3 Helpful Information Maps For Product Managers

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This week we will look into ways to communicate effectively. We will explore 3 Helpful Information Maps For Product Managers to keep on their toolkit.

Communication is probably one of biggest handicaps as product manager. Even though communication skills come as an innate ability, it is definitely something that can be trained and learned. In the age of covid and remote working, being able to visualise information is key. Let’s dive down into information mapping and how we can explore it to better visualise information.

What is Information Mapping

Information mapping is methodology for writing information that focus on consistently providing clear consumption experiences for readers. The development of method and its research foundation is attributed to Robert Horn, a researcher at Harvard and Columbia Universities, in 1967. Even though visual maps had been used in different fields way before Horn, his contribution was important to systematise approaches to visualize different information elements.   

Some of Horn’s best-known work was his development of the theory of information types. He identified six types of information that  categorize elements according to their purpose for the audience:

Information TypeDescription
ProcedureA set of steps to complete a task
ProcessA series of events, stages or phases that occurs over time and has a specific outcome
PrincipleA statement designed to dictate, guide or require behavior
ConceptA class or group of things that share a critical set of attributes
StructureA description or depiction of anything that has parts or boundaries
FactA statement that is assumed to be true
Information Type list, semi-borrowed from Wikipedia

Product Managers have to process different information types. Company visions, customer needs and team goals typically come in for of facts, concepts and principles. Product leaders need to be effective in communicating and acquiring these information types.

User stories often combine principles, procedures and processes. Product managers are as efective as their ability of passing these information types to development teams. Only then, teams can collaborate and groom stories effectively.

1. Mind Maps

Mind maps are possibly one of the most well known and widely used diagram to visually organize information. Minds map are composed of multiple nodes represented as text, images, and/or geometric forms  and links connecting the nodes. The diagram is often created around a central concept, drawn in the center of the mind map. The main concept branches out into multiple associated nodes. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those major ideas.

Below there is an example of a mind map we built while when we brainstormed about a site restructure. We wanted to provide a clear answer for the question: “what is ideashortcut?”. We wanted the answer to be clear by anyone visiting the site. (Note: the site restructure is a work in process).

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Ideashortcut.com site restructure mind map created in Miro.com

Affinity Mapping

The site restructure example described above is a boiled down example of Affinity Mapping. This is a practice used to organize information into groups, based on their natural relationships. It is a form of mind mapping and can be represented as such. Each information piece should be successively linked to its parent group node hierarchically.

Affinity Mapping is an effective way to organise ideas and insights stemming from brainstorming exercises. It helps reviewing, deduplicating and focus thoughts during and after the brainstorming sessions.  It can also be used to organize notes and discovery insights from customer interviews, freeform feedback, survey responses, support call logs, or other qualitative data.

Using a simple Affinity Diagram technique can help us discover embedded patterns (and sometimes break old patterns) of thinking by sorting and clustering language-based information into relationships. It can also be useful to find categories and meta-categories within a cluster of ideas and when you want to see which ideas are most common within a group.

Work (Story) Breakdown Structures

A work-breakdown structure aka WBS is another mindmap example.  WBSs are widely used in project management as deliverable-oriented breakdown of a project into smaller components. A work breakdown structure is a key project deliverable that organizes the team’s work into manageable sections. Below there is an example of telecommunication base station deployment project example:


Work Breakdown Structures can also be used as Story Breakdown Structures. This is a visual way to follow agile principles and break work down into the smallest possible components. Looking at the example above, we can associate the Base Station Project to a Product we want to launch. Planning, Preparing, Building and Testing can configure the different epics or milestones that need to be tackled. The different task could represent the different stories, which could then branch into other tasks and sub tasks.

Personal Mind Maps

Mind maps are also a great ice breaker to do among product teams. It is a great way to understand your coworkers strengths, weaknesses, interests, hobbies, general mindset, etc.

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Old Personal Mind Map

A great twist to personal mind maps as an ice breaker game is to do them secretly and then try to guess which mind map belongs to every participant.

2. Decision Trees

A decision tree is a visual representation of information that uses a tree of decisions and their possible consequences. Think of decision trees like a map of plays on a chess game. Each branch of the tree can lead to a result, a good chess player is able to process multiple levels of plays and counter plays that lead to a win.

The decision-tree of a chess study by M. Botvinnik and S. Kaminer 

Unlike Mind Maps, the order of the nodes and the sequence of node paths is very relevant. This makes decision trees great candidates to describe decision flows, user journeys, state machines and other processes. Decision trees have three types of nodes:

  • Decision nodes – typically represented by squares
  • Chance nodes – typically represented by circles
  • End nodes – typically represented by triangles

Opportunity Solution Trees

Opportunity Solution Trees are basically inverted decision trees. Instead choosing solutions that could lead to an outcome, you do the opposite: start with an outcome and then work backwards towards a solution. Between outcome and solution, there is a number of chance nodes that represent opportunities. We talked briefly about how opportunity solution trees could help product managers work backwards on a previous post: checkout Product Discovery – 13 important PFRAQ questions to ask.

Opportunity solution trees are a great tool for product discovery. They allow product managers different paths to get to a desired outcome. The paths can be compared against their perceived ROI to deliver the best value for customers.

Flow charts

Flowcharts are basically variations of decisions trees. They also use different types of nodes to identify different steps of a journey or decision flow.

Picture 1

Unlike decision trees, flowcharts are not necessarily trees. They can have feedback loops and do not always have an end state. There are different types of flowcharts: each type has its own set of boxes and notations. The two most common types of boxes in a flowchart are:

  • A processing step, usually called activity, and denoted as a rectangular box.
  • A decision, usually denoted as a diamond.

Flowcharts are used in designing and documenting simple processes or programs. These diagrams are often very useful to describe behaviours to development teams. There is usually a very good correlation between a flow chart and the code required to produce the flows depicted on the diagram. It also helps product managers, developers, quantity assurance and other stakeholders to be on the same page on what the expected behaviour is. Next time you are on a grooming session consider if you can collectively agree on a flowchart for a given behaviour, I am sure it will help you down the line.

3. Timeline Maps

Timeline maps are visual representations of information pieces in chronological order. They are a great tool to display procedure information.

Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are one of the most well known examples of timeline maps. They are mostly used to illustrate a project schedules. Visually, Gantt Charts are composed by a number of bars representing tasks. The width of the bar represents its duration and are usually ordered by start date. The bars are linked together with edges that represent the dependencies between the tasks.

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Gantt chart created with PlantUML

Gantt charts are one of most used tools for project managers, but can also be very useful for product managers as well. Even though Gantt charts and its inherent waterfall mindset is not always agile friendly. Milestone level Gantt charts based on high-level estimates could be a good indicator of significant delays and/or lack of resources.


Roadmaps are another example of timeline maps. A product roadmap is a visual representation of a high-level product strategy. Product roadmaps generally include upcoming features, product development areas and the respective KPIs they aim to address within a period of time. Roadmap should  demonstrate how a product will evolve over time.

You can think of roadmaps as a high level version of gantt chart, with less granularity of task detail and length.

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Roadmaps bring visibility to all the moving pieces that help product teams coordinate their efforts; pieces like scope and resource allocation (and the why behind those decisions). The roadmap is the asset that communicates how those pieces form the strategy, in a way that can be understood by each and every stakeholder.

PS: The delay on this week’s post was due to another personal project. This week was the birthday of my oldest son and I wanted to keep the tradition of baking his cake. The problem is that I know nothing about baking and my kid’s taste is getting more exquisite each here. Here’s this year’s result:

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4:10 am cake finished