Self Coaching with IBIS

When I try to understand a complex issue in my head I often end up in a “rabbit hole”: I follow a chain of questions until I forget how I came to this particular follow-on question. Or I lose the context of the question, and look at a minor aspect of the issue – maybe without even realising that it is minor. Or, while the way to the question was clear, I cannot see whether I work on the most important question. Is short, I am simply not able to think a complex issue fully through in my head. 

Over time I might work complex issues out in my brain, but there is no guarantee that I see all options and that I don’t already start looking for evidence instead of searching for new aspects. 

f you don’t these kind of issues then please let me know how you manage (reflected input only, please). If you have similar issues then this post might help you, too. The topic is “self coaching”.

What is Self Coaching?

Self Coaching is a term that describes methods that apply two-party coaching methods to a single party. In short, you become coach and coachee in one person. I typed in “self coaching” into my browser’s search bar and Google told me it has about 420 million hits for me. So, it seems to be a big thing. 

As a coach, you generally don’t give advise, instead you listen and ask. The coachee needs to deliver all answers him/herself. The clue is to ask the right questions and let the coachee find the way forward. Questions should be void of any judgement and open up new ways of thinking for the coachee. Often enough the best questions are very simple. My favourite is “What else?”, a simple question to trigger more answers. 

I tried self-coaching in my head, with moderate success as I tend to end up in the rabbit hole as I already mentioned. But having a visual representation of the questions and relevant answers did help me to overcome this and other issues. 

How Self Coaching works for me

Now, I am drawing IBIS diagrams (see example) to support my self coaching. IBIS diagrams are consisting of 4 elements:

  • Questions
  • Answers or Ideas
  • Pros (comments supporting an answer or idea)
  • Cons (comments that show negative sides of answers or ideas)

Questions are answered by answers, answers can have pros and cons. In addition, questions can be attached to any element. You can question a question (“why is this relevant?”), or an idea (“is this realistic?) or pros and cons (“do we have data for this?”). These four elements are used by a method called Dialogue Mapping in order to map out full dialogues between a group of people. See IBIS Domain for more details on how Vithanco is supporting self coaching and read the example graph below for a quick understanding of IBIS.

Example of an IBIS diagram
Use visuals to help you during self coaching

How self coaching works (for me)

I use this simple notation to map out my thinking, just as a good coach would do with me. I will still provide the answers as in a normal coaching session. So, with me as my own coach will I explore paths, I will challenge my thinking, and I will improve the picture (pun intended). The previously mentioned question “What else?”, is useful to trigger more  answer/idea to a question node (even if I don’t note it down on the IBIS diagram). This way I can easily trace my thinking, I can explain it to others, I could even ask others to improve my thinking by adding to the map – the notation is so simple that anyone will understand the gist of my thinking (assuming that I expressed my thoughts well enough). They can ask questions, which might be added to the diagram. 

Eventually, I will have reflected enough and my  inner coach stops asking questions. I will conclude the matter at hand and can be sure that I did a reasonable good job. And I can come back to the topic after a few days or after years. 

Bonus Thoughts

  • It is impossible to always replace an outsiders opinion. You will most likely not challenge all your assumptions. It takes training to even see a few of your own assumptions. Hence, a coach is always a good idea in an important situation. But you can easily shore your train of thoughts with the coach via the diagram. 
  • No article should be written touching the topic of decision making without mentioning the book “Decisive” from the Heath brothers ( One of the lessons I took from that book was to always have more than two options to choose from – “What else?”. Try this video as a summary.

Website Issue – solved

My apologies for the unavailability of this website. I didn’t need to troubleshoot WordPress before so this was a something new for me. Next time I will sort it out much faster. I am glad to see that my safety net is working. 🙂


Deriving Value from large Diagrams

We at Vithanco love drawing diagrams in order to understand. However, one of the main obstacles with diagrams can be its size. It is not uncommon for us to have diagrams with wy over 100 nodes and over 150 edges. If you plan a project with the The Benefit Breakdown Structure (BBS) Domain then this represents only a small project. The resulting BBS is quickly becoming messy to look at and the overlapping of edges means that the main diagram is rather confusing.

