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Visualize first, build later: Advantage of simulation tools

Esther Shein | June 29, 2010
Business analysts can make sure they're getting users' requirements right before handing over the project to development

The key challenge for El Segundo, Calif.-based iRise, says Ballou, is to get its software to manage and reuse all of the artifacts created in iterative joint application design sessions for comparable projects, although she says she expects upcoming versions of the application to address that issue.

Getting it right at the outset

Package carrier United Parcel Service Inc. has found that working with business users on systems requirements pays off, says Mark Hilbush, vice president of information systems. "The whole idea is to get as much right up front and try to work with business users in a way they can really understand what it is we're building together," he says. That approach has produced benefits that include allowing non-English speakers to see the software and make sure key requirements weren't missed, he says.

Hilbush's group is building a Web-based application that will replace a mainframe package-processing application and will be used in UPS operations all over the world. Using iRise's Studio tool, IT has been able to model different aspects of the user interface with dashboards, data entry, reporting and other capabilities, he says.

"We were able to put the visualization in front of users who are across the United States and Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and [iRise] allowed us to get many more people involved in the requirements process than would normally be involved," Hilbush explains.

Not only has IT been able to uncover requirements early on that may not have been articulated by management, but the tool allows Hilbush's group to get direct feedback from people who are going to use the system on a day-to-day basis to see how it fits their needs. "The last thing you want is to get to alpha or beta or user testing and find out you've missed the mark on a few key requirements," he says. "That's the power of visualization -- it lets you do that very early in the life cycle."

The iRise tool has been very helpful in terms of improving quality, since English is not the primary language for everyone giving input, notes Tony Baldassari, a senior project manager in UPS's Package Project Management (PPM) Group. If he had to request comments from international users in a requirements document, things would inevitably get lost in translation. But sending out a prototype lets people visualize what the new system will look like and therefore helps ensure that it's built right the first time, Baldassari says.

"There is some process improvement from the standpoint that we don't have to get a bunch of e-mails with comments and hold conference calls to review them," he explains. But the biggest improvement is "in the quality of the product that goes out for Version 1."


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