How we work is the biggest question we are almost always asked next to; where do we go from here. That is always a loaded question based on the project. Most projects are really straight forward and once we have gathered requirements we can just take off and run with it and get feedback as we go.
We always sign a non-disclosure agreement and prepare an estimate, with a low and high range, based on our experience with development and what the overall requirements are. It outlines very general tasks and estimated costs. It explains our rate, billing and start date. It also states that the rights to the work produced is yours. If we create something (script, function, process) really cool and efficient, we are allowed to reuse it as long as it does not reveal a trade secret of yours. To start work, and approve the project it requires a signature. There will never be a contract initiated by us.
So let’s look at this from a large scale project perspective on a project that took almost 2 years.
To set this up properly let’s look at the tools we use on a daily basis for new development:
- Basecamp – Project Management / Collaboration
- Balsamiq – Online Interactive Interface Mockups
- GoToMeeting – Online meetings.
- OmniGraffle – Quick Schema Building
- Adobe Creative Suite – Documentation, Graphics
- Clip Manager 4 – Store common used scripts,
- BaseElements – File Analysis onexisting systems, Check-ups on new ones.
- FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced
- FileMaker Pro 13 Server
Project Management – Requirements Gathering – Basecamp
This is the single most important step of the entire project. This is where the real magic happens. It is truly understanding the specific needs in great detail. Not everyone understands this, Project Management is often misunderstood as Gannet Charts, expensive, deadlines nobody can hit and a cost that has no ROI. Anyone who believes this is missing the point. At The Scarpetta Group, PM is spending time getting to know not only the project, but the people who will be using the system, who they are and how they work, and what matters to them, individually. I spent many long days in a meeting with a group taking notes and talking though processes until I knew them, by memory. This process continues through the entire project, without this process this project would not have succeeded.
Schema, Tables and Fields – OmniGraffle, FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced
After a couple of meetings there is generally enough information collected to start building tables, fields, and core schema (relationships) in FileMaker Pro Advanced. At this stage, they are reviewed on paper so we can add additional fields, change names, etc. They see our naming conventions. They see a mockup of a core schema from OmniGraffle.
Interface Mockups – Balsamiq
At the same time tables and fields are being entered, we generally start the first of layout mockups online with Balsamiq. This is great because it does not look like FileMaker, it looks like a sketch. By doing this it keeps the focus on what is needed on the layout at this stage as opposed to why doesn’t that button work yet? This online tool saves many hours of development time because the client has access to make changes and add comments. Once the primary layout is agreed upon by the client, we build one layout in FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced and show it to them for agreement on Theme and Styles, especially now that everyone can have a custom branded Theme. See articles by James Scarpetta FileMaker Pro 13 – Stylin’ Part 1.
Project Management – Ongoing – Basecamp
Meetings continue throughout a large project, monthly, weekly, sometimes 2-3 time a week, to keep development moving and insuring everything is heading in the right direction. Changes happen, expect them, even when everything is being built right. Occasionally, there will be that “Oh by the way there is this one more thing… we haven’t told you about”. That is almost always a deer in the headlights moment. We always accommodate, but it is very important to always steer the client to tell us everything. It never saves money or time by holding information back, future wishes are very important upfront, because it can change the entire schema of a file. Fortunately, FileMaker Pro is so flexible we can easily adapt.
Workflows – FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced
Time to script it and put the magic of Project management to work. We generally build all files in an Agile process. This allows concurrent development by us and testing and feedback by the client. Things always change in this part of the project, because little details come out and you hear things like “Can you make that button do this…as well”.
Security – FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced
Who is allowed to see what, when, and can they click that. Majority of all security that occurs outside of who can log into the FileMaker Pro database is more about data integrity and hiding information from users who do not need to have access to certain information. FileMaker Pro 13 has given us some awesome new features, like slide controls, hide object when. See my other post – FileMaker Pro 13: Slip, Sliding Away.
Testing – FileMaker Pro 13 Advanced, FileMaker Pro 13, FileMaker 13 Server
This is critical, nobody likes to test. I am personally the worst person to test, I know how it works, I can make it work every time, especially if I wrote it. We cross test our projects internally and fix our errors. Does it mean it’s perfect, we hope so, we strive to write the best code possible, after all we are all human.
Usability and Testing – Client – FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Server
This is the next most important part of the project. This is when you get to watch the client use the product you built for them. Building software is making a best guess as to how a user will work, is that button in the best place, is the font big enough, are the colors of the layout easy on the eyes? We pay attention, watch, take notes and adjust, modify scripts, sometimes entire processes to make it better. If it is not easy to use, it is not right. My goal is that all systems are self-documenting, nobody should have to get a user manual.
Repeat – All
This is a circular process, it continues over and over again until it launches, but the time in Project Management and usability studies are the key the success. We have to really hear what the client is saying and build them the best possible product for them. We challenge them. The worst thing anyone can do is the same thing they always have. We look at the big picture and challenge old processes where we feel time and money can be saved. Our goal is to build not just a custom software solution based on FileMaker, but a better business for our client and an understanding that we care about them personally and professionally.
Daily – @ScarpettaGroup
In the office we are a relaxed company, blue jeans, industrial look, legos, geeky art. We care about the environment, 90%+ of our lighting is LED, we use reusable keurig cups, and minimize heat and ac when we can. Nothing is left on when we leave the office unless it is critical. Mornings start with coffee, Starbucks Verona, then a quick 15-20 minute meeting to find out where things are. We set a plan for the day, sometimes everyone will work on the same project, sometimes it is split up. Goal is to do things as efficiently as possible. When a developer gets hung up or stuck, they are to move on, we regroup after lunch to answer questions and if it is a big enough question, we train on the topic. Our skills are not stagnant, they need to grow and all of us cross-train each other.
Are You Ready?
Working with us is easy, Call us at 1-877-501-8038. We are always in this for the long haul, we want to build a solid relationship / partnership with great companies and people, based on trust, not contracts. We want you to know we know your business and our best interest is your success and we care about you. Explore the power of FileMaker by talking to us and learning what it can do.
Questions? Call me direct – 864-569-5725
CEO/ Owner The Scarpetta Group, Inc.
Certified FileMaker Developer