Systems Analysis and Design: The Forgotten Skills

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Systems Analysis and Design skills are the forgotten skills of application development. If you develop applications for someone else, these skills are absolutely essential. Eli the Computer guy tends to tell us to just start coding, often times forget to mention that you need to perform some form of systems analysis to make sure that you and your customer are reading off the same sheet of music.

You are not likely to find systems analysis and design courses in community colleges. You may have to acquire these skills as you go along. Below you will find an example of systems analysis and design steps I recently used for a simple multiuser database application.


You and the group manager discuss the ground rules for the application’s development and the managers expectations. You may be told that the
manager wants a shared database application and you are to use a specific software tool or application, such as Microsoft Access.


This is a meeting where you are introduced to the group and you mission is explained. It is also where you learn a little about the group members and they learn a little about you and what you will doing. The goal is to gain their cooperation from the very beginning. You want them to understand that they are team members contributing to developing an application to meet their needs.


Usually you will need to interview the group manager and key members of the group to learn what their jobs are all about. You will ask for forms and other documents useed by each member to gather information for files. You may also discover Excel spreadsheets and other office applications that someone may using to store information. Often times the group manager is unaware of the spreadsheets or other work aroud applications. The goal is to make them feel comfortable enough to tell you what is really going on and what they think should be going on.


This is where you prepare a document that describes how the group works, what information is gathered by the group, what reports they use and any legal or archive requirements that need to be met. The document states what you think is happening and what you believe needs to happen. Sometimes this type of document is called “homogeneous sentences”.


This meeting is an opportunity to show everyone what you have learned and how you believe they perform their work. You may discover errors in your understanding that you can quickly correct and the group manager may see processes or procedures that need to be changed.


Microsoft Visio in one of the tools avalable to create screen mockups. Any good graphics tool will work. The object is to create a set of screens to meet the needs of each member of the group. Screens are filled with specific labels and data items you discovered in your interviews. Some screens may look a lot like some of the existing forms used for primary capture information. You may want to make use of check boxes, radio button and drop down text boxes to minimize data entry. You may want to grey out text boxes and controls that are locked for specific screens.


At this meeting each member of the team is given a hardcopy printout of all of the screens. The screens are discussed and all changes entered on your master set of screen mockups. Some data items may be removed and others may need to have different names. If necessary another meeting can held to show the screens after the changes are made. Retain your marked up screen sheets and all other hardcopy documents as questions may be asked at some later date. The object is to get everyone on the team to buy into the final screen designs.


Microsoft Visio can be used to build a graphic representation of tables and relationships. It is often easier to build the mockup tables and relationships before the real database is created. It is a lot easier to make changes with Visio. You will want to review the tables with group manager to make sure that data element names are suitable and that you and the manager understand the relationships between of the tables.


This is the easy part. Build the application to match your mockups and ask individual team memmbers to test their screens using dummy data.


It would be a good idea to maintain a 3-ring binder with all of your notes, example blank forms, mockup diagrams, mockup screens and related materials. The binder is a working tool that you and the customer manager can review together. You should keep this binder.

Prepare a documentation binder to give to the manager. Documentation should include a clear discussion of the applications design objectives and considerations, table and relationship diagrams, data element definitions, color screen shots of working screens, instructions for using the screens, any special notes, and instructions for making database backups. Each section should tabbed and placed in a documentation table of contents.






Randy Stalding

Randy Stalding has been a computer professional since 1968, spending most of his time working in IBM mainframe environments. He has worked with computers in the military, the federal government, the banking industry and high tech manufacturing industry, Randy has been a data processing operations manager, project manager and senior technical consultant. Randy owned a small brick and mortar retail hobby store for about 18 years. He has a BS from Washington State University an Associate degree in Data Processing and a recent Associate degree in Computer Science. He has also completed 12 semester hours of graduate studies in Management Information Systems at American University..

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