Lotus Notes – The Small Business Swiss Army Knife


Len Barker

 by Len Barker, Managing Partner – Lotus Practice



This summer I have been doing an experiment.  I wanted to see just how easy it is to take a smart young person with no programming experience, and teach them to create very useful business applications using Lotus Notes.  The goal was to make this a very low cost endeavor so there would no one-on-one instruction or classroom training involved.  Success would be measured by my subjects ability to take simple application specifications and create an application that would actually be used as a daily part of running my business.  That was the plan, and it was a smashing success.


My first task was to find a smart young person with no programming experience that needed a summer job.  My daughter Lauren fit the bill perfectly.  She had just finished her junior year in high school, was into science and technology, was very comfortable with computers and had never done any programming.  Well hardly any, I think she may have done a little for robotics competitions but nothing that would help with Lotus Notes programming.  Oh yeah, and she needed a job… college is looming.  The next task was to figure out how to get her training.  Davalen does have instructors that I could have used but we had no classes scheduled and I didn’t want to pay for her to go to an instructor led class.  An important part of my experiment was that I wanted the training to be inexpensive and to be on-demand, not at the mercy of a class schedule.  TLCC’s self-paced training turned out to be just what I needed.  For $1,300.00 I purchased the Lotus Designer Certified Developer class, gave it to Lauren and told her that in one month I would give her a job to do.  I had my student and she had an inexpensive way to learn; all I needed was some design specifications.


An important part of managing any business is the ability for management to get a regular look at key business metrics.  I had recently identified several reports that I wanted to see every week to shore up some holes in my view of business operations.  From this list, I created my design specifications for Lauren’s first Lotus Notes application.  The new application would have four forms to capture information and several views or reports to arrange the data in a meaningful way.  The forms I asked for were:


  1. Employee
  2. Cash Flow
  3. Tasks
  4. Contracts

The employee form would be used to capture HR related data so that I could easily see:  employment anniversaries, salaries (encrypted field only visible to select individuals), and last pay increase.


The cash flow form would be used by accounting to attach a spreadsheet that contained an eight week cash flow forecast and a single field for this week’s cash flow estimate.


Contracts would be used to provide a quick look at any leases or contracts that would be expiring by month.


Tasks would be used by each employee to record the tasks they would be working on during the coming week and any potential trouble spots or help needed.


After writing this up in real specification format, I handed the document to Lauren.  In less than two weeks she had a fully functioning, good looking application.  I had a couple of 30 minute sessions with her to give her pointers and help with some formulas but that was it.  For the Notes developers reading this, I will say that this was a Notes client only application, there was no Lotuscripting and no workflow.  It did make proper use of Forms, Views, Framesets, Pages, Outlines, Shared Actions, and all of the supporting code that they require.  But the important point for business owners that need a flexible and inexpensive way to create software applications to help them run there business, is that for a $1,300 investment in training and $10/hr for labor I got this wonderful application.  More importantly, I now have a trained developer that can crank out all of the reports and databases I need.


Spread the word – Lotus Notes still has an important role to play in the business world.

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9 comments on “Lotus Notes – The Small Business Swiss Army Knife

  1. Hi,

    Can you teach me also, I want to learn Lotus Development.
    My current location is INDIA.


    • Hello Kumar. In this particular article, Len was discussing a TLCC’s self-paced training Lotus Designer Certified Developer class. You can find the class from TLCChere. If you are looking for training for your team in a public or private live and virtual class then Davalen can help you and you can find more information here. Good luck!

  2. Pure hype.

    So what’s the point, other than to sell the course.

    There is no magic to a good application. I can teach a 17 year old to create forms and views in one day. The fact is that the elements that make up business application (workflow, access to back-end data, document managment, web browser access, etc. etc. all take a great deal more time to learn and understand.

    Not only that, but this was supposed to be “Low cost venture”. $1300 to create four forms and a couple views and ad to that 7 weeks pay? I’d be happy to produce that for you.

    • Ahh, good question…so what was the point? Well it certainly wasn’t to sell the course. I have no connection to TLCC and didn’t tell them about my experiement until I posted my blog. My experiment was really a business experiment. My company employs very senior consultants and I want to find a way to seed in junior developers into my projects (Lotus Notes, WebSphere Portal, etc). For each type of developer my goal is to get a person with the basic skills needed to join my team. Once they join the team I want to give them some base line training and then assign them to a job under the leadership of a lead developer.

      I started with Lotus Notes development because:

      1) I had some easy Notes development work I needed done
      2) Entry level Notes development requirements are lower then Portal development
      3) My daughter needed a job this summer

      Why did I use TLCC’s course instead of teaching her myself? First of all, I wanted her to learn all of the basics of Notes development, just as I would a new employee. Yes you can teach a 17 year old form and view development in a day but, as you know, there is more than that. I didn’t post my application specification but it includes access control requirements, forms, views, framesets, database property settings, and some nice use of formula language (e.g. categorizing all documents under the Monday of the week they were created). I could have sent her to an instructor led class for $1,800 plus travel or taken one of my consultants/trainers off of a billable job to do it. The TLCC course just seemed easier and overall more cost effective.

      What did I prove to myself? I proved that I could hire a person right out of college, give them some quick training and put them on a job. Of course they would have alot to learn, but they would learn quickly and I would get a great return on my investment.

      Thanks for the comment – I can certainly see where you are coming from.

  3. Hey Len,
    I really love your writing, unlike most blogs I actually learn things, find the content useful and it’s well written. 11/10 every time!

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