What to Do before the Webmaster Leaves
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PURPOSE: As librarians' technical Web skills grow, they are incorporating more local databases, search tools, feedback mechanisms, and interactive forms into our Web sites. In our particular case, the realization that the departure of one key technical person could severly cripple our Web site sent us searching for the best way to document the custom software that she had helped us to develop. This paper will describe the software development and documentation process that resulted from our search. The process has become a part of all Web development projects in our library. SETTING/PARTICIPANTS/RESOURCES: This large, academic medical center library has a Web site receiving approximately two million hits per year. Most of the important functions of the site are generated dynamically using Cold Fusion to serve Access and SQL databases. A library unit of four FTE is responsible for maintenance of the site, but software development is distributed throughout the library by means of cross-functional project teams. DESCRIPTION: In the course of studying how professional software engineers manage projects and write documentation, we gleaned good ideas from several sources and combined them into a development process that uses careful project planning both to guide the process and to write the software documentation at the same time. We have called this the Process Improvement Initiative (PII). It leads a project team through the steps of defining the modules of their product, fully designing the modules on paper, and then building the modules. The successive leavels of ever-more-detailed designs are recorded on templates, which then become the written documentation of the finished product. RESULTS/OUTCOME: To date, PII has been successfully implemented in a half-dozen software development projects including a faculty publications database, a Web-based user survey, and a library newsletter that is dynamically generated and archived. Evaluation Method: PII allows a project team to monitor its progress through well-defined schedules and work plans. It includes frequent self-evaluation exercises by the team and a wrap-up evaluation of PII itself at the end of the project.