I always emphasize the importance of understanding a project’s underlying strategy and purpose before starting to divvy up tasks (we cover this in detail in our DPM training course—and one of the ways you can build this understanding is by using mind mapping software.
Wait a minute, Ben—what does mind mapping have to do with project management?
That’s a great question. Even though drawing mind maps or doing visual brainstorming isn’t part of the standard project management lifecycle, it probably should be.
Long before you dive into writing a Statement of Work, project managers can use mind maps to solidify the strategy and big ideas behind each undertaking. Creating a mindmap can help you catch, capture, and connect new ideas. Additionally, it can help you categorize the parts of a project and break down complex projects in a visually intuitive way.
Read on to learn about mind mapping software. First, learn what it is and what functionality it offers. Then, see how to choose the mind map software that best fits your working style, budget, and goals. There are dozens of mind mapping tools out there, so I’ve tried to save you time by providing a summary, score, and basic info for each tool to get you started.
Mind Mapping Software Selection Criteria
The most important thing that a mind map does is help you represent ideas visually. In this review, here’s the selection criteria I’ve used in picking out the best mind mapping tools:
- Real-time collaborative drawing. Can multiple users collaborate in real-time, working together on the same mind map?
- Easy file attachments. Can users easily attach external files? The best mind mapping apps allow users to attach audio files, videos, images, and links to mind maps.
- Presentation & sharing tools. Is it easy to present and share your diagrams? Mind maps are often used as visual communication or presentation tools, so mind mapping software should make it easy to share mind maps, convert into presentations, toggle between views, and enable others to easily access and view your mind maps.
- Integrations: Is it a stand-alone tool, or does it sync with your business applications (such as data management, documents, diagramming, development, and presentation tools)? Your need for integrations depends on how you plan to use the mind mapping software, but tools with pre-built integrations with common tools like Microsoft Office and Google Drive make it easier to get more insight, more quickly, from your mind mapping app.
Mind Map Tool Key Features
These are a few must-haves when it comes to mind mapping software features.
- Organic mind maps: The flexibility to draw anywhere and sketch anything (like on a whiteboard) is key to making sure a brainstorming session maintains a creative, adaptable approach to project planning.
- Collaboration feature set: Collaboration should be as easy as commenting, @-tagging, sharing, and uploading. Bonus points for tools that go above-and-beyond here, with features like collaborative note-taking.
- Mind map template library: An easy way to get up-and-moving quickly when you don’t have time to start from scratch. Templates should cover different types of maps, like concept map, org chart, flowchart, UML diagram, etc.
- Keyboard shortcuts: Built-in quality of life tools should be available for users to quickly perform basic actions like adding comments, shapes, notes, and attachments. The less time menuing, the better.
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Overviews Of The Best Mind Mapping Software
Here are a few of the best mind mapping software available today. Below, you can read about what they offer, how they’re different, and what types of projects they’re best suited for.
ClickUp is a mind mapping software for planning and organizing your projects, ideas, and more through mind maps.
ClickUp’s mind mapping features allow you to draw relationships between projects and tasks, visualize workflows and project or task structures, and easily create and manage tasks directly from your visual roadmap.
Create powerful free-form diagrams, use nodes as reference points for work to be completed, and then convert nodes into tasks. Users can create and link tasks within a mind map using drag-and-drop functionality. Share your mind maps with your team and other collaborators for collaboration in real-time.
ClickUp offers native integrations with Slack, G Suite, Dropbox, and many more tools, as well as over 1,000+ integrations through Zapier.
ClickUp’s free plan is robust and includes all primary features. The unlimited plan starts at $5 a month per user and offers additional functionality.
- Free plan comes with 100 mind map uses
- Frequently updates with new or improved features
- Easy to convert map nodes into tasks
- Many additional diagram/chart options to choose from, incl. Gantt chart & Kanban
- Unlimited mind maps limited to Business and Enterprise plans
- Mobile app can be a bit slow
- Edit permissions are not available with the free plan
MindMeister is an award-winning mind mapping tool with powerful integrations. It will optimize your team’s brainstorming, ideation and web-based collaboration: visually capture, develop, and share ideas virtually.
The map editor is a blank canvas with endless customization options. With version history, you can revert back to whichever previous iteration you preferred. No eye for design? Choose from an extensive range of beautiful palette themes. The easy-to-access styling toolbar lets you connect ideas visually; add comments, notes, media and attachments; customize fonts, topics, borders and connecting lines; and add tintable icons and emojis.
