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Choosing the right ALM software for your organization

Are you developing with Waterfall or Agile? Do you have a large business or small startup? Learn which ALM software suite best suits your organization's needs.

Buying application lifecycle management (ALM) software suites can be a difficult anxiety-producing, time-consuming proposition. Make the wrong decision and money is wasted on "shelfware" that is never used. Make the right decision with an ALM software suite, though, and an organization can save time and money and keep that software off the shelf.

One of the best ways for an organization to determine which ALM product or products best suits its needs is to build its own use case. To build its use case, an organization should clearly define its pain points or the issues that are causing the most serious bottlenecks in the current process. An organization also needs to understand its own demographics (size, history, financial position, employees' experiences, etc.). Then, the organization can rank application management lifecycle tools' features in terms of importance to managing its use cases. Here is a look at several use case scenarios in which an organization might be looking for a complete ALM suite, and how some of the ALM software suites could be a fit in those situations.

Merging your assets

Large businesses, especially those that result from a merger or multiple mergers may have several different and incompatible ways of approaching ALM. Newly merged organizations tend to operate in silos, often by legacy companies and even at divisional levels within those legacy organizations. Within each of the merged companies, development and operations may follow different processes. Distributed geographical locations for different teams can make collaboration even more complex.

Because unifying and consolidating the ALM process, as well as providing a means of collaboration, are the main pain points of these organizations, enterprises would be keen to look at ALM products that offer strong traceability, visibility and collaboration features. Integration capabilities are important because most large organizations already own and use tools for ALM components such as version control, workflow or configuration management. IBM, HP and Microsoft provide compelling enterprise-proven ALM products that meet the primary needs of the large, merged organization.

IBM's Rational offers an ALM suite of products called collaborative lifecycle management, or CLM, that focuses on collaboration. Many large organizations are already using products in this suite, such as Clearcase for configuration management. IBM products support both Agile and Waterfall methodologies and integrate with IBM Tivoli to support continuous integration. These features make IBM products a good choice for organizations needing to integrate diverse processes. The product is an older one with a lot of legacy support, but IBM has kept it up to date, aligning with ALM emerging trends.

HP provides a strong ALM suite, especially focused in the areas of traceability and visibility. HP's ALM allows 360-degree links from requirements through defects and its dashboard provides an easy way to produce effective metrics. HP also provides integrations to most third-party tools, including IBM and Microsoft. Also, HP has recently offered a software as a service (SaaS) option.

Microsoft's ALM suite is founded on Visual Studio, which is one of the most-used integrated development environments in the developer community; therefore, it is likely that large, merged organizations will already be using some of the suite. Microsoft's Team Foundation Server (TFS) provides strong version control and configuration features and it can be integrated with HP's ALM product in order to take advantage of HP's strong requirements and testing functionalities. Microsoft's ALM suite is a particularly good choice for organizations that use a .NET framework because .NET developers use Visual Studio and often like to use TFS.

The rapidly growing start-up

The growing start-up provides another typical ALM scenario. This scenario generally consists of small organizations that have experienced tremendous growth, sometimes due to the release of their first products. The core team is usually growing and may no longer be located in the same building or even geographic region. In addition, there may be new stakeholders to whom they are accountable. These stakeholders may include new levels of management, venture capitalists, support staff and perhaps even stockholders if the organization has become a publicly traded entity. These teams focus on velocity and speed to market, which they were often able to achieve without a defined process. Process may be a new concept that could be viewed as a roadblock rather than an enabler. These organizations most often employ Agile methodologies or even continuous integration, and seek to eliminate a process overhead.

Because maintaining and improving velocity continues to be the focus and has become a pain point for these teams, they will need an ALM tool that provides traceability and visibility without creating excessive overhead. In addition, these organizations will need a tool that provides collaboration features to improve communication among recently distributed teams. Support for Agile methodologies is an absolute must-have and the tool must also provide or integrate with tools that support version control and release management. The tool must be user-friendly and easy to install, and the vendor must provide support and training because these organizations usually do not have such services in-house. Rally, Version One and Atlassian all provide products that meet the major requirements of these organizations.

