Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) is the combination of people, tools, and processes which coordinate a software application all the way from conceptualization to retirement. In other words, ALM is the creation and maintenance of an application until it is not used anymore. So, naturally, Application Lifecycle Management tools are integrated software platforms that are designed to help manage all the phases of an application’s rather complex lifecycle.
ALM lifecycle management frameworks vary from company to company, but typically they include the following stages:
- Application design:
First, the stakeholders get together and define the scope of the solution, also known as the problem that this software will solve. Next, they define requirements – which can range from technical needs, to security concerns, to compliance demands – and evaluate possible risks and how to mitigate them. These requirements are documented, and a strategy or high-level roadmap for solving them is established which forms the basis for the whole application.
- Application development:
Once the stakeholders have agreed on all requirements, the actual coding can start! At this stage, the development team creates a development plan based on the requirements outlined in the design phase. Then they draw from a variety of different development frameworks, like Waterfall, Agile, and DevOps for example, to actually carry out the plan. The team also conducts software tests and quality assurance throughout this stage (and others, as there is a bit of overlap) to ensure that requirements are met.
- Application deployment:
Now that the software has been designed, developed, and tested, it’s time to finally release the product to users. How this is done will depend largely on the type of application it is, since different types require different processes and specifications.
- Application maintenance:
Those without software development knowledge may think that as soon as the application goes live, all the work is done. It’s time to reconsider! The maintenance stage is usually the longest of the application lifecycle. This is when bugs are resolved, feedback is gathered, updates are planned and released. At this stage, a customer support team usually takes over from the developers and QA professionals. If the latter did a solid job in the previous stages, ideally the customer support team won’t need a huge amount of support from them – unless new features are developed, of course.
- Application retirement:
At some point during the maintenance phase, you’ll need to decide when the application will be retired or shut down. So when the application is no longer needed, you can follow the transition plan established in the previous phase. Typically this will be to a new version of the same application, or to something different entirely, depending on the situation.
The Origins of ALM Application Lifecycle Management Tools
Developing software is incredibly complex, and as a result, has always been a risky business. This is especially true for safety-critical industries like automotive, medical, and aeronautics for example. Project managers live in fear of pesky delays, overspending, and scope creep – not to mention the costly consequences of mistakes. To make matters worse, development teams relied on the traditional Waterfall or V-model approach to software delivery for a long time, which made the go-to-market process even slower because of the linear, dependent nature of the approach.
Agile Application Lifecycle Management
Agile seemed to be the answer to speed things up, and in a certain way it was. With its flexible, iterative, and incremental framework, product developers were able to collaborate better and deliver faster, at a lower cost. However, by accelerating software delivery (thereby increasing the pressure on development teams to constantly speed up), it became difficult to maintain a transparent way of collaborating in software projects. Historically, requirements specification, effort estimation, project management, collaboration, and software testing were some of the most problematic areas.
To deal with these challenges, developers started to incorporate more and more sophisticated tools, methods, and processes into their software delivery system, creating a bit of a chaotic environment in which transparency, traceability, and efficiency continued to suffer. With the problems of fragmented tool ecosystems becoming more and more painfully apparent, the idea of integrated Application Lifecycle Management was born to maintain order and transparency in incredibly complex software projects.
Why is ALM important and relevant today?
As a result of digitalization, companies all around the world are constantly racing to adopt new technologies. The use of software is skyrocketing across all industries, transforming the way companies operate and deliver value. This also means that there is an increasing need for new and better quality software, putting immense pressure on software development teams to bring high-quality products to the market, quickly and with minor delays and errors.
In order to keep up with an accelerating market, and more and more companies making the transition to Agile and DevOps strategies, there is an acute need for a single system lifecycle management process and the tool infrastructure that can bring transparency and structure. Integrated Application Lifecycle Management platforms fulfill that demand.
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Benefits of Using an App Lifecycle Management Tool
Software development life cycle management tools can provide a lot of benefits to your team and organization as a whole. Here are some of the main ones:
- Increased transparency, better collaboration
Using integrated Application Lifecycle Management software is much more efficient than trying to manage software development with a separate, siloed tool ecosystem. With all your requirements, risk evaluation, development plans, QA and tests in the same place, it becomes a lot easier for teams to collaborate with each other and track changes in real-time throughout the process of delivery.
- Fast deployments and fixes
By breaking down silos and creating transparency in the others time-consuming management of dependencies, ALM software allows development teams to make quick decisions based on testing as well as user and stakeholder feedback. This allows them to deploy the product and fix bugs more quickly.
- Makes it easier to achieve compliance
Traceability is key for a smooth regulatory compliance journey. With all requirements, risks, documentation, tests and QA recorded in the same place, and the necessary links in place to track changes, it becomes much more simple to go through an audit and to achieve compliance with regulatory requirements.
- Better projects means better products overall
Core components of App Lifecycle Management: what to look for?
Requirements management allows you to define, manage, and track changes to product requirements in a collaborative way. The main benefit of using integrated ALM to do it is the upstream and downstream traceability of specifications. Establishing traceability by linking requirements or user stories to other artifacts (source code, tasks, bugs, issues, tests, releases, etc) is crucial for transparent, modern software development.
Mature application lifecycle management solutions are also able to integrate with legacy requirements management or modeling tools, and provide reasonably configurable workflows. This allows you to keep using some tried and tested tools while still modernizing your tool environment by establishing a central development hub.
If you work with suppliers or other third parties, you’ll also need your ALM tool to offer flexible export-import options (with MS Office or the ReqIF format, for example). This way, transitioning to ALM is not a painful experience, since you can adapt your chosen lifecycle management system to your specific needs, processes, and development environment.