Customization goes further—format topics as mind maps, org charts or lists (even on the same map), position topics as you please with free topic positioning, or switch effortlessly to Outline Mode to view your mind map as a bulleted list.
Deadline looming? Use Focus Mode for distraction-free mapping: it’s also an ideal solution for presenting your brightest ideas to your team or external stakeholders.
MindMeister integrates seamlessly with the Meister Suite. Embed mind maps into your notes in MeisterNote, or turn ideas into actions by converting topics to tasks and assigning them directly to your projects in MeisterTask. Efficient end-to-end workflow has never been easier.
MindMeister costs from $4.99/month or choose the free-to-use basic plan.
- Simple controls with attractive output
- Comes with lots of templates
- Easy to use and adopt
- Sub-par user experience on touchscreen
- Integrations are lacking
- Could use more in depth text editor features
Miro is a collaborative online whiteboard with over 1,000 templates including mind maps, Kanban boards, Gantt charts, product wireframes, research boards, and flowcharts. It’s trusted by 99% of the Fortune 100, and used by teams at TransUnion, HP, Upwork, Cisco, Qlik, and Atkins. Miro’s visual platform is built for hybrid work, and has robust resources for continuous learning like Miro Academy, online events, and a community forum.
Try one of Miro’s top templates — Mind Map. It’s a fast, intuitive way for teams to capture, organize, and structure ideas. Mind mapping empowers in-person, remote, and hybrid teams to brainstorm, plan projects, map out information architecture, create org charts, and develop sales strategies. Plus, on Miro, communication is seamless with chat, comments, and the ability to auto-organize and add content to your map.
At The Digital Project Manager, we use Miro to map out content clusters and to visualize content workflows from start (brainstorming ideas) to finish (publishing the content on our site).
Miro has integrations with a whole suite of tools, including Zoom, Figma, Asana, Microsoft Teams, Jira, Slack, Google Drive, Box, Airtable, Notion, Azure, and Webex. Some integrations are limited to paid plans only.
Miro is free to use for unlimited members with up to 3 editable boards. Paid plans start at $8/user/month (billed annually).
- Free forever plan available
- Intuitive and easy setup
- Built-in communication features for streamlined collaboration
- Visitor/guest accounts locked to paid plans only
- Zooming can be jumpy on larger projects
- Free version does not allow high-quality export to pdf
From Microsoft Visio is visual diagramming tool that works well for mind mapping as well as creating many other graphical representations. If you’re already using Office 365, Visio is a top choice because it can pull data from Office 365 and let you visualize it in real-time with the charts you’ve set up in Visio. This functionality sets it apart from other tools, as Visio enables you to bring you data to life in dashboards that display data-linked diagrams. It does more than simply help you illustrate your ideas on a screen.
Much more than a simple brainstorming app, Visio provides ready-made templates to create block diagrams, flowcharts, timelines, flowcharts, floorplans, engineering designs, and Specification and Description Language (SDL) diagrams (and it also supports AutoCAD drawings). Users can share their diagrams as a link, attachment, image, or PDF and can collaborate through the comments and annotations features. Additionally, unlike a lot of the other mindmap software, Visio allows multiple users to collaborate simultaneously on the same mindmap.
Overall, this is one of the more robust mind mapping tools out there. Keep in mind, it does have a steeper learning curve than many other tools, and it definitely offers more than you need if you’re just looking for a simple interface to make an idea map. However, for technical teams, engineers, architects, and business intelligence use cases, Visio is a top choice—as long as you’re willing to stay within the Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft offers Visio through a one-time purchase (Visio Standard and Visio Profession) or as a SaaS (Visio Online).
Visio costs from $6.40/user/month. A one-time license costs from $459.
- Robust library of templates
- Best for writing UML diagrams
- Over 250,000 shapes to choose from
- Ready-made blocks and flow diagrams
- Lags on older PCs
- Complicated UX and features list
- No customization of predefined shapes
MindGenius is a combination of a concept map creator and a project planning tool. It’s designed for use in educational settings as well as for freelancers, small businesses, and agencies.
MindGenius’ suite includes drag-and-drop mind map creation, along with project planning features like Gantt charts, kanban task views, and some basic project reporting tools. They include several features for making mind maps more useful, with filtering, highlighting, and labelling tools to help you organize and present your mind maps effectively. MindGenius also integrates with Microsoft Office, so you can easily export project data and mind maps to Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint and Microsoft Project.
Overall, MindGenius is a useful brainstorming tool that helps you convert your mind maps from simple brainstorming documents into tools for managing your projects and business. They consistently roll out cool new features; most recently, their MindGenius 2019 version offers ways to share information with others with integration to MindGenius Online, Twitter, Facebook and Dropbox, One Drive and Google.
