Simplifying the Element Properties Editor to make EA more accessible

For those presented with Enterprise Architect (EA) for the first time I can imagine that they could well be pretty confused, unless they have been introduced to EA with training that is tailored to their specific needs.  They need to be taught to ignore all the stuff that can get in their way by guiding them carefully in a structured way.

Like many tools rich functionality often comes at a cost, such as lots of menus and options which don’t add value to those users focusing on a single task area.

Many tools start life to address a small number of problems and, with a limited view of the world into which they will be deployed, no doubt strongly influenced by the developers own background. As the tool develops,  new requirements drive their expansion but in doing so it carries with it the baggage of history.  This is not a criticism but an observation.

This is a challenge for any tools developer. The ability to produce a product that meets the wide range of the users requirements, whilst ensuring that the product is accessible and usable. And this only becomes more challenging with time as users ask for more.

We know that over the last decade EA has grown in many different directions, with a large number of features and a high  degree of flexibility.  And it must be pretty rare for anybody to want all of them – in any case a steep learning curve; I’m still learning having used EA for a long time hence this site!

So if say you are Business Analyst(BA) without a strong technical background or tools background where do you start. I know from experience that introducing the tool to new users who have never used modelling tools before it can be confusing and there is a degree of resistance since they already have a solution be in Word, Excel or just a piece of paper.

If the new user is able to adopt a positive approach, we introduce them to diagrams and its toolboxes and then a few elements and so all is fine until they see the Element Properties editor and then a few questions are usually asked:

  • Why all this information?
  • What does this mean?
  • What do I fill in here?
  • That isn’t relevant at this stage of the project?
  • Can I only view the stuff I need?

Now one aspect of EA is that the properties editor is very generic and as such has more items that often needed for the job at hand.  Of course, having a generic editor has the benefits of familiarity across all elements, however for our BA they are unlikely to be doing this other stuff.

So our BA has the task of capturing the initial Use Cases and we want them to be captured in EA, otherwise we will have a further task of importing them and the classic problems with knowledge in multiple tools.  So if we want them to use EA how do we make EA accessible?

It was one of my colleagues who made the suggestion that wouldn’t it be useful to have the option to provide a simplified editor, specific to the element type, which would allow the essential basic information to be input.  And with the option to access the normal detailed property editor as and when needed (if at all). So that’s just what I’ve done.

I’ve started with a Use Case Properties Editor (UCPE), not least as my colleague is a very experienced BA who could provide the requirements.  So when a user double clicks on their newly added Use Case Element in a diagram they are presented with a specific dialog – as illustrated below a screenshot of partially edited form.

EX Use Case Edit Form

Screen shot of simplified Use Case editor

As you can see this form provides the basic information the BA may wish to entry including constraints and Use Case specific attributes, plus there is the option to link to relevant actors in the model – as illustrated in the screenshot below. (Default values for the non-displayed items can be configured so that sensible values are specified.)

Select Actor Dialog

Select actor from tree view of available actors

Edit Actors form

Screen shot of pop-up dialog to allow editing of actor properties

So now rather than deal with the choices of what to fill in on the detailed element properties window a user can use the UCPE, and if needed just press the “Detail” button to switch to the normal EA editor.

This is just the start and other edit forms could be available for other elements, and configured to meet the needs of users working in specific areas. The screenshots are based on my initial test version and this will no doubt grow with new requirements.  If you are interested in these ideas do let me know as it will help me in moving forward with this development.



2 thoughts on “Simplifying the Element Properties Editor to make EA more accessible

  1. geertbellekens

    Nice work Adrian.
    I see that you coded your own dialog to select the actors. Is there a reason you didn’t use the built-in “select dialog” using Repository.InvokeConstructPicker (string ElementFilter)?

    1. adrianlincoln

      Hi Geert – the reason for using my own dialog was that it allows me to set my our root, something the EA Picker doesn’t appear to provide, and hence be able to remember users last selection for subsequent uses, reducing the number of key strokes. Adrian

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