Designing ClearQuest Forms
ClearQuest form creation is both a technical skill and an art. Although one must learn how to use the ClearQuest Designer to accomplish this task, it takes a lot of thought and sometimes creativity to produce a form that is easy to use and easy on the eyes.
Is the customer always right?
“The customer is always right,” is a cliché but it has been the motto of many businesses knowing that it is wise to prioritize customer concerns and be sure that their experience is positive. This applies in the world of Rational Tools Administration. Your customer may have some thoughts about how a form should appear and operate.
Your job is to evaluate the customer’s request, decide on its feasibility, and offer alternatives when necessary. Perhaps the fields they specify will not fit on a form. Or perhaps they will fit but be crowded. There may be a more efficient way of presenting the information in the form. How you handle this will depend on your relationship with your client and the direction of your project management. I’m a proponent for seeking optimal solutions but conceding to the client’s wishes after presenting my proposals.
It’s best to build a prototype in a sandbox environment that is separate from one used to deliver changes to production. This prototype will be helpful as you explore your options and it can be presented to project management for approval.
“Is there enough Real Estate?” is a question an associate of mine asked himself when requested to add fields to a tab (page) of a form. You’ll need to determine if the fields will actually fit on the tab or if they will appear cluttered.
There are a few options available if you run into this problem.
Shortening the spacing between blocks of fields can free up space on a page. However, in some cases, this may only compound the clutter factor. If you choose this option, adjust the spacing throughout the tab for a uniform look.
You can opt to increase the page size. However, if uniformity of page sizes across a form or all records is a concern, you’ll have to change those page sizes as well and the implications of those changes would have to be evaluated. Increasing the page size may result in a ClearQuest Web Client user needing to scroll down the form for information. It’s not a huge problem. That’s why we have scroll bars. But you do want your users to access information as quickly and easily as possible. ClearQuest should be an aid to your users, not an obstacle. Furthermore, increasing the size of the page may render it difficult to edit. The legacy ClearQuest Windows Designer does not present large pages well. Fields at the bottom may reside off screen and it takes a few tricky maneuvers to bring them back into view if they need to be edited.
You can create a new tab. The new fields however, should not just be dumped on to that tab. Instead, re-organize the fields on the original page and move fields with a similar purpose to the new tab in a manner that makes sense to the user.
It may be necessary to create an entirely new record to capture the fields being moved off of the main page. The new record can easily be linked with the old one via a Parent/Child relationship. This option should be considered if the original record and related new record can have separate lifecycles.
Order of Fields
You need to understand the thought processes of your users. What information do they need to see or modify first? What field will they likely move on to next? When possible, your users should be able to seamlessly move from field to field rather than jumping from one place to the next. The user should be able to quickly locate a field that needs to be viewed or modified. To gain this knowledge, you’ll need to understand the process being modeled.
As a general rule, the record id and record status fields appear on the top of the main page. Title and Description fields don’t necessarily have to appear at the top of the page but should be prominently displayed. If lengthy descriptions are allowed, be sure to add a vertical scroll bar. Otherwise, users will not be able to see the full description when displaying the form.
Labels should appear above or to the left of a field. When possible, placement should be consistent not only through the entire form but across all records. That said, in some cases it might make sense to place labels above text boxes but to the left of check boxes. Aim for consistency.
Tab stops are easily overlooked in the design process but they are very important. You want to be sure that when the user hits the <Tab> key, the cursor moves to the appropriate field. They are automatically set up in the order in which fields are added. For example, let’s say you added field A, then field B, then field C. When the user starts in field A and hits the <Tab> key, the cursor will move to field B. When the <Tab> key is hit again, the cursor moves to field C. This typically works fine unless a field is moved to a different place on the form. Always test this functionality when adding a new field.
When you remove a field only from the display area of a form, it will still reside in the database. And that’s probably a good thing. Many organizations wish to keep a permanent record of past activities on their forms. A field can be removed easily from the field list if the schema has yet to be applied to a database. However, after the schema is applied you could run into database synchronization issues. If you choose to remove a field from the form display only, note that you can hide it from the query editor in the in the field properties.
One should exercise extreme caution when deleting a field as it could be mandatory or another field could depend on it at any point in the record’s lifecycle. Unless issues like these are addressed, the user may be unable update the record or move it past a given state.
Separate Submit Form?
The ClearQuest Designer allows administrators to develop separate forms for use in submitting a record and working with the record in its other states. This is done because when a record is submitted, it may not be necessary nor desirable for a user enter data in certain fields.
My preference is to use a single form for all states and restrict access to fields as necessary. If both forms are similar in appearance and you’re not mindful of a record’s state, you may end up editing the wrong form. That said, your client should have the final say in this matter.
Whenever possible, each tab on a form should have the same look and feel. Layouts should be similar. Better yet, try to achieve conformity across all records in a schema. A user may not work with all forms at a given time but could change roles on a project.
Keep horizontal and vertical spacing uniform. Fields with similarly sized data items should have the same length. Line up fields in each row with those in the previous one. Left justify text in labels appearing to the left of fields in the first column of data. Right justify text in labels appearing to the left of fields in the middle and last columns of data.
If you have an eye for what looks good, evaluate the finished product. If not, find someone who does! Make adjustments as necessary.
You may not be able to follow all of these suggestions nor may you need to. The goal is to be sure your users can work with ClearQuest as easily and efficiently as possible.