What I liked
Within 15 minutes and with no checking the help files I was able to get a project started. Overall, I found the process of downloading Contour and setting it up to be very straightforward. The user interfaces are relatively clean and simple. A problem I have with many all-purpose-all-singing-all-dancing applications is that there are too many options when you hit that first screen.
The container model for managing requirements is both easy to understand and to use. I was very happy with the ease and simplicity of re-arranging my modelling of requirements. For example, I had created a set of entity oriented domains and drilled into them. At a certain point I was reviewing them and started to re-orient the requirements toward a functional model. For example I started dragging & dropping all the search and report requirements from all over the requirements model into one space under a new “Search and Reporting” container.
I also liked the way I could swap the requirements approach mid stride. I had started with User Stories as the way I was going to do the work, but quickly I decided that use cases would be better for this job. It was no trouble to simply select and change the requirements I had worked on and then to re-structure the relationships by dragging the children type requirements across to the parents.
Did I mention dragging and dropping? It may sound basic these days, but the ability to drag and drop items in a web application for enterprises is still novel to me. It’s so much easier than having to fiddle with various menus and arcane administration functions.
Performance? There was a slight lag as my 5 year old Toshiba Satellite tried to process requests. Especially once the number of requirements toped 500. If it was hosted on either a late model computer or network server it would be much smoother. I have also recently used the web hosted version and found it flies compared to local hosting. Thinking about cloud solutions in general, I have to say I’d recommend the hosted Contour service over the local one for so many reasons, including DR and vendor support.
I did not use the review feature at all, as I was working alone, but there is a neat tool in there to manage peer and stakeholder review of requirements. You can send messages to people to review your work on the fly while you move onto documenting the next requirement. The collaboration features look cool and I am interested in exploring them further next time.
Contour also has the ability to baseline a requirements set, and to assign estimates. So it could be used as a tool to manage project schedules, producing burn down charts and similar reports.
Additionally traceability is well catered for. You can track the requirements through different phases, backwards and forwards in Contour as well as dependencies across requirements. It also has an API to several popular test tools and you can always import/export via XML for others.
In 5 days I went from zero documentation and no RM tool to having Contour downloaded, set up and 90% of the requirements done. (I had to do some more work with people on the finance set of requirements before we could lock that one down.)
What wasn’t so great
Contour can export requirements to various file formats and it comes with some pre-defined Word and Excel export templates. I stumbled with this. The pre-installed templates are sufficient, but didn’t go the distance for me. I had to go to Word and fiddle around with the document layout – doing things like numbering headings and changing paragraph indentation to make the hierarchy of requirements more transparent. Speaking with the Jama guys, they are talking about improving or extending the default template options.
Creating your own export templates is a bit arcane as well. I had a go, got stuck very quickly and then gave up. The help files were not any real help to me while I was under time pressure. (I was on a deadline and managing the format changes in Word was familiar and do-able.)
At one stage, to better fit the language of the document with the jargon of the client I had to change the word “system” to “application” which probably occurred in about 70% of requirements descriptions! There is no global find and replace. You can do this pretty simply via browser settings and CTL+V inside each requirements statement, but there was nothing there for the global change. If you have a data dictionary, be sure you lock down key terms before you go deep into documenting requirements.
A neat feature that I would have liked to use more is tags. Tags like the ones that categorize blog posts here re available, but editing tags was not a simple task. I understand you have to go to an admin screen and start mucking about in the system’s back office. Too hard. I am guessing this was a good idea back in the early days but that customers aren’t using it much, so it hasn’t been matured as much as the other features.
If this were my product I would do a couple of things
Firstly I’d up the release frequency and push out new features faster (but I’d recommend that to almost anyone.)
Secondly I’d invest time into the following features to bring it up to where *I* want it for *me*, today.
- Global Find and replace
- New export templates (and better help for setting them up)
- Wizards (or similar) for when you first want to set-up or use advanced features
So there you have it. All in all it’s a very good product that can help project and IT teams increase their performance right away. If you are looking for a tool go get the free trial version and have a go playing with it. And come back here and share your experience and opinions in our comments.