A large Diagram (modified BBS model)

Generally speaking, size can be a limitation to a graph’s usefulness by making it difficult to understand the structure. If the graph is too complex and the connections are going crossing many times then the structure is difficult to understand. And if the diagram is not suitable for meaningful communication then it is rather useless. If one large diagram isn’t explaining the full story, then we need to provide ways in which to show relevant parts.

How can one manage the full big picture and can still zoom into aspects in Vithanco? Or to ask metaphorical: How can one see the forest/woods and the trees? This post provides some answers.

Cluster and Cluster Folding

The first approach includes an element of diagrams that is sometimes overlooked: Clusters. A Cluster is basically a part of the diagram (a subgraph) that is drawn together, is visually emphasised with a different background and has a name.

BBS Example
A diagram with three “open”/”unfolded” clusters

The above diagram has 3 clusters, each one drawn around the different node types. However, if you fold each cluster (and ensure that you use a strict graph) then you get something similar to the below. The nodes within each cluster are “hidden” away, but can easily retrieved by a mouse click (use the folding map symbol button).

A diagram with three “folded” clusters

So, first way to keep the overview: create folders and hide some areas that you  currently don’t need. Clusters are generally a good idea to make a diagram better understandable.

Focus View

Working on a diagram requires to change perspective. Sometimes you need to  see the whole and sometimes you need to see only a small part and focus on it. It can be a few nodes, it can be a predecessor Tree. And it is simple with Vithanco to switch perspective. Select the nodes that you need and click the “Focus on Selection” toolbar button. The main diagram will be replaced with the subgraph that contains only the selected nodes. In the top right corner will be a “return to full graph” button. You can manipulate the subgraph in the same way as the full graph and changes to the subgraph will be applied to the full graph too.

Within the Focus on Selection View is it easy to review a specific part. Nodes that otherwise might be spread across a big diagram will be located together and the structure can be reviewed. This became such a standard way of graph manipulation that we  added shortcuts for selecting nodes easier.

  • mouse click: select/deselect clicked node
  • [Shift] + mouse click: select predecessor tree
  • [Shift] + [Opt/Alt] + mouse click: select sucessor tree
  • [Opt/Alt] + mouse click in Node Statistics: select/deselect all Nodes of the clicked Node Type

Especially the last one allows to quickly create views with the right content. Thinking of the BBS structure mentioned above. Clicking on “Investment Objectives” and “Benefits”, then choosing “Focus on Selection” allows us to see the value proposition of an initiative even if the diagram itself became big.

Second way of keeping the overview: whenever you need to look at some parts in more detail use the focus view.


Reporting is another way of digesting a large diagram. Reporting allows to slice and dice the information and to make it digestable. The right report depends on domain and the use and Vithanco’s reporting is accordingly flexible. This is how it works.


For a BBS diagram we normally look at the the benefits of a project/change initiative and how to enable each benefit. It is often the right way to deliver one benefit after the other instead of delivering many at once. So, the natural way is to select a benefit and it’s predecessor tree and to enable the benefit through delivery of benefits. But how to choose the next benefit? Here, the report becomes useful.

Choose the Report Menu and select “Detailed Report By Node Types”. In the following dialog choose “Benefit” as the Node Types and choose “Node Itself” and “Predecessor Tree”. Clicking Ok will create the report. That is a document that contains a dedicated diagram for each benefit. Each benefit diagram will contain the predecessor tree for that benefit alone.

The resulting Report will be created as a Markdown (.md) document. Choose an appropriate tool to convert Markdown to other formats if needed. Share the document with everyone interested. They won’t need Vithanco in order to digest the report.

Third way of working with large diagrams: create useful reports to see each facet.

