Application lifecycle management (ALM) tools address the entire software lifecycle, including governance, development, and maintenance. The tools provide a standardized communication and collaboration system that supports the cyclical nature of software development.
ALMs start before the development phase and continue beyond an application’s retirement. They incorporate business and product management processes and work with waterfall, agile, and other development methods.
What Do ALM Tools Include?
An application’s lifecycle incorporates the following three areas:
- Governance involves requirement, resource, and change management. Security, access control, and audits are part of software governance, as are review, deployment control, and rollback strategies.
- Application development starts with identifying problems and ends with delivering solutions. This phase encompasses planning, designing, creating, and testing the software before deployment.
- Maintenance refers to the deployment and support of the application until retirement, which may require expansion into dependent or optional technologies.
Few individual ALM tools support all phases of an application’s lifecycle. As a result, ALM tools are often delivered separately or as part of a suite of tools.
Why Use ALM Tools?
ALM tools help organizations deliver solutions faster and at a lower cost. They encourage the collaboration and communication that are essential to the development of a best-in-class application. Some of the main benefits of ALM solution are:
- Standardized environment across functional groups
- Integration of management tools
- Streamlined and simplified processes
- Automation of development process
- Improved product quality
- Reduced development costs
- Improved time to market
- Better accountability and traceability through auditing
The benefits depend on the number of ALM tools used and how well the process integrates with other management policies to create a clear picture of the application’s lifecycle for all stakeholders.
What Should an ALM System Include?
An ALM system should provide tools that address the areas of governance, development, and maintenance. Specifically, they should allow requirements and resource management, testing and bug tracking, project management, collaboration, and integrations.
Requirements and Resource Management
Part of the lifecycle process is aligning what needs to be done with the available resources. Being able to tie resources to tasks helps managers prioritize and schedule assignments. ALM tools should support the following:
- Requirement definition
- Tasks refinement
- Resource allocation
- Task management
Managing requirements and resources is an essential part of any ALM solution.
Testing and Quality Assurance
Unless companies test their software frequently and repeatedly, there’s no guarantee that the product works as designed. ALM tools should support the testing phase by:
- Creating and assigning test sets
- Executing and editing test cases
- Matching tests to requirements
- Enabling automated and manual testing
- Tracking bugs according to requirements
- Tracing bugs from requirements through their resolution to a code repository
If an organization cannot track development from requirements to released code, it’s impossible to ensure that an application is bug-free.
Whether the ALM tools include project management software or integrate with another solution, companies need a tool that identifies where in the lifecycle an application stands. For example, project management tools should provide:
- Audited history of all changes
- Schedule monitoring
- Change management
- Customized dashboards and reports
In highly regulated environments, maintaining a development audit trail is needed to receive certification. ALM systems should facilitate, not impede, the process.
Communicating throughout a lifecycle requires more than meetings and messaging. For teams to collaborate, they need to share information such as specifications and test results. Collaborative capabilities should include:
- Ability to attach documents, videos, and website links
- Capability to message, notify, and email team members
- Support for workflows
Team members need to communicate throughout an application’s lifestyle to ensure product continuity. ALM systems should enable close collaboration to resolve the problem when an issue appears in the released software.
How Do ALM Solutions Work?
A little history is needed to understand why no two ALM solutions work the same. Most ALM tools started as something else. Few were built from the ground up as a comprehensive ALM solution.
Instead, the systems began as a bug tracking tool, a requirements repository, or a project management system. As a result, the quality and completeness of an ALM system can vary significantly from module to module. These module variations make selecting the best ALM system challenging.
Implementing an ALM software suite comes with the pressure to select the best tool. That requirement means understanding how different stakeholders will use the solution. It doesn’t mean finding a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
To help identify the critical functionality, consider the following questions when evaluating ALM software.
- What development methodology is being used?
- Does the tool support the desired methodology?
- Are existing tools being used?
- Does the ALM solution need to integrate with other systems?
- Do the software solutions need to comply with regulations?
- How much training and support is needed?
- Are there budget constraints?
Pricing is difficult to determine without speaking with the vendor. Licensing is often performed by the user and by the module. Ongoing support depends on modules, users, and the desired level of support. When looking at the following providers, keep the answers to the above questions in mind. They can help reduce the number of viable options, so finding the best solution doesn’t take long.