Saturday, 23 February 2013


This weeks missive relates to software design processes - again!

The question that has been put forward is what is an appropriate level of use of CASE tools. These are packages that help you design and build software. To illustrate the 'issue' here is the list of CASE tools from Wikipedia - and there are probably even more than this knocking around in some small corner of the office!

Ref: Wikipedia - "Types of tools are:
  • Business process engineering tools
  • Process modeling and management tools
  • Project planning tools
  • Risk analysis tools
  • Project management tools
  • Requirement tracing tools
  • Metrics management tools
  • Documentation tools
  • System software tools
  • Quality assurance tools
  • Database management tools
  • Software configuration management tools
  • Analysis and design tools
  • PRO/SIM tools
  • Interface design and development tools
  • Prototyping tools
  • Programming tools
  • Web development tools
  • Integration and testing tools
  • Static analysis tools
  • Dynamic analysis tools
  • Test management tools
  • Client/Server testing tools
  • Re-engineering tools"

If all you are doing is building some simple application, e.g. web site, some remote interface control, analysis of some business data, what do you do? You could easily spend all your time evaluating which tool to use rather than getting on with the job!

Well Occ-Bam this week has shown me how you can use a simple tool like PowerPoint to help capture requirements, prototype the design and develop the used guide for a simple app. Its so simple even I could do it without having to fork out thousands of pounds on one or more of the above packages - and I mean thousands and thousands in some cases (sorry couldn't resist).

All you do is;

  1. storyboard the key user requirements on separate PP slides
  2. build sample user input and output slides for step 1 slides
  3. construct sample user interface slides based on step 2   
  4. document in the notes on each slide the functionality that sits behind that particular slide
  5. document in the notes on each slide what the user needs to do interact 
  6. iterate steps 2 to 5 until happy!
et voila - you have created, a requirements repository, a functional model of the code, a set of use cases, defined the user interface, prototyped the design and created a user guide all in one go.

What a brilliant use of PowerPoint I say, simples ;)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

More pieces of the jigsaw ....

Well my advisor's have been keeping me busy this week. The revival is gaining momentum I feel - just hope I can hang on.

Two areas of development for me emerged out of the chaos this week.

The first was back to basics  on software engineering processes courtesy of Occ-Bam - who has reintroduced me to the virtues of a simple approach to software development. You can make a meal of this documentation stuff can't you - and its tough to keep a 'linear' record of what you are doing up-to-date when you are iterating code development at a rapid pace! Just go away and let me code or nothing will work will it. Keeping the documentation as integrated into development activity as much as possible is the key. Also keeping the 'stages' of development at a fairly high level not only helps you better follow the 'story' of the development but also stops you getting lost describing a very nice looking weed!

  1. project initiation
  2. requirements capture
  3. systems design
  4. coding - with version control and design information integrated into the code
  5. testing
  6. final documentation - including user manual
Are all you need for most simple projects to ensure you are 'building the right thing, rather than just building something right' as a colleague recently pointed out. Steps 1 to 3 basically make sure you know what it is you are coding and stop you diving straight in to hacking stuff out. Step 4 lets you get stuck in and document as you progress the code. Steps 5 and 6 are a check to see it turned out as originally planned (or not ;). 

The second area of development for me has opened up another Pandora's box of stuff to consider. Bambofy has introduced me to Quora - well what to do with this? Its like a living Wikipedia, you can post questions on topics and get responses from 'others'. I have been on a bit of a quest for something like this for a while - to really give some depth to the LinkedIn group type discussions - how do you broaden the thinking on topics of discussion?  Well this site seems to offer that facility. I am just starting to play with it and have posted some Quality Assurance tester questions - so far I have been impressed.

Got to stop myself wading into answering physics questions though .....

Saturday, 9 February 2013

MOOCing about.

Think I have now seen both end of the spectrum related to online learning! (MOOC Massive Open Online Courses by the way)

I started on Monday with an internal online training course - which will remain nameless to protect the innocent. This was a one hour course on one of the company business process support systems - newly implemented. I was sat at home logged onto the VPN with coffee in hand first thing in the morning (my best time) ready to be educated (my best skill). I fired up the training pack and then spent an hour trying not to eat my face. It was the most uninspiring hour I have probably ever had - an exaggeration I must have blocked the others out. The worst thing was I had to run the video's to their conclusion - monitored you see. What was so wrong with it? Well it turned out essentially to be an hour of how to fill out forms, "this is where your name goes", type of thing. There was a bit on which order to fill them out in which was mildly relevant but on balance not worth an hour of time - could have had another form that you filled out to show the order you need to fill out the other forms, if you know what I mean! On top of that when you actually get round to using these forms in real life they need to be printed out and filled in - using a pen - shock horror! 

