Presenting applications

March 25th, 2006 Comments Off on Presenting applications

Recently, I spent a week helping in the presentation of an application developed for the internal use of a client of mine. The project, although nicely specified, suffered with the change of key people during its implementation phase, and, because of the problems resulting from those changes, I wasn’t particularly confident in the outcome of the presentation.

Fortunately, despite the error screens occurring at the most unappropiate moments of the presentation, the general impression of the end users of the application was very positive, and I believe the corrections that will be implemented in the next phase of the project will be sufficient to finish it in satisfactory way.

The most problematic point about the presentation, in my opinion, was the use of test data. After seeing how much doubt and confusion the use of test data caused, the first point in the checklist for presentation from now on is: never, never, ever again, use fictitious data in a presentation system. It’s a obvious rule, but I guess it only became clear to me now because of particularities in this system which make test data especially bad. And there is always the possibility that some developer will have written something really embarassing in a text field which will cause a bad impression on the users.

Another point is the use of primary keys in the interface. Primary keys are an implementation detail that doesn’t belong in the presentation tier. Some developers seem to like using them as record identifiers but users will only become confused by such “random” numbers appearing in the midst of other data.

Presenting applications, I’m now realizing, it’s a really complex task for engineers types like me, because it depends on skills that belong in the area of management. But life is like this: you only learn things by experience.

At least, I finished the presentation with the certainty that the application is doing what it was supposed to do: radically simply the work of the users and promote processual changes in the way that work is done. It would only be better than that if the application did all the work by itself.

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