For developers of complex product lines, it’s a good idea to look for a platform that enables the management of multiple product variants, and the reuse of existing requirements. These can help save a great deal of time, effort, and costs. More sophisticated platforms also offer branching and merging functionalities to help you manage parallel streams of development.
Although software development life cycle management tools help you manage code development, the actual writing of software code itself typically takes place on a different platform. That being said, any decent Application Lifecycle Management platform needs to provide integrated source code management. If you already have a preferred version control (source control) system such as the industry-standard solutions of Git, Mercurial, or Subversion, make sure you check whether the project lifecycle management software you go with supports your preference.
Collaboration support is also incredibly important: features like a versatile wiki functionality, configurable notifications, or integration with your developers’ preferred messaging solution will boost efficiency while also making your team feel at home in the application development lifecycle management tool.
In terms of project management, you want to look for performance monitoring, task management, and visual data analytics features. For most Agile teams, a Kanban board is a necessity, while various charts and diagrams for reporting purposes will keep managers happy.
Quality Assurance and Testing
Having the right tools is essential to delivering high-quality software products. Therefore, any mature Application Lifecycle Management tool must provide advanced Quality Assurance and Testing features. Features like requirements-based testing (with a Test Coverage Browser enhancing visibility), functionality for manual and automated testing, and test analytics will help build real confidence in your products.
For safety-critical developers, Audit Trail Reports are indispensable. These features log any and all lifecycle activities along the trail of development, greatly simplifying regulatory audits.
To facilitate the management of approvals in a transparent way, look for review management features. Such functionalities provide more clarity around sign-offs, and mature ALM tools also offer e-signatures which are necessary for compliance audits.
The concept of risk management in software engineering comes from highly regulated, safety-critical industries. However, as software quality and data security are featuring more and more prominently in software development maturity nowadays, risk management features are growing in importance in parallel.
Whether you’re developing software embedded in safety-critical devices or products for less regulated markets, using ALM functions to manage, monitor, and report on risks helps ensure the reliability and safety of your products.
Whether you’re working with any custom Agile method (for instance, Scrum or Kanban), a scaled framework (LeSS, DAD, SAFe®), or using a tried and tested Waterfall-based process, your ALM should help you plan and manage releases. Look for a release planner that is integrated with requirements and tasks.
If you’re working with a large volume of work items and multiple teams to build complex products, it’s likely you’ll require advanced release planning functionality. Choose an ALM tool that offers user story mapping to group work items and manage these groups across releases.
DevOps teams need advanced Agile features, and on top of that, they require tools to automate the CI/CD (Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery) pipeline. Look for release and deployment management features in your ALM platform to support fast delivery cycles, and integrations with other tools used by DevOps teams (Slack, Docker, Kubernetes, OpenShift).
If possible, look for a solution that facilitates the gathering of feedback from end users, and lets you feed that data back into development. That ensures that you’re consistently making decisions based on actual user feedback and meeting their needs.
If you’re working on a complex product line with multiple product variants, variant management features will be essential. These help you become more efficient by leveraging product commonality and variability, and by letting you reuse work items. ALM tools that enable multi-stream development management and branching can seriously cut down your development costs in the long run.
Housing all your development tools in one platform has one key benefit: a single-pane-of-glass insight into the entire software application lifecycle. When evaluating ALM tools, look for features like advanced queries to retrieve lifecycle data, custom and automated reports, and visual data analytics.
Choosing the right ALM for your needs
Once you know what you’re looking for in terms of functionality, we suggest you compile a checklist of important features. When you start evaluating an ALM platform, cross items off your list or even work out a simple grading system (e.g. 1-5 points) so that you can compare the pros and cons of available options on the market.
In addition to features, there’s a variety of other aspects you’ll want to consider:
- Customizability: You want your ALM to work for you, not the other way around. Make sure your chosen solution can be tailored to your needs (workflows, artifacts, access control, etc).
- Integrability: Keep in mind that most ALM users (especially in the early phases of transition) like to hold on to some of their legacy tools. The new ALM solution should integrate seamlessly with your existing development environment.
- Security: Check for a LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) integration, SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, and preferably a system that supports SSO (Single Sign-on) for simple user management and security reasons.
- Support: The real work starts once you’ve made an investment in an integrated ALM platform. Check if your chosen vendor offers flexible consulting and training for your team(s), and configuration services so that you can start getting value out of it as soon as possible.
- Hosting: Do you prefer to use your ALM as a SaaS hosted in the cloud, or as an on-premise solution? Check for hardware requirements to make sure your current server infrastructure can handle the new system.
- Total Cost of Ownership: Don’t just look at the upfront cost of ALM platforms, but rather the TCO over a period of time. You’ll want to look for a free evaluation period, flexible licensing options, and a reasonable ROI.
How can codebeamer help?
If you’re juggling a fragmented software development ecosystem, scrambling for more visibility and transparency in your development efforts, or struggling to keep pace with the competition, odds are your tool infrastructure is limiting you. Why not make your life easier with an ALM solution?
Intland Software’s codebeamer is a fully integrated, end-to-end Application Lifecycle Management software platform. It offers collaborative development support across the entire process of delivery, from requirements through development and testing all the way through to release, DevOps, and maintenance.
Due to its open architecture, it’s ideal for teams making the leap to Agile and wanting to hold on to certain elements of a legacy toolchain. But the system is an all-in-one platform that supports scaled Agile & DevOps delivery, especially in regulated industries facing regulatory requirements.
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