Guide to understanding onion diagrams

What is an onion diagram?

An onion diagram is a chart that shows the dependencies and relationships between the different parts of a process or organization. For example, you can use an onion diagram anywhere there is a hierarchy.

The structure of an onion diagram mimics that of an actual onion. The chart contains an inner circle, representing the diagram's primary concept – this could be the project goal, for example. Multiple outer circles surround the inner circle. The items in the larger outer rings each depend on the items in the smaller inner rings.

When should I use an onion diagram?

Some of the key use cases for onion diagrams include:

Product development

Onion diagrams can be a useful way to clarify your strategy and make a plan by highlighting commonalities between different concepts and ideas. They're also helpful when you need to show who is involved in developing a new product. For instance, the product would be in the center ring, followed by management, the product development team, the marketing and sales team, and finally, the customer in the outer ring.

Showing the hierarchy within a company

Onion diagrams provide a simplistic way of showing the hierarchy within a company. For instance, the company name would be in the center of the diagram, and the executives would span out from the center ring toward the outer ring in order of rank.

Showing stakeholders

Organizations often use onion diagrams to visualize relationships between stakeholders and project goals. Key stakeholders would be closer to the center of the diagram, and the outer circles would represent gradually decreasing significance.

Benefits of onion diagrams

Benefits of onion diagrams

There are multiple benefits of using an onion diagram within your organization:

It shows the layers of a system or organization in one visual

The simple layout of an onion diagram makes it easy to see the layers of your organization quickly. The simplicity of onion diagrams means they are visually appealing and easy to read. That means that anyone looking at the diagram can see which factors are the most important when completing a project or reaching a goal and make decisions based on this information.

It helps to easily determine relationships between stakeholders and the project goal

Often, we will assume that stakeholders with the most power or influence will be the most important when trying to reach a goal. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes there are other factors that we need to take into consideration, such as how likely they are to respond to you, or how likely you are to be able to win their support for a particular task. Onion diagrams make it easy to see this so that we can figure out which stakeholders are most important when meeting the project goal.

Often, the process of making an onion diagram can be even more beneficial than the end product due to the level of analysis that goes into the creation phase. That is why involving other team members in the creation phase is often helpful.

How to make an onion diagram

Before you start making your onion diagram, it is important that you first understand why you are making it, what you hope to achieve from it, and who else will need to access it.

If you are planning on sharing your diagram with other teams, it may be a good idea to collaborate with others in the planning phase to ensure you are on the same page and have the same goals and objectives before starting.

Below is a list of steps that you can follow to make your own onion diagram:

  1. Decide which hierarchy you'd like to present in the diagram, and lay out the steps in order of importance.
  2. Once you've got the steps in order, it's time to start drawing your diagram. Put the focus of your hierarchy in a small circle in the center of the diagram. It is fine if this is vague, and if your final goal has not yet been defined, you can always refine this later.
  3. Each layer of the onion represents a layer in the hierarchy as it expands. The circles should get increasingly larger as they get further away from the diagram's center, representing steps further down the hierarchy.
  4. Make sure that you draw the circles large enough to clearly label them and include all of the elements that need to fit – there are often multiple things that need to be included in each given layer.

Why use MindManager to make onion diagrams?

You can make an onion diagram by hand, or you can use a program specifically designed for diagram making. MindManager, an industry-leading onion diagram software, allows you to create complex, detailed onion diagrams with ease.

MindManager's key benefits include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your onion diagrams
  • Premade onion diagram templates
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Various tools and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web

MindManager helps you synthesize ideas and information by providing a simple, intuitive framework for organizing your thoughts. With MindManager, you and your team can clarify complexity and collaborate in new and unexpected ways.

Onion diagram templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with many templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project
Onion diagram templates

Onion diagram FAQs

What is the difference between an onion diagram and an organizational chart?

The purpose of an organizational chart is similar to an onion diagram, and each is used to outline hierarchies. The layout is a key difference between an onion diagram and an organizational chart. More specifically, onion diagrams show the dependencies among a process or organization. An organizational chart depicts the relationship, responsibilities, and roles among the members of an organization.

What is a stakeholder onion diagram?

A stakeholder onion diagram shows a project's stakeholders in order of significance. Stakeholders closer to the center of the diagram are more significant. They will typically interact directly with the target, while stakeholders further towards the edge of the diagram are further removed and less important.

How do you read an onion diagram?

When reading an onion diagram, you should start in the center and work your way toward the edges because each layer represents a component that is dependent on the layer inside of it.

Using onion diagrams to understand the relationships in your organization

Onion diagrams can help you understand the dependencies, relationships, and hierarchies within your organization. You can use them as part of your product development process, to show hierarchies within your organization, or to show the relationships between stakeholders and project goals.

Visualize more with MindManager

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