Rally is the premier ALM tool for Agile methodologies. Its project management features, including resource planning, user stories and testing modules, are specifically geared to Agile development. Rally provides collaboration functionality through Flowdock which has chat and email features. Rally is one of the few ALM tools that supports the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) and it provides training and certification in SAFe. Rally Insights Analytics offers Agile-specific metrics as well as metrics based on the Software Development Performance Index. It provides both on-premises and SaaS options.

Consider VersionOne if your organization's main goal is establishing a simple application lifecycle framework. VersionOne is geared specifically to Agile methodology and provides support and training options. The product is focused on the Agile project and portfolio management feature including release and sprint planning, product planning and reporting analytics. However, VersionOne offers more than 70 prebuilt integrations with other products to provide a complete ALM tool.

Atlassian is also a good choice for the growing start-up. Atlassian supports both Agile and Waterfall methodologies and its processes are simple. Its defect tracking tool, JIRA, is open source and provides collaboration tools for requirements (Confluence) for code and repository management (Bitbucket and Stash). It also provides the chat tool, HipChat. Atlassian is a good choice for organizations doing continuous integration and DevOps as well as strong integration with Git.

The regulated business

Organizations that operate in a regulated environment have specific needs for application lifecycle management. Unlike the growing startups, these organizations are all about process since their stakeholders include regulatory agencies. They must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, DO-178B and other regulations imposed by their respective authorities.

Often, these organizations are developing safety-critical or medical-related applications. This makes quality management paramount. These organizations cannot risk major defects escaping into production. Documentation throughout the lifecycle is required and the ALM tool must facilitate and simplify that process. Visibility is also critical and the ability to provide information quickly and easily is especially important. With its focus on handling regulatory requirements, Polarion is a strong contender for these organizations.

Polarion's Application Lifecycle Management tool covers the entire product lifecycle. It provides traceability from requirements through source control, and provides audit trails not only within, but also among projects. These features provide proof of compliance with ISO standards, FDA regulations and many other regulatory authorities, in both the United States and Europe. Polarion provides templates for FEMA risk assessments and an electronic signature functionality to ensure accountability. Automated event notifications and change notification features and dashboard provide for visibility to stakeholders and enhanced collaboration among teams.

Responding to disruptive change

Unlike the above categories, response to disruptive change doesn't necessarily represent a type of company, but it is representative of what most enterprises are dealing with today and should be discussed. One of the most critical success factors to any organization is the ways in which it responds to change. Sometimes change can be disruptive; organizations may be driven to release new products, offer their products on new technology -- like mobile devices -- or quickly increase their speed to market based on competition or customer expectations.

The focus is on developing compelling new products quickly and getting them successfully to market. As a result an organization may need to implement an Agile methodology or continuous delivery in order to increase speed to market. Often, these organizations have ALM processes and tools in place, but those tools may no longer address the new pain points that have emerged as a result of a changing environment.

Because these organizations are usually already using software that addresses some components of application lifecycle management, integration capabilities are of primary importance. Collaboration features are also critical because responding to change requires closer collaboration than these organizations may have previously needed. Because these organizations are focused on speed, new tools must be easy to use and provide training and support. Jama and CollabNet both provide features that are useful to organizations responding to disruptive change.

Jama offers strong requirements management coupled with collaboration features in the Jama Review Center. This provides the framework for increasing the velocity of the product development process. In addition, the Jama Integration Hub provides pre-built integration to major ALM tools including HP Quality Center, TFS, Rally and Jira. The products are easy to use and the Jama Agile Workflow is a very important feature to organizations that are attempting to scale Agile methodology.

CollabNet is also a good choice for these organizations. It supports a distributed version control system, which is helpful for large organizations. Although it is not a complete solution, CollabNet provides integration with many open source tools including Git and Jenkins. It is also easy to use and provides strong training and support.

Taking the time to make the right decision

Choosing an ALM solution doesn't have to be the technical equivalent of a trip to the dentist. By understanding their pain points and requirements, and taking into account the needs of all stakeholders, teams and their employers can build on their existing working styles without causing significant disruption. And that should be the goal of ALM -- to improve without having to take time-consuming steps backward.

Next Steps

Mobile application lifecycle management needs to be improved to keep up with users.

Understanding ALM tools' pasts can give us insight on how to use them now.

Thinking about designing a mobile app? One: Do it. Two: Consider SaaS ALM strategies to produce it.

Jama Software may be easier to use than you think.

This was last published in September 2015

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Application lifecycle management tools: A buyer's guide to ALM software

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