MindGenius offers two pricing models – Perpetual and Subscription. Perpetual is $256, Subscription is $160 in year one followed by $56 annually from year 2 onwards. A subscription includes upgrades to all future revisions of MindGenius.
- Easily move MindView maps into MS Project
- Easily switch from MindMap to Gantt chart or timeline
- User-friendly interface
- RTF editor for notes can be awkward to manage
- Templates with embedded graphics can be finicky
- Slight learning curve compared to other apps
SmartDraw is positioned as an alternative to tools like Microsoft Visio, claiming to be much easier for the layman to use while being just as powerful and more affordable. That’s a big claim to live up to, and while it’s not significantly more affordable (at $5.95/user/month it’s comparable to Visio’s $6.40/user/month), it does provide an intuitive interface with useful features that are applicable to essentially any industry, from landscaping and design to IT.
SmartDraw provides users with more than 4500 templates for over 70 different types of diagrams, including flowcharts, infographics, landscape designs, decision trees, timelines, mind maps, engineering and CAD diagrams, and much more. It offers collaborative drawing online so users can work on the same diagrams at the same time, with an intelligent formatting engine that makes automatic adjustments to maintain your diagram’s arrangement. SmartDraw integrates with MS Office, Google apps, Jira, Confluence, DropBox, Box, WordPress, and Trello.
Overall, SmartDraw is a powerful tool, a strong competitor to the likes of Microsoft Visio and arguably more intuitive for the average user to navigate. Like in the case of Visio, enterprise teams are the users who will get the most out of its many advanced features.
SmartDraw costs from $5.95/user/month on a plan with 5+ users, or $9.95/user/month for a single user.
- Easily customize the color and input dimensions
- Can import Visio files
- Plenty of help videos and tutorials
- Easily insert photos and hyperlinks
- Low functionality with free version
- Cannot flip workflow from horizontal to vertical
Lucidchart is a concept map creator and general diagramming tool well-suited to businesses of any size who want to present data visually, scaling from a few users to enterprise organizations. It’s offered as a SaaS that allows users to easily and quickly create online mind maps as well as flowcharts, technical diagrams, wireframes, floorplans, process maps, org charts, ER diagrams, and dozens of other graphical representations.
This tool covers all of the bases: real-time collaboration features, easy export of projects into many different file formats, revision history, and hundreds of templates to speed up the diagramming process. You can also embed your Lucidchart diagrams into your wiki, website, or blog, and they’ll automatically update when you make changes in Lucidchart.
Overall, Lucidchart is some of the best mind map software for those who want something easy to roll out and learn to use. It’s positioned similarly to SmartDraw as a more affordable and intuitive alternative to Microsoft Visio, and it delivers. It’s the most affordable of the three solutions, it supplies an intuitive drag-and-drop interface, and its pre-built integrations with Google Apps, Confluence, Jira, Jive, and Microsoft Visio make it easy to sync with existing tools.
Lucidchart costs from $4.95/user/month when paid annually. They also offer a “free forever” account with limited functionality and free trials of their paid versions.
- Easy sharing with edit permissions
- Predefined industry standard templates
- Large list of export diagram export options
- Low object limit on the free version
- Missing some common shapes
- Interface feels a little dated
Coggle is arguably one of the most aesthetically pleasing and intuitive concept map makers on the market. This application supports real-time collaborative drawing online, allowing multiple team members to co-create mind maps and flowcharts.
Coggle’s useful features include auto-arranging branches, image uploads/attachments, a full change history, and collaborative drawing. You can download your mind maps as PDFs or image files, and you can also export as .mm and text as well as export to Microsoft Visio. Another way to share your mind maps is through embeddable diagrams, meaning that you can display your Coggle diagrams on a webpage and make any changes to the diagram from within the mind mapper tool.
This tool doesn’t offer stacks of mind map templates (instead, you can search and repurpose the public diagrams in their gallery), nor does it support the creation of more technical diagrams like network, engineering, and architectural diagrams. However, if you’re looking for a simple, beautifully designed, easy-to-use mind map creator, Coggle should be at the top of your list. This is some of the best mind mapping software for people who are new to mind mapping and want access to all the essential tools.
Coggle costs from $5/user/month. They also offer a free mind map software with unlimited public diagrams and up to 3 private diagrams.
