When presented with a data modeling problem, I start with a conceptual design and then create the logical and physical designs as each concept becomes more mature and stable. This is an iterative process that can take many hours. Using mind mapping software has always given me a head start.

Mind mapping has been around for a long time. It’s a visual technique that you can employ which allows you to diagram ideas based on some central theme. For dimensional modeling, the theme is some event in the business process, while the ideas are the dimensions and dimension hierarchies. Mind maps are quick to make, easy to follow and share, and will allow you to see all interconnected concepts in one place. Software developers and data modelers have been using mind maps for a long time, but its use (as far as I’ve seen) isn’t quite mainstream in the dimensional modeling space.

Orders 300x97 Mindmapping Dimensional Models

Mind mapping an Orders business process dimensional model

When I start to construct a new data model (ER/DM), my first attempt at a design is often a mind map. As I read through requirements and examine business processes and business entities, I start to draw out how they may relate. Traditionally I used a paper and pencil. But recently, I’ve switched to using mind mapping software that I can access and share on all my devices. MinDgo, for example, works on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Once I’ve sufficiently covered all key concepts and requirements, I complete the conceptual model in PowerDesigner.

I use mind mapping software for the following reasons:

  1. Quick, easy, and structured way of designing high-level business process dimensional models
  2. Available on all my devices (unlike the heavy case/modeling tools we use), so when inspiration strikes, or when that coffee-machine meeting concludes, I can quickly get the ideas into the design
  3. Very easy to show, explain, and help interpret the models to business and technology colleagues
  4. Organizing different iterations of a design, and interconnecting related designs, is easy using software (try this in your Moleskin)

I also use this technique when I am trying to understand existing data models. For example, if I’m analyzing complex database documentation (from vendors like WorldScope or Charles River), I can get a good feel for how things relate by mind mapping as I go.