Application life cycle management has found a place in the IT lexicon

Software applications are increasing in complexity making the need for an application lifecycle management tools more obvious. One company used ALM to handle its PM concerns and achieved promising results from their vendor.

No longer a solution waiting for a problem, application life cycle management (ALM) is solving problems and bringing a few of its own. One such problem is rearranging existing staff roles and assignments, particularly that of the project manager.

As applications become more complex and abundant, linear processes become ever less effective. Companies have discovered that a holistic approach--one that examines the entire process as a single entity--is now necessary to maintain efficiency and control costs. This holistic approach has been named ALM.

Among the first problems introduced by ALM are how to distribute the tasks and adapt the development department to the changes. Who gets the job of "ALM manager?" Does responsibility for overseeing the broader development processes get dumped on the development manager, or do some of that person's duties get yanked away and handed to the company's project management office?

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The role of the development PM doesn't necessarily change much when ALM is introduced, but depends largely on the way it's implemented, according to Doug Akers, who's spent most of his career on lifecycle management. "It can be about the same as it was before, but with more access to timely information about progress in development," said Akers, who's currently director of customer requirements at ALM tools maker MKS. A good-quality enterprise ALM system, he said, provides a "single source of truth" for all development activities and assets.

Analyst Theresa Lanowitz believes a project manager's focus in the application life cycle management strategy must broaden to include the entire release. "They make sure development and testing will be completed on time, make sure operations is ready to roll out the new app, make sure training is scheduled far enough in advance," and so on, said Lanowitz, research director at tech industry analysis firm Voke Inc. Without enterprise systems that are tightly integrated, adds Ayers, the PM would find it difficult to "proactively address potential bottlenecks or problem areas before they impact delivery schedules."

Akers says that the biggest role change beyond the traditional sphere of development activities occurs as the organization's ALM system integrates with other enterprise systems. "For instance, [an ALM system] can link to defect tracking as reported by customers, right through to the changes that are needed." So it's conceivable for a PM's role also to include facilitation of feedback loops between developers and customer-facing stakeholders such as customer support and help desk to "ensure that the status of defects or feature requests is consistently and accurately communicated," he says.

Indeed, much of what defines the project manager's role in ALM, according to Akers, depends on systems and their use within the organization -- the more integrated the systems, the more potential for role changes. "Assuming a coherent ALM solution is deployed to support development, more automation and standardization means that the PM can spend more time on management and less time trying to collate reports from disparate systems," he said.

So, who gets the job?

Project managers that have been successful in the position are good candidates for the transition to ALM, according to Lanowitz and Akers. ALM PMs are being harvested either from IT or the development side.

An ALM PM must have discipline-specific capabilities to deal with requirements, source code and testing. In addition, said Akers, PMs who want to work in ALM should have a strong familiarity with workflow/automation tools, particularly their extensible workflow and change/configuration management capabilities. Such tools enable a company's project management office to get approvals as a project moves along.

"A knowledgeable PM can leverage [the system] to address a host of project and portfolio management requirements, and using [it] for more than just real-time data on project progress," said Akers. He's found that PMs in manufacturing companies are very likely to understand workflow and automation, because those processes are part of the culture.

In practical terms, a typical PM will be less concerned about requirements, except as they impact project milestones, activities, change requests, risks and mitigation, Akers said. By contrast, the ALM PM sees requirements in relation to other parts of the process, so he can measure their impact in the entire project. With many ALM tools, for example, requirements might be linked through defined and named relationships to the relevant downstream source code and test plans/cases and so on. "If a requirement changes, the ALM PM can track the impact on related testing plans and work with the QA organization to adjust plans," he said.

If a company is implementing ALM, Lanowitz said, its development PM needn't be worried about losing his job. "The roles and functions of the two are very clearly delineated," she explained. The application development group will continue to have a project manager, and organizations that adopt an application life cycle model will also have a project manager.

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