and professional enough to be shared universally.
BeeCanvas offers a versatile yet intuitive whiteboard that will auto-save your sketches and make it easy to share, edit, and refine your flowcharts anywhere and anytime you want. Our canvases are organized in a slide format. Your existing familiarity with this format (through Powerpoint or Google Slides, for example) allows for easy planning and presentation.
Step 2: Clearly define your overarching theme
Once you’ve decided on a platform, the next step would be defining the overarching theme of the concept map. A tip for topic selection is to identify a challenging problem that needs solving. For example, you can start a concept map for operation management so that your teams can develop a clear understanding of what it is and how it impacts your business' overall success.
To better keep your team aligned, try to focus on one single problem per concept map. In the use case of the business operation management system, your primary question will be what a successful operation management needs.
Step 3: Identify related concepts
After the main theme is selected, all the possible subordinate concepts should be identified. This means creating a list of relevant ideas on your chosen whiteboarding platform. Prioritization and hierarchy play an essential role in mapping out all concepts. After approximately 20 - 25 concepts have been identified and laid out, they should be ranked from the most generic to the most specific. This established hierarchy will help you create better idea flows and emphasize key ideas and focal points.
For example, a concept map of operation management will consist of Operation as the central idea. The role of Operation is to develop a competitive advantage. It is interdependent with other essential business functions related to goods and services in different industries. As you note down these key ideas, you can continue to further develop what is involved and associated with each smaller concept related to the overall theme.
Step 4: Structure your map with shapes, sticky notes, and lines.
After you consolidate a list of concepts you want to include, you want to map out all concepts' hierarchy. The most generic ideas stay at the top right below the central vision, and the most specific ones at the bottom. All concepts will come together as you connect objects with lines and locate unique concepts where they need to be.
Humans are visual learners; we study things through visual connections presented in concept maps. Lines and arrows help us establish the flow of ideas and keep concepts well-organized, while color coding groups things of similar hierarchy together.
To continue with the example of operation management above, during this step, lines, arrows and colors are used to determine how these ideas and smaller concepts relate to one another.
Key terms and linking words can help better explain how these concepts are connected. Words such as "consists of," "encompasses," "relates to", are used to specify these relationships.
The example below illustrates how these cross-links further clarifies relationships between concepts on the same level of specificity.
Step 5: Fine-tune the map
As you start linking concepts together, make sure to sift through the interrelationships. To double-check if these connections work, ask yourself three questions:
- Does each key element fit its respective place?
- Is there a better way for the idea to be located?
- Can I use a better linking word?
The readability of the map will be drastically improved after these questions are resolved.
Concept mapping is a great technique to help us see the big picture. By starting with overarching themes and moving on to specific ideas, concept maps help you link information based on meaningful connections. Building out a concept map is quick and easy with BeeCanvas. Start a free trial to make a concept map today!