From Dwayne Wright PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM
Certified FileMaker Developer
When you are looking to design a database solution, there are at least three ways to look at it. One is from the top down. That means you are looking at the end result first and then you look at how the information is going to get there. The bottom up approach is when you interview the people on the front line and see how you can make their job easier and more productive. Here the emphasis may be on data entry and quick search results for data. Reports and management tasks are looked at as an after thought. The third method is a combination approach, working at times from the top down and sometimes from the bottom up. Eventually, you end up somewhere in the middle.
A top down approach is very useful if the main focus is the reports. For example, lets say you are doing a research related database. The main objective is to make an educated business decision on the information gathered. You may not even have to build a nice data entry front end, because a majority of the data is imported into the database. The top down approach is also well suited for databases that are being built from scratch. This way you can validate the addition or omission of a design element from a reporting standpoint.
A bottom up approach can be a case where the current acquisition of data is a mess for a particular business need. Everyone has their own version of what is happening using paper forms, spreadsheets or even email as the main method of acquiring and presenting business information. In cases like this, the ship might be taking in water and rapidly sinking. There is little time for planning, the data needs to be consolidated and in a hurry. FYI ... FileMaker is probably the best database on the planet for these situations ( in my humble opinion). The bottom up approach is common when you are updating a database. Many times you cannot get a clear bead on what the users need the database to do. Your interviews always seem to remind you of the saying “ cannot see the forest because of all the trees.” In these cases, you are looking to win battles and worry about the war later. You make small strides that make the database better, more efficient and easier to use.
The combination approach of top down and bottom up can be a tough one. Adding validation to a field to help reports can inversely impact data entry. Making a change in data entry to suit someone on the front line can make reports inaccurate, inconsistent or inaccurate.
When you are looking at these challenges, you might find that those sophisticated FileMaker calculations, scripting and relational table setup is a breeze ( grin )! There are a huge number of benefits to planning your new database solution or the upgrade of an existing FileMaker solution. Here is a quick list of benefits a database design pre-plan may provide.
Planning helps eliminate the need for ad hoc changes in the future. You will almost always need to add changes, as new business needs are uncovered or people find out about your new "isn't this too cool" database. However, you don’t want ad hoc design changes to become your primary task each day.
You can research how other FileMaker developers have done it. You can come up with a list of design techniques that save design time and provide consistency. You can download example files or templates and see how closely they fit your database needs. You might be able to pick up an already designed FileMaker solution for a reasonable cost that significantly reduces your database design time.
Your planning documentation may be easily modified to be your online help documentation. Also, the documentation can be very handy a year or so down the road ... when you look for the next design upgrade, which could be due to a change in business conditions, the acquisition of another company or a change in company management philosophies.
Your database design plan can also be used to help identify where to protect the integrity of the data. This can include what can be entered into fields, when and by whom.
More info about the author and FileMaker in general, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 - Dwayne Wright - dwaynewright.com
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