Table View

Another useful way to handle complexity is to use a different way to present the information. Vithanco offers a table view to ignore the edges and to focus on the nodes alone. Each Node becomes a row in a table. Use this tool to quickly change node texts, etc.

The Table View will present the selected nodes only. If no node is selected then it will present all nodes. As selection of specific Node Types can happen quickly through the Node Statistics (see above, [Opt/Alt] + mouse click selects/deselects all Nodes of the clicked Node Type) the Table View can be used to quickly review all nodes of particular Node Types.

The forth way to switch between the whole and details is a different presentation of the diagram: a table.

Bonus: Automatic Highlighting of Connected Nodes

Especially when the degree of the Nodes (vertexes) is high the resulting diagram will have overlapping edges. Vithanco highlights the connected Nodes for each Node/Edge when you move the mouse, allowing to follow the particular edges easily.


Vithanco provides tools that make it possible to “zoom” into details and out again.

  • Cluster Folding
  • Focus View
  • Reports
  • Table View

Use these tools to deal with large diagrams.

If you have questions and/or improvement ideas then please reach out to us.




IBIS Cheat Sheets

Whatever method you use there are nearly always conventions, supporting ideas or simply shortcuts. Recently was I shown an IBIS cheat sheet created with Compendium (a no-longer maintained IBIS software). I don’t like the looks of the Compendium very much. But I liked the content and decided to recreate the cheat sheet.

These diagrams are created with Vithanco using the IBIS Domain.

The 7 Root Question Types

The 7 “root” questions are simply 7 kinds of questions. See below a generic diagram that uses these 7.

Shortcut Questions – just use what makes sense to you and others
Generic IBIS Diagram

I hope these diagrams make us much sense to you as they do to me. If you do have any questions, please bring them forward. And clearly, let me know if you have similar interesting items.

Vithanco released

Vithanco is the generic app that I had in mind for a long time. It is a superset to the other Applications, that is Vithanco IBIS, Vithanco Concept Maps, Vithanco TOC. So, you can open any of the files created with these Apps in Vithanco. In addition, you can use other Domains that I did not release separate, like Benefit Realisation of Impact Mapping.

Vithanco Logo

Besides the ability to work with more domains there is another big difference to the other applications. Vithanco allows you to define your own domains. Just create whatever graphical language that you want and create according diagrams. If you have a good domain definition, please send it to me and I will include it in future versions.

I changed the payment approach to the application in comparison to the single purpose applications and in comparison to a previous announcement. I decided to sell 365 day licenses as In App Purchase. Without the license you will need to live with a watermark and with a limitation to 20 nodes. The annual license will remove the watermark and will allow diagrams with as many nodes as you like.

I thought I was ready to release late October but then I had issues submitting the Application due to some odd configuration issue, then I was stuck in Apple’s Review… However, I used the time to polish the Application. And now it is – finally – released.

Find it here: provide me with your feedback!

Dark Mode is coming

“Dark Mode” or “Dark Appearance” is a feature introduced with macOS 10.14 Mojave. I always preferred to write white on black (or similar) on my computer instead of white on black. Apple seems to think I am not alone with this preference and introduced a bright on dark appearance (“Dark Aqua”) for the whole of macOS. 

It was no question for me that Vithanco needed a dark mode. And I believe that the result was worth it. 

A small Current Reality Tree. Left side with normal appearance, right side with dark appearance

It took me a bit longer than expected. Simply because I needed to keep two sets of colours aligned across several node styles. I didn’t know I had so many colours. 🙂

One of the consequences was that I needed to review exporting the diagram to an image. The old export was unaware of appearance. The new export creates light appearance PNG, JPG or PDF. But I added as well “Dark PNG”, and “Dark JPG” export. 

When will it be released? Soon. My task list became very short over the last weeks. I would expect a release of the new Vithanco and an update to all the other versions this month. 

Why I wrote Vithanco

Vithanco stands for “Visual Thinking and Communication”. What does it mean?

