First Looks

Optimal Trace Enterprise 5.0: Implement Project Requirements

Keep everyone working together with this comprehensive collaboration tool.

Even in an age of agile development methodologies, project members still need to gather and agree on project requirements. This can be a daunting task with systems ranging from marked up index cards to complicated, comprehensive software to manage the collaborative process. Compuware Corp.'s Optimal Trace Enterprise Edition falls into the latter part of that range, with just about every feature imaginable for gathering requirements, documenting them, and sharing the process across a team.

The Enterprise version of Optimal Trace is a full collaboration tool, making it easy to keep everyone working on the latest project version all the time. Like source control, it lets someone working on a particular requirement lock it to avoid problems with overlapping or conflicting changes, including support for merging changes into the main project. One of the best productivity features in the product is the ability to generate test cases for complete coverage of the requirements and alternative scenarios. The scope of these abilities is as breathtaking as the product's cost, which starts at $3,800 for a single, named user.

Figure 1
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Figure 1. Complex User Interface for Complex Requirements
Optimal Trace's UI is complicated and cluttered, but is probably appropriate for the complexity of everything it does. Despite the company's claims that the product is usable by all of a project's stakeholders, it will take some training to get less-technical people up to speed.

Optimal Trace is a comprehensive tool that supports capturing everything from starting notes during discussions with users, right through generation of final requirements documentation and quality assurance (QA) testing. It's targeted at business analysts, systems analysts, project managers, test and QA engineers, and software architects and designers. That's quite a constituency, but Optimal Trace seems to deliver value for all those groups. Compuware was ambitious, delivering a complete solution that does a decent job of managing complexity.

The product packaging includes no installation instructions whatsoever. The CD had just two execution files -- one to install Optimal Trace Enterprise and another to install Optimal Trace Server -- with no readme or any other help to guide the way. I had no idea which to install first, so I stumbled ahead with the Enterprise install. That proved to be the right choice. There's no mention of the other file in the release notes or help files, which are not available before installation. Once I installed the repository server, the previously unavailable help file clearly explained how to install the server.

Documentation consists of a single, monolithic HTML page for each major product component: the server and user interfaces, as well as the admin tool. This amounts to four extremely long pages in all. The information is all there, but navigating long pages like that is inconvenient at best. The product also includes several demo projects, which are useful for playing with its various features. Given that the product is targeted for use by various users, ranging from the CIO to business analyst to tester, the documentation needs improvement.

The per-user price is breathtaking, but for enterprises that can make full use of the product's capabilities, it's probably worth it.

At A Glance
Compuware Optimal Trace Enterprise Edition 5.0
Compuware

Web: www.compuware.com
Phone: 313-227-7300
Price: Per user: $6,400.00 (concurrent user), $3,800.00 (named user)
Quick Facts: A comprehensive tool for gathering, managing, and implementing complicated project requirements.
Pros: Comprehensive features that serve a wide variety of users, good collaboration tools, strong management of requirements during the entire project lifecycle.
Cons: Expensive, marginal documentation.

About the Author

Don Kiely is a senior technology consultant in Fairbanks, Alaska. When he isn't writing software, he's writing about it, speaking about it at conferences, and training developers in it. Reach him at donkiely@computer.org.

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