We live in a software-driven world, where software engineering capabilities directly impact organizations’ ability to be successful. To shorten speed of delivery, enhance agility, and increase product quality, among other things, organizations are constantly on the lookout for ways how to streamline all stages of the software application development life cycle, which is where application lifecycle management (ALM) tools come in.
What is ALM?
ALM integrates people, processes, and tools that manage the life a software application, and it reflects the increasingly sophisticated and complex nature of software development. In the past, software development teams operated mostly in isolation, handing off completed software applications to an operations team, whose members were then tasked with deployment and maintenance. Today, the tasks performed by developers and operations teams blend together as they continue working with business owners to make incremental changes using an Agile development model.
The complex nature of modern software development creates the need to manage the life of a software application throughout the entire development process, from concept to deployment and beyond. By managing the application lifecycle through governance, development, and operations, ALM acts as the cohesive bond of the development life cycle and provides visibility into product release readiness while automating development processes and ensuring complete lifecycle traceability.
ALM Versus PLM, ELM, and ERP.
ALM can be understood as the product lifecycle management(PLM) of computer programs because it encompasses the entire lifecycle of a product from planning to maintenance. Traditionally, ALM and PLM used to operate in isolation, with the former being mainly concerned with the development, testing, deployment, and maintenance of software applications, and the latter usually focused on designing and building physical things.
However, the lines between software and hardware products are becoming increasing blurry as a result of the steep rise of the (Industrial) Internet of Things, smart devices, and cyber-physical systems, which is why PLM and ALM are increasingly entwined together, allowing managers to easily plan both products and applications from beginning to end.
Many organizations are now building upon the vision of ALM to align software development with broader business processes and objectives by transitioning into Enterprise Lifecycle Management (ELM), which enables effective governance by identifying the right projects for implementation and then integrating the development life cycle with business processes, workflows, and customer needs.
This basically mirrors the evolution of enterprise resource planning (ERP), where several families of application came together into an integrated suite to help organizations streamline business processes, including product planning, manufacturing, marketing and sales, inventory management, shipping, and payment.
Understanding the Need for ALM
ALM provides several benefits to the development team and, by extension, to the entire organization:
- Direction: Because ALM offers a broader perspective than the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), it provides a clear direction for the software application that is to be built, saving the organization a lot of time and money that it would need to spend to fix costly mistakes. It can even be said that developing a software application without ALM is like setting sail across the ocean without a compass at hand.
- Agility: Today, software development teams need to produce software applications with a certain degree of agility to stay competitive. ALM aligns software objectives with business goals and ensures that developers and operations teams work together to achieve them.
- Visibility: Software development teams need comprehensive visibility across the project lifecycle to make adjustments based on client and market feedback, technology changes, and other factors, and ALM provides it to them.
- Compliance: Not having a traceable audit trail can create a lot of headaches later on. ALM tools automatically log each and every activity, allowing auditors to see exactly who did what and when.
- Improved decision-making: To turn a rough idea into a successful software application, it’s important to make the right decisions at every stage of the software development process, and ALM brings everyone together and empowers them with the information they need to decide correctly.
Selecting the Right ALM Tool
These days, organizations have many options when it comes to selecting the right ALM tools for their needs. There are ALM tools with a narrower focus that are designed to integrate with other tools to cover the entire software application development lifecycle, and there are also full-featured ALM solutions that take care of everything.
Any ALM tool that describes itself as a full-featured solution should handle:
- Requirements Management
- Software Development
- Risk Management
- Test Management
- Issue and Defect Tracking
- Change Management
The tool should be flexible enough so that it can be easily integrated into existing workflows. Organizations that would like to switch from a Waterfall methodology to Agile should select an ALM tool that supports both and enables a gradual transition.
Reporting, built-in change auditing and notification, stakeholder collaboration, and workflow automation are other features to look for when selecting the right ALM tool.
ALM Tool Feature – Requirements Management
One of the key features of an ALM tool is requirement management, the process of documenting, analyzing, tracing, prioritizing, and agreeing on requirements. An ALM tool with requirement management capabilities allows multiple distributed stakeholders to collaborate inside a centralized requirement management platform, making it much easier for them to reach an agreement and get the ball rolling. The collaborating stakeholders can:
- Gather new or existing requirements.Some ALM management tools provide Import features from Microsoft Word and Excel or other requirements management platforms, such as IBM DOORS.
- To document requirements with screenshots, source files, description, … Being able to attach or link your requirement to other documents is a key capability. Depending of the technology of your requirement tool, you might have few limitations.
- To analyze requirements. Analyzing requirements is definitely the key step in the Requirement Management process. There are multiple parameters to analyze including the upstream & downstream traceability, requirement quality, …
- To track requirements: An ALM should include traceability capability between requirements but also between requirements and tests, defects, risks, … The tool traceability has to fit within your organization’s processes and not the opposite.
- Reach a final agreement One of an ALM’s requirement is to gather different teams together to arrive at a final agreement. To do so, the tool must provide collaboration features and workflows that are highly necessary to succeed in this objective.
ALM Tool Feature – Software Development
While ALM tools are not designed to replace traditional software development tools, they readily integrate with them to provide improved visibility across all stages of the software development process. Good examples of such integrations include VectorCAST, which helps developers tackle the complexities of embedded software testing by automating testing activities across the software development lifecycle, and Jira, a popular issue tracking product that allows bug tracking and agile project management.
ALM Tool Feature – Risk Management
Many software development projects can have grave consequence unless they are carefully optimized, especially when it comes to software in medical devices, aerospace applications and automotive. Many ALM tools treat risk management as an integral part of software development, aiding when it comes to the application of systematic techniques for failure analysis, such as failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).
ALM Tool Feature – Test Management
The least costly bugs are those that get caught in testing, which can be either manual or automated. Leading ALM tools support both types of testing, and they integrate with software automation testing, which automates the tasks associated with unit, integration, and system testing of C, C++, and Ada applications, among other things.
ALM Tool Feature – Issue and Defect Tracking
Keeping track of reported software bugs is an integral part of all software development projects, so it’s also an integral part of ALM. Instead of reinventing the wheel, some ALM tools integrate with proprietary issue tracking products, such as Jira, which is developed by Australian Company Atlassianand has become popular among agile developers. The ALM tool has to be able to pull that information from a bug tracking tool and to trace it with the right requirements. That way it will make sure that all bugs, defects, and failed tests have been properly taking care of following the company’s standardized processes. Most ALM tools provide reporting capabilities that allow them to generate compliance reports.
ALM Tool Feature – Change Management
Ensuring that every team member is aware of any changes and understands exactly why they have been made prevents last-minute surprises, delivery delays, and potential project failures. ALM tools help schedule and implement change, process documentation for change, and keep track of its effects. The end to end traceability of all requirements, tests, risks, defects,.. allow the ALM tool to keep track of all change in the database.