- Great free version of the tool
- Seamless integration with Google services
- Stylish map animations
- Easy to add content loops and branches
- No way to auto-sort branches
- Larger maps have sub-par presentation visibility
- Maps on free accounts are public
XMind is a popular brainstorming app used by anyone from startups and entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies. It offers several practical features for making mind maps and business diagrams (org charts, timelines, etc) more useful and accessible.
XMInd offers some unique features for speeding up the process of making mind maps, converting mind maps into outlines, and quickly turning your mind maps into professional presentations using auto-formatting and one-click slide creation. They provide styles and themes to get you started, and as you create your mindmaps you can attach files, audio, images, and links. You can also work in “zen mode”, which eliminates distractions from the interface.
The most useful XMind feature for project managers is Gantt View feature, which converts mind maps into Gantt charts (although you can find more specialized Gantt chart tools in our review of MS Project alternatives). They also have a mobile app that users have praised as being convenient easy to navigate. XMind integrations are minimal: it has an Evernote integration, but to share with other apps, you XMind enables you to export in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, RTF, HTML, Plain Text, to PNG, JPEG, GIF, BMP, and SVG files.
XMind costs from $1.24/month for the mobile brainstorming app. You can also buy XMind for a one-time purchase of $129.00, and you can try it before buying with a free download.
- Have multiple interconnected sheets in one file
- Can link to files, webpages, and emails
- Brain dump mode for quick map outlines
- Plenty of file export options
- Free version does not support real-time collaboration
- Limited choices for different node types
- Fewer customizations for deeper level maps
Marketed as “the world’s most powerful mind mapping software”, MindManager offers some best-in-class mind mapping and diagramming tools. It’s in use at enterprise organizations like P&G and conEdison, but they also offer a single license for purchase by individuals.
MindManager is a robust tool with many useful data consolidation tools, and it can pull data from Microsoft applications through the MindManager integration with Office 365. When creating and presenting diagrams, you can use the View Customization features to quickly and easily display the data in different ways depending on your audience.
Overall, while this mind mapping software fails to offer real-time collaborative drawing, MindManager a popular, well-supported tool that comes at a simple, sensible price (you buy a license through a one-time purchase). It’s much more than a mind map creator, providing data visualization tools for making org charts, timelines, project plans, and more. It even provides a dashboard that integrates and visually displays all of your project- or idea-related data.
MindManager costs from $229 for a perpetual license (they don’t offer a SaaS). You can try the software for 30 days with a free download.
- Plenty of built-in icons and images
- Easily convert your mind map into presentation slides
- Hide/view branches using powerful filters
- Ease and speed of restructuring content
- MacOS functionality isn’t great
- Snap-to for branches can be finicky
Need expert help selecting the right Mindmapping Software?
We’ve joined up with the software comparison platform Crozdesk.com to assist you in finding the right software. Crozdesk’s Mindmapping Software advisors can create a personalized shortlist of software solutions with unbiased recommendations to help you identify the solutions that best suit your business’s needs. Through our partnership you get free access to their bespoke software selection advice, removing both time and hassle from the research process.
It only takes a minute to submit your requirements and they will give you a quick call at no cost or commitment. Based on your needs you’ll receive customized software shortlists listing the best-fitting solutions from their team of software advisors (via phone or email). They can even connect you with your selected vendor choices along with community negotiated discounts. To get started, please complete the form below:
|Free forever with paid plans starting at $5/month||Check out ClickUp|
|From $4.99/user/month||Check out MindMeister|
|From $8/user/month||Check out Miro|
|From $6.40/user/month||Check out Microsoft Visio|
14 day free trial
|First year $160, year two onwards $56||Check out MindGenius|
|From $5.95/user/month||Check out SmartDraw|
Free trial of paid versions, free version available
|From $4.95/user/month||Check out Lucidchart|
|From $5/user/month||Check out Coggle|
Free download available
|From $1.24/user/month||Check out XMind|
30 day free trial
|From $229 for a perpetual license||Check out MindManager|
Simple concept mapping tool with a key feature being their user-friendly, omni-platform experience across cloud, desktop, Android, & iOS.
Diagram designer for web planning teams with a site map builder, design mockups, and page metrics on their basic plan. Diagram making unlocks at Pro plan and above.
Beautiful mind maps with unlimited document attachment space that easily exports flowchart products into Microsoft programs like Excel and Word.
Free mind mapping software with ULM diagram templates, task management tools, & real time collaboration features. Unlimited mind maps on any paid plan.
- ConceptDraw MINDMAP
Professional-grade mind mapping software tool with a timer-based brainstorm mode for fast, efficient planning sessions.
