Product Reviews

Define Projects Without Pain

Projects live or die with requirements, but Optimal Trace tosses them a lifeline.

Every successful IT project begins with requirements. You don't embark on building and implementing a new system or software package without a defined business need. Without written and measurable requirements, it wouldn't be possible to know if a particular project met its objectives. Furthermore, requirements typically exist in the minds of the end users, and they relate to the business problems to be solved, rather than the systems and software needed to solve them.

Optimal Trace 5.0
Installation 20%
Ease of Use 20%
Features 20%
Administration 20%
Documention 20%
Overall Rating:

1: Virtually inoperable or nonexistent
5: Average, performs adequately
10: Exceptional

Mission Accomplished
A software application for requirements has two primary missions. First, it makes it easy to aggregate and organize requirements. The image of the business need must be clear and unambiguous. Second, it makes it possible to refer to the requirements during both project execution and testing. In particular, project results must be tested against requirements rather than the project implementation, as the implementation may not be a reflection of user needs.

Compuware Optimal Trace does a top-notch job at both missions. While in its appearance and function it supports a traditional approach to requirements management, its features and elegant user interface push that approach to the limit. The result is a software tool that's both easy to learn and surprisingly powerful once it's put to use.

For full disclosure: I worked at Compuware from 1999 to 2004; Optimal Trace was acquired by the company after I departed.

Define, Organize and Test
Optimal Trace excels at the definition and organization of project requirements. In particular, it lets business analysts and project planners visualize the relationship between requirements in a number of ways. You can construct requirements hierarchically, and you can diagram other types of relationships among individual requirements.

Project testers will also like Optimal Trace for its automated test-case generation. Furthermore, it provides traceability from individual requirements into the test cases, so that testers can easily document which tests cover which requirements. It also enables them to ensure full test coverage for both functional and non-functional requirements.

The product also supports teamwork. It uses a single repository for storing and managing all project artifacts, and lets users -- whether they're business analysts, testers or project planners -- all work together while managing versioning and conflicting changes. You can store part or all of the repository locally while disconnected from the network.

Figure 1
[Click on image for larger view.]
Figure 1. Optimal Trace lets you visualize relationships between requirements for better understanding.

Choose Your Edition
Optimal Trace comes in two editions. The Enterprise Edition provides collaboration for multiple users and teams, while the Professional Edition is for individual users to capture and manage requirements. The version you'll want depends to a large extent on the scope and frequency of your projects. If project work is occasional and the IT teams and end users already have close contact with each other, a few copies of the Professional Edition will probably suffice. If your teams are large and dispersed, and end users and business analysts aren't well integrated into the requirements-gathering process, then the Enterprise Edition may be a better choice.

Requirements creation and tracking tools such as Optimal Trace are used by many people in the project process: end users, system and software builders, project managers and testers. I've seen a number of such products, and Optimal Trace does the things you need to do with requirements as well as any of them.


A Balanced Approach
My only hesitation is that there's an emerging trend in requirements management toward a more multimedia approach, incorporating screen shots, user stories and video as part of the description of a business problem. That approach is a compelling way of accomplishing a task that's rarely done well in practice.

Optimal Trace doesn't work with these types of media particularly well, making it more difficult to adapt to more innovative ways of defining a project. However, these approaches also tend to be more difficult to apply in actual project work.

Overall, Compuware's Optimal Trace may offer the most balanced approach between traditional requirements definition and innovating lifecycle requirements management.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.


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