Thursday, January 7, 2010

An off beat tool for gathering requirements

In the last few months I have been slowly gathering requirements for a project I'm working ( a Personal Information Manager).

While I was talking with a friend who is a professional negotiator he mentioned a tool that might be useful for what I was doing. It is SurveyMonkey.

Now I know that a lot of you have already heard of and used this and I am probably the slow person on the block, but I never considered using this for gathering software requirements. I tried using the free account and I sent out a survey to some 20 people ( I got 11 back so far).

The survey was about how they used their calendars and their mobile devices to manage their day.

The results were actually surprising to me. I have looked at several other academic and nonacademic surveys were done on the same topic about 8-10 years ago and I expected the results to be somewhat in line with those surveys.

They weren't even close.

The key thing that is different is that all of the survey results showed that every one of those people is using a PDA or phone for managing some part of their life. This was something that eight years ago was restricted to really serious techies.

If nothing else I would seriously suggest looking at using tools like SurveyMonkey for gathering information, it might even be a useful tool within a company for gathering software requirements.

Going Mobile

For years now I have had a love-hate relationship with mobile PDAs. My first Palm Pilot (I vaguely remember that it was sometime in the 90s) was a revelation! It was simple and straightforward and while it didn't do huge amounts; what it did, it did well.

Unfortunately, as my scheduling needs grew, the Palm's did not. Multiple calendars were just not in the cards and synchronization via WiFi never seemed to work out.

Eventually, I gave up on the Palm devices and my wife gifted me with a Dell Axim. And I started a different love-hate relationship. Well, mostly hate. It is a Microsoft-based device after all. This meant I dealt with crashes and the necessity of clicking many things many times to get to where I wanted to go.

And then there are the Dell specific gotchas. I especially like the fact that even while in the case it is easy for the Axim's sound record button to be bumped and for the device to record a nice long audio recording that fills up the disk space.

Overall, it really wasn't that much better a device then the Palm devices. Though it does have the cool Bubble Breaker game.

And then I tried the many different ways to sync up to a single repository of calendar and other information. To mention a few: GooSync, MultiSync, the various SyncML -based solutions like ScheduleWorld. During this period I spent more time recovering from synchronization failures of many different types than I did doing actual work.

Until recently when Google released a Windows Mobile OS 5.0 application that allows me to sync between my Google Calendar and the Axim. That, in combination with MilkSync, for syncing with Remember The Milk has allowed me to achieve a basic minimum level of keeping my mobile calendar and my desktop calendar in sync.

So what does that leave me with as a solution? I have my Dell Axim, which allows me to capture information while I'm on the go including scheduling information and sync it up with my desktop calendar. Of course, notes and tasks are not synced up by default and need special handling. I have my cell phone, which gets notifications from Google Calendar so I have reminders of what needs to be done without depending on the Axim's erratic notification methods. And of course, I have the Google calendar.

It works, but it is hardly ideal.

Of course, being an incredible optimist, I have hopes that the new android-based devices will provide for a more total solution. But I have seen very little in the ways of reviews of their PIM capabilities.