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The challenges of dispersed software development

Using dispersed software development teams means you need a way to coordinate development and minimize risk and costs. Global application lifecycle management (ALM) can help.

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles that will explore how organizations can best prepare to adopt application lifecycle management (ALM) for software and systems development. Having discussed how the benefits of ALM help integrate improved processes and connect development teams in part 2, we now look at how organizations can build better software and systems by mapping out a new, cohesive path to global ALM for the entire organization.

As projects become more demanding in technical complexity and delivery deadlines, organizations are pushing team collaboration to the limit with globally dispersed development. Along with the ability to tap into a broader range of expertise and speed development with follow-the-sun work days, this global approach also brings new challenges: how to minimize the risk and cost associated by ensuring data security, coordinating different development tools, and delivering cost-effective training to scattered teams.

Global ALM addresses each challenge in the following ways to help organizations improve software development processes -- and improve business processes at the same time -- in this increasingly complex environment.

Unite global teams and keep data secure
Development tools that can be accessed from anywhere in the world must be fine-tuned to keep data safe and in compliance with confidentiality agreements. A U.S. bank, for example, wanted to subcontract the development of an electronic payment system. Project leaders concerned about security issues divided the project in half. Using multiple seamlessly interconnected repositories as part of a global ALM initiative, teams in Russia developed one half of the system's functionality, while developers in Romania worked on the other half. As a result, the bank did not have to give access to or full control of its complete data to either subcontractor.

Another successful example of global ALM is provided by a leading global manufacturer of high-performance analytical technology products and services. The company had grown rapidly by acquisition and now had teams in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Romania. Management saw the value in keeping development specialists in each of these regions, so they implemented a global ALM approach. Requirements are defined and then assigned as development tasks to the appropriate specialists, regardless of location. They submit their finished tasks to the central team repository where developers, build managers, and testers in all locations can access the tasks and continue building the project. Because the central repository is accessible 24/7, these globally distributed teams communicate and collaborate over a collective 16-hour work day -- and get high-quality projects delivered faster.

Read more about application lifecycle management (ALM)
Successful application lifecycle management: Setting the foundation

Integrating ALM processes brings additional benefits

Application lifecycle management moves up the executive ladder

Global ALM solutions exist today that can help organizations provide the desired levels of security for both accessibility and transfer of data over networks shared by distributed teams. These solutions provide Web- and WAN-enabled capabilities that control the flow of assignment and change request information across the globe. With the more advanced solutions, all teams can work out of a single common data repository, over the network, without the need for repository replication. This ensures that all teams work from the same information, which reduces errors and rework. Full traceability is available for the project team, as well as for the rest of the organization, present and future, to share knowledge and lessons learned. This global repository promotes asset re-use and component-based development, lowering the cost of development and helping teams build complex projects faster.

Connect users of disparate tools
Today's business world of partner projects, mergers and acquisitions, and integration with legacy systems would be ideal if all parties involved simply migrated to a single common development platform. But even if there is a common platform, the reality is that globally distributed teams are most likely not using the same development tools; the cost and effort of migration must be spread over a period of time.

Global ALM offers a solution to this challenge by enabling open interfaces that bring all of the separate pieces together in a consistent fashion. Therefore, each team, if necessary, can use the tools they're familiar with while working within a common process.

Educate global teams with integrated process guidance
What is the corporate process and how do I follow it? With teams spread around the globe and organizations becoming more agile, it is difficult and often costly to provide training to answer that question, whether to educate new team members or bring existing members up to speed on new functionality. Yet, for ALM to be successful, teams should receive process guidance when and where they need it.

Customizable process frameworks provide a means for representing the organization's global ALM processes. Using the Web-based interactive process guides, team members can log in anytime for practical training by tool mentors on recommended practices for the organization. This sustainable training is important because one of the key goals of ALM is to implement a process and be able to track its status and progress, as well as fine-tune issues. But it works only if the teams carry out the processes correctly.

Integrated process guidance -- linking people, best practices, processes and products -- is the key to optimizing the development lifecycle by improving productivity and quality. Industry analysts, in fact, now say that improving technology and process together is 10 times more effective than making advances in only one of those areas. The combination of the two brings about the double benefits of enhanced effectiveness and increased efficiency.

About the author: Dominic Tavassoli is vice president of Telelogic, an IBM company.

This was last published in December 2008

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