Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Remember "don't give users MS Access"?

We had just started requirements analysis on replacing a 20 year old mainframe application when I read the rant on here about the rabbit's warren of personal Access applications someone had discovered in a hospital.

Prompted by that discussion, I had our project manager put out the call to our users - "please forward to us any custom applications or spreadsheets you've developed to help you do your job around the limitations of the current system"

You have no idea how well this has worked! So far we've gotten about two dozen excel spreadsheets, news of four Access applications, and a ton of Word files that our prospective users are using.

Talk about your easy pickin's! Requirements served on a silver platter!

I'd heartily recommend this method for anyone approaching a large-scale project, esp. if you're replacing an existing app.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I remember the discussion well.  Glad to hear of your success!  Not only are your requirements served on a silver platter, but the users are probably more than happy to talk about what they did and why they did it that way.  I've found that in these kinds of situations, having in-depth discussions with the users about what they've built is invaluable for clearing up details you might overlook if all you had was their database or spreadsheet.  Little semantic things like "by the way, after we built it we reversed the meaning of that boolean field since the default value is false, and we wanted it to be true."  Their work is a great starting point for discussion because it allows them to speak about requirements in a more technically concrete manner that still feels like their native tongue to them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

There is a real nice scene from the classic move “The Great Escape”

In that scene, Steve MacQueen explains how to tunnel under the fence and escape from the prison camp:

…”you just dig down, and stuff the dirt behind you like a mole”….

Anyway, everyone walked away thinking wow, why did I not think of that. This is so simple as to be too good to be true!

Philo, that is a dead simple idea, and a fabulous suggestion. I am filing that suggestion away in my consulting notes!!

I also remember that discussion, but I did not really put that idea down into my consulting notes.

Having people include word templates is a great idea also!

It makes perfect sense, and is almost too easy!!!

I am not sure what Yoda would say, but I am sure it would be :

…”good ideas come from the good side of the force!!…”

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. Kallal
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Good idea.  Find out what they need, build it and then take access away.

Crusty Admin
Thursday, March 20, 2003

> I am not sure what Yoda would say, but I am
> sure it would be :
>  …”good ideas come from the good side of the force!!…”

Good ideas.  Mmm.  From the good side of the force they come.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Here's the original thread:

...another reason not to load access on user wkstn

At first I couldn't find it and though it had been purged, but then discovered the Search box on the left.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Having gleamed your requirements from the existing systems, you might want to find out how frequently those access mdb's and templates change structure.

You would be amazed how much ongoing development goes on with those babies. If you want to see XP in action, watch these users.

The only reason I raise this, is that if you amalgamate all these disparate dbs into one mother-of-all systems, someone is going to have to maintain it and make all these changes that the users would have done themselves. You make this process too difficult/long, and folk with stop using your uber application because it no longer serves their needs, and will return to custom dbs/spreadsheets.

Friday, March 21, 2003

I suggest you must provide some easy way to produce reports. Don't leave it to the IT guys to have to design every report.

Let me give you an example. We have attendance sheets where you can never see the surname of the student because they concatenate name, father's name, grandfather's name, and family name into one column so the family name is never printed. On another report the db designer changed the default to name/family name at my suggestion, but this change will have to wait until he's got the time. I'm actually converitinng the reports to XML files, and then putting the names into Access so I can massage it, but the other 140 odd lecturers are going to have to live with defective lists.

Also try not to concatenate those fields but create a borderless join between the two columns. There's a guy from a Public Prosecuters departemnt on the Access newsgroups asking exactly how he can split the first name and family name so he can use Access to run a query.

Stephen Jones
Friday, March 21, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home