I have experienced that visual focus helps me thinking. Without a focus it’s difficult to concentrate. Sometimes I only need to start writing. But most often I start drawing. It’s like the old proverb “a picture says more than a thousand words”. The same is true for the outcome: the diagram/picture I drew tells more than a long paragraph.

Most times I draw boxes and connect them. Only by putting concepts into relation to other concepts does the structure of my thinking become really clear to me. Then I realised that the paper is soon getting to messy because the diagram evolves. So, in the past I tried software like Visio and I realised that I spend too much time wondering about the layout instead of focusing on the content. You add a box somewhere and suddenly you need to rearrange large pieces of the previous drawing which is used as a welcome distraction. 

Then I found Flying Logic. Flying Logic did the layout for me taking a huge distraction away, allowing focus on the content. I loved the application and I would be still using Flying Logic if it:

  • wouldn’t be too cluttered,
  • would it be more guiding through the graph creation and
  • wouldn’t the nodes all look the same.

The second point is particularly important. Flying Logic was written to support the Theory of Constraints (TOC) Thinking Processes. But these are tricky to learn without guidance. And Flying Logic didn’t give that guidance. Actually, that is not completely true. It comes with a long and useful document on the matter. In any case, I needed more flexibility. Hence, I created my own software.

Some of the key Concepts of this Blog Post

Use any Vithanco application and you will see that it supports you to focus on the content and creates beautiful diagrams. Vithanco uses “Domains” to define a visual language that restricts the diagram to a “valid” graph. So, if you are working on an IBIS diagram you will only be offered the suitable IBIS nodes for the given situation. This results in less distraction as I don’t need to think about the structure any longer. I can truly focus on the content. And yes, I try not to have a minimal user interface – the application itself shouldn’t distract you neither. 

And if the content is right the ideas will come through more easily. Try it out. Communicate your ideas to someone based on as simple diagram. They will grasp your ideas faster as they can use eyes and ears to follow you and to understand you. 

What can you do with Vithanco?

Vithanco is a visual graph editor. The graph I am referring to is a graph made of a set of nodes (or vertices) and edges (or connections). I do not refer to a chart. Graphs can be used in many ways. 

A simple graph

On the first look Vithanco might look like other visualisation software like Microsoft Visio. Like in Visio will you have different shapes (nodes) and connect them.  However, Vithanco has a different approach in two important ways:

  • Vithanco layouts the graph for you. There are some ways how to influence the outcome but you cannot position a specific node to a specific location. The location of each note is calculated based on the relationship of the nodes in a way that the graph is easily understandable.
  • Vithanco provides you with a graphical language that restricts what nodes can be connected to each other and hence guides you through the creation of a valid graph.  

The 2nd point needs more explanation and will explain Vithanco well. Each Vithanco diagram is created according to a “Domain”. A domain is a set of NodeTypes that define the looks of the different nodes and which node types can be connected via an edge.  Let’s use a Vithanco graph example to explain. The graph below was drawn with Vithanco, using the Concept Map Domain. The graph shows key concepts of Vithanco. Concept Maps are easy to read as edges are always from concepts (boxes) to relationships (text without framing), and from relationships to concepts. Start with a concept and create a sentence, like “(A) Graph consists of Nodes and Edges” . 

Key Concepts of Vithanco

The Concept Map Domain contains basically two node types: “Concept(s)” and “Relation(s)”. These two node types have different graphical representations (with box and without) and they can only be connected to the other node type. Hence, the Concept Maps Domain doesn’t allow to draw an edge from a concept to another concept or from a relation to another relation.  And if you wonder, I created two different concept node types. There is an 2nd coloured node type just to emphasise key concepts.

Have a second look at the graph above. If you understand the graph then you will understand Vithanco. Follow the lines: “Node Types define valid Edges”, “Edges connect two Nodes”, and “Graph can have Clusters”. Clusters are an option element to cluster some nodes. The diagram above has two clusters: “Visual Elements” and “Meta Model”. The Meta Model is what makes Vithanco special. The Visual Elements is what you see as output.