Getting Started Without A Keyboard Or Mouse

From Dwayne Wright PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM
Certified FileMaker Developer

TWITTER: dwaynewright
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A great step in getting started with your relational database project is to walk away from your computer. That is because you should gather as much information about what you need for your database project ... not from the computer ... not from a technical book ... but ... from those carbon based life forms we call coworkers ( for an in house developer ) or clients ( for those consultants out there ).

I tend to bring a big yellow legal pad with me and talk face to face with each user that I can. It really becomes a Columbo type of experience, with myself in the ragged detective role. When I get as much information as I can, I write down my database objectives. I then sketch out a basic diagram of how the system should look. The sketch will consist of the files and or tables I’ve determined that I will need and the links between them. This is commonly called an ER diagram but my first pass is not that elaborate.

If I’m modifying a current FileMaker solution, I tend to print out the list of fields in each major file. Many times I will highlight the fields based up what I uncovered in the business interviews. Sometimes it’s by departments that use the fields, sometimes it’s by the process the fields are involved with and then sometimes its for fields in the relationships. I’ve even had the situation arise when I print out the field list many times and highlight each list a different way. This is a form of pre-documentation and something I will archive away before the database project goes live.

Then I take this documentation and revisit some of the users and project decision makers. Some are very happy to see me return and others may consider the repeat visit a bother. You will encounter those individuals that say they are too busy. I continue to be amazed by those people that are too busy to invest a few minutes to save themselves hours or days of repetitive work ( that the database can automate ) in the future.

On the note of odd behavior, you may also encounter resistance from those that do not like to tell you what they do. Some folks view any level of technology implementation as a first step towards their job insecurity. I’d like to say that is never the case but that wouldn’t be true. Technology can and often does reduce a workforce in one way or another. Those workers that can adapt to change don’t have much to worry about. Those workers that will not or cannot adapt to change in their daily work life may find themselves without a daily work life ( at least within your company ).

Anyway the second interview is great for uncovering additional information such as business rules. These rules can cover what data goes in a field, when a record is created, when it can be edited, when it can be deleted and primary levels of security.

You may jump to the conclusion that a meeting with all these people is more efficient than meeting with them one on one. I’m not going to say that is a bad idea but I also wouldn’t recommend abandoning the one on one interviews. Any group meeting should be done after you have a good idea of what the meeting needs to be about. If you don’t, you will start to have a database meeting and it may very will spiral into a business practices belly aching session. I would only recommend a group meeting if you are confident that you can control it and keep those within it on topic.

From here, you can decide what other pre-construction documentation you want to do. You may decide that you want to get started working with your FileMaker files. This is frowned upon by some of the " self proclaiming experts" but I don’t. Building an example file or prototype can be very helpful. Just don't get pressured into implementing a prototype just because it is there. But if you have to bring a prototype database online sooner than you wanted to, be sure to add a feedback mechanism so that users can point out bugs or opportunities for new features.

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© 2007 - Dwayne Wright -

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