Making Iterative Development Easy to Share

Everyone talks about agile, iterative, rapid, real time, or some other kind of development where a team of technical guys is churning away coding and then producing a build. this is great stuff since you get to see what the program looks like and can get some assurance that its meeting the requirements and that the users actually still agree that the things they asked for are what they still want now that they see it.

This is of course is the way to go…how many people design and start construction of a hours, but never stop in and check out the construction work as it is taking place? In software development the main problem with this concept is that it takes a lot of time from business people that don’t always care or don’t have the time because they have their “regular job”. So what’s an IT project manager to do?

For quite a while there’s been screen capture, screen cams, and screen shots with cut/paste action into PPT, but for me these things just didn’t cut it. For the past year I’ve been using a couple of packages that I think have really made iterative development with business customers really easy – and dramatically much more effective. The two packages are Wink by Satish Kumar et al. and ViewletBuilder from Qarbon. Both packages produce Flash based movie for people to watch. Both packages are focused on creating materials primarly for training activities and we use them for that too, but I like using them for showing people iterations on a development build. I’ll take you thru why I use both and what features I think really are nice.

Wink is an open-source package that offers all the basic features ViewletBuilder does. You can select a region of your desktop, or the entire desktop and capture a sequence of actions into a project. After your capture session is complete you can annotate your movie with callouts and stuff and then render the project to a Flash movie. Wink is really nice when you have:

  • a lot of small projects that are not very complicated
  • the actions and use of the software are simple and don’t require too much explanation or audio
  • your outsourcing partners don’t feel like spending any money on these kinds of tools

There’s a great review of Wink right here. People in my group use Wink primarily for quick short reviews of some feature or product. Everyone can use it since it is free and we publish the movies to a Plone site that uses the Documentation Center proudct since this supports libraries of flash movies.

ViewletBuilder 5 from Qarbon adds a lot of high end functions that really make for professional reviews of software features and functions. The most important difference between VB5 and Wink is that VB5 supports audio overlays. This is really important for explaining exactly how something works. VB5 also supports transitions…it captures the movement of your mouse and GUI widgets so that people can see exactly how the software works.

VB5 also allows you to insert a lot of other objects into your Flash movie. Clickable objects, images, sounds, text, and more can really allow you to create an interactive demonstration. Here’s a shot of the ViewletBuiler interface:

Viewlet Builder Main ScreenIn the interface you get something that looks like Powerpoint a bit. This is what you get after your screen capture session. Now you can add audio, text annotations, and other good stuff using the various graphical wizards. Once you are done you click publish and you can publish to your local disk or if you want to shell out a few bucks to “Viewlet Central”. For most of my projects I save to my local drive and then post demos to a Plone site so that end-users can view them.

You can save your Flash mpoives out at various resolutions and quality levels, screw aroudn with styles sheets, attach fancy sound effects and things. Best of all it is pretty easy for a techie like me to do all this and get something that looks decent.

To wrap this up – I’m a big VB5 proponent. Its a huge asset to my development projects and well worth the money. Wink is nice too for simpler things or if you have a constantly changing group of developers and stuff. For my money tho (all $399) ViewletBuilder lets me product demos quickly that look like they were done by a professional. This kind of “wow factor” can really win over business users that are on the fence about corporate IT. If you are doing the same kinds of projects as a “big bad IT guy” I strongly recommend this product to make your “agile” actually look agile and your iterations iterate.

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