This was an online 'course' that should have just been an instruction pack. It wasn't for the lack of polish when it came to the presentation side of things either. There had obviously been a lot of effort put into recording the course and in making it available. 

Having been the first online course I have ever logged onto it has kind of left me with a feeling of trepidation with respect to online training. 


I was saved by the Santa Fe institute - thank you, thank you!

In my re-entry into all things computing I thought I needed to get re-skilled on where current thinking is on complex system dynamics. Big data, knowledge management, social networks blah blah - what is the thinking on modelling these types of systems. So I signed up for the 'Introduction to Complexity' course (even though I think I am living through complexity so may not need the introduction ;). 

Follow the link for details

The course is run by Melanie Mitchell - I have only done the first few modules but it is light years head of the form filling course - mainly because the content has clearly been well thought through. Getting the level of detail right, on what is a difficult subject, in a simple manner, is a skill in itself. I have now sat through an hour of this training and it has felt like 5 minutes - the power of engagement! 

As a result of my first encounter, however, I still have this niggling worry that future modules are going to turn into some trivial "complex systems are complex" format, but I doubt it!

So what does all this mean? 

Well I guess you can whack out YouTube video's to your hearts content but when it comes to online training - Delivery is important but Content is King!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The end of Gamification!

Gamification - just hate that word - has been the subject of some thinking recently - around whether it can be used to promote internal company 'experience' qualifications. Therefore helping drive training and development activities and foster a more personal responsibility for building up skills.

Previous posts have covered some of the issues that have come up. What I want to do here is summarise where we have got to and park the subject until some of these issues have been addressed.

So here we go on the issues;

  1. Is collecting badges really a game? Why will people bother collecting them other than some of us OCD types who will collect any old rubbish - who will be energised to collect? The answer to this will need to be addressed within the company. The initiative will need some serious backing from the most senior management and will need to be followed up with 'proper' marketing. Leaving it to 'organically grow' I don't believe is an option - see comments on LinkedIn below which is much more visible to people but still has had difficulties.
  2. Extensive research, i.e. me just watching what has happened to my LinkedIn skill endorsements, has shown that there are some who are just 'too cool to play'. Some people - engineer-techno-scientific'y types I must add - seem to find it impossible to click the endorse button. Probably some deep psychological reason here which I wont even bother tying to understand. Possibly throwing some confusion into the badge construction and selection arena?
  3. How best to make visible the badges, internal company-only sites or external visible to all, a la LinkedIn? External is good for infrastructure - its all in place and maintained for you. In fact using LinkedIn skill sets would be a very easy way to start to roll out the badges. Using specific badge collecting sites would impose too much of a burden on people as it would involve everyone signing up for yet another site whereas almost everyone in the company has a LinkedIn account. However, these external sites are subject to the whim of the designer and we have seen recently unilateral changes to functionality of these sites and the removal of some facilities. Do you really want to rely on these sites for what would be a key business function? Internal sites would of course be under full control of the business but would require quite a bit of 'maintenance' - which would of course also costs money and is therefore at odds with my primary directive! I think the answer lies in both internal AND external recording. An internal central record could be kept but using the external site to advertise -  if the external site goes pear shaped then at least there is a backup. Internal - simple record and authorised rating body for the skill - external - visible and rateable by community - is the best way forward.
  4. Others outside the business could mess up the ratings? However, I have left an internal training badge (AMP badge) on my LinkedIn site for a few months and nobody has tinkered with it. So the chances are this route for advertising badges will work - people tend to only rate skills that they are personally aware of - which of course is what gives credibility to the community ratings. but also means that they are less inclined to rate and therefore muck about with internal training course badges. 

For further reading on the upside, check out;

and the downside

So in summary, it looks viable to select a set of badges for internal skill's and make attainment of them visible on an individuals LinkedIn site. The mechanics are therefore fairly straightforward for getting something running. The difficult part will be raising the profile of this initiative within the business and in getting buy in from senior management.

Which is the next step in this journey!