Mind Mapping Mobile Apps
Depending on your approach to mind mapping, you might want to have the ability to work off your phone, tablet, or other mobile device. This lets you capture ideas on the go, wherever inspiration strikes—on your commute, while travelling, at the top of a mountain, wherever.
Several of the mind mapping tools in this post that have mobile apps, but here’s a list of additional mobile apps for mind mapping:
- Simplemind (simple, reliable mind mapping software for Android, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and Windows)
- MindNode (highly-rated mind mapping app for Mac and iOS)
- Mindo (basic mind mapping app for iPad)
- Maptini (collaborative mind mapping app for iPad, iPhone, or web browser)
- Popplet (user-friendly mind mapping app for school and work, available on iOS or web browser)
- iBlueSky (uncluttered, intuitive mind mapping app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch)
What Is Mind Mapping Software?
Mind mapping software (also called concept mapping software) is a brainstorming tool that enables you to create visual diagrams of your ideas. Using a mind map maker, you can create an idea map, a conceptual map that illustrates the hierarchy and connections between different ideas.
Mind mapping software ranges from simple brainstorming apps to complex data visualization and diagramming tools. Mind mapping tools can be useful in any of the following use cases:
- Brainstorming: Create mind maps—visually organize and present ideas.
- Diagramming: Create engineering diagrams, project timelines, architectural plans, org charts, network diagrams, and other business or technical diagrams.
- Software development and web design: Create wireframes and site map diagrams.
- Business Intelligence: Import and visualize live data from business applications in charts, diagrams, etc.
Learn more about mind maps, how to create a mind map, and how mind map software works below.
What Is A Mind Map? What Is Mind Mapping?
A mind map is a conceptual web showing the relationship between ideas. Here’s a simple example of a mind map:
Mind mapping is a brainstorming process and creative exercise that results in a mind map.
How To Make A Mind Map
Because mind mapping is a creative exercise, your process for making a mind map will differ depending on your personal preferences, tools, and project at hand. There is no “one right way” to do mindmapping, but if you’re using a mind map app, you’ll follow a process like this:
- Begin with a blank canvas.
- Add a central node—your central idea or theme.
- Brainstorm sub-ideas or related ideas, adding them to the canvas.
- Draw lines to connect ideas and represent the relationship between ideas. Drag and drop the elements to re-organize your ideas as you add to the map.
- Use formatting tools to visually organize and display your information—change colors and size, add icons and images, etc.
Why Use Mind Mapping Software?
Mind maps are great tools for understanding and communicating ideas because we humans are visual creatures and we process visual information very quickly. You can start with your main idea and then create interlinked branches of related ideas to generate a substantial brainstorming map.
Of course, you can create a mind map on a piece of paper, but using mindmap software has several advantages, such as:
- No size limitation: you’re not limited to the size of your paper.
- Flexibility: you can easily re-organize ideas by clicking and dragging.
- Co-creation: in software that allows you to create a mind map online, you can often have multiple users collaborating on the same mind map.
- Visual presentation: you can use the formatting tools to create professional diagrams that you can quickly share and present.
Still not convinced of the benefits of brainstorming tools? A survey from the Mind Map Software Blog found that online mind map software can increase creativity and productivity by up to 30% and save an average of 7 hours per week. 86% of respondents indicated that using a mind mapping tool helped them tackle a complex project they might have otherwise put off.
How To Choose The Best Mind Mapping Software
The best mind mapping software for you depends on what mind mapping technique you want to use. In general, there are two big questions to ask yourself when narrowing down the options:
1. Do We Need Live Collaboration (Co-Creating With Other Users)?
Mind mapping can be an individual creative exercise, and it can also be a group planning or presentation activity. Not all mind mapping software offers a live, real-time collaboration that enables multiple users to co-create the same diagram.
Doing live collaboration? Then these are the best mind mapping tools:
2. Do We Want Diagramming Beyond Mind Maps?
While some people use mind mapping software to simply brainstorm ideas in a visual way, others use it to make more complicated visuals like engineering diagrams, architectural plans, and network diagrams. In some cases, teams use mind mapping software as a diagramming tool for laying out wireframes or websites, or even as a data visualization tool to import and display complex data from their business in charts and diagrams.
Just mind mapping? Here’s a list of mind mapping software that’s focused only on making mind maps:
Designing wireframes and sitemaps? This mind mapping software offers a feature suite geared towards web and application development teams:
Doing complex diagramming or live data visualization? Here’s a list of mind mapping software with tools for complex diagramming and data visualization:
What Do You Think?
What mind mapping tools have you used? Have you used one that’s not on the list? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Related Read: What Is A Gantt Chart, And Why Is It Used?