Blending Freeform and Managed Information in Tables

Nicolas Mangano, Harold Ossher, Ian Simmonds, Matthew Callery, Michael Desmond, and Sophia Krasikov
UC Irvine, USA; IBM Research, USA

Tables are an important tool used by business analysts engaged in early requirements activities (in fact it is safe to say that tables appeal to many other types of user, in a variety of activities and domains). Business analysts typically use the tables provided by office tools. These tables offer great flexibility, but no underlying model, and hence no consistency management, multiple views or other advantages familiar to the users of modeling tools. Modeling tools, however, are usually too rigid for business analysts. In this paper we present a flexible modeling approach to tables, which combines the advantages of both office and modeling tools. Freeform information can co-exist with information managed by an underlying model, and an incremental formalization approach allows each item of information to transition fluidly between freeform and managed. As the model evolves, it is used to guide the user in the process of formalizing any remaining freeform information. The model therefore helps users without restricting them. Early feedback is described, and the approach is analyzed briefly in terms of cognitive dimensions.