As digital technology becomes the norm, software acquisition is now key to gaining a competitive edge in today’s market. Be it as a value offering tailored to consumers or a productivity tool to run complex processes, custom software undeniably helps companies drive growth and deliver value more efficiently.
Just as necessary as having a proprietary application is prescribing a standard procedure to govern and maintain its utility. This is to ensure that your business can develop or adopt the right type of software—one that can fully cater to your business needs while keeping disruption to a minimum across critical milestones. This comprehensive and integral process is often known as application lifecycle management, or ALM in short.
Given the importance of ALM in software product management, knowing and adhering to some of its best practices will help expedite your application delivery and evade potential pitfalls with proper tools and methods.
This article, thus, provides six excellent tips to unlock a successful software management strategy.
What is ALM?
Before diving right into the ALM best practices, we first need to lay out the concept briefly. If you’re already familiar with the term and need no refresher, you can skip to the next part.
Since much of the focus on ALM revolves around building and maintaining a program to exceptional standards, it is easy for people to confuse the concept with SDLC (software development lifecycle). However, the two terms differ slightly in scope and implementation.
SDLC is a subset of ALM. It constitutes a set of procedures specifically for developing a quality software product. Meanwhile, ALM encompasses a broader range of functions, roles, and tools. It handles not only the development but also the performance, quality, and integrity of a software program at every stage post-deployment, which includes comprehensive documentation of feature modifications, API changes, and access authorization, among others.
In that regard, ALM refers to the cyclical process of managing an application throughout its lifetime—ranging from ideation, development, and release to testing, maintenance, and even disassembly. It is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of disciplines subsumed under three main areas: governance, development, and maintenance.
- Governance – establishes the structural framework for pivoting the company’s development strategy towards its overarching goals. This includes resource procurement, requirements gathering, stakeholder communication, training, and system administration (e.g., user access, review, audit, deployment control, and so on).
- Development – pertains to the process of envisioning, designing, building, and testing a given application. There is a variety of development workflows that a company can choose for doing so, ranging from the traditional waterfall approach to continuous delivery models, such as agile, CI/CD, and DevOps.
- Maintenance – primarily focuses on the application’s trajectory during and post-deployment. It comprises various mechanisms related to software releases, upgrades, and upkeep, from major changes such as code refactoring and UI redesign to discretionary enhancements, such as new feature rollouts and general updates.
Benefits of a robust ALM strategy
Given the complex interplay between the many components within ALM, meticulous planning and implementation are incredibly crucial to lessen the likelihood of unwarranted issues emerging. The benefits of deploying comprehensive ALM processes are also manifold. Having such a robust software management strategy helps a company in the following ways:
- Simplifying complex operations, thereby reducing ballooning IT spend.
- Standardizing project delivery to improve product quality.
- Achieving better regulatory compliance, especially when handling sensitive customer data.
- Better management of cash flow to enhance profitability.
- Facilitating more transparent and direct communication with internal and external stakeholders.
These improvements will significantly aid businesses already grappling with convoluted product roadmaps. But the question remains: what makes for the best ALM strategy?
While many roads lead to Rome, the most effective strategy is an amalgamation of pragmatic approaches exercised with a high degree of consistency, coordination, and cognizance.
Tips for better ALM implementation
If your current ALM approach has not yet yielded optimum results to improve your operations, then fine-tuning certain areas is imperative.
With that said, here are ALM best practices you may consider to set your software management plan on a path to success:
Choose the most appropriate development model
Each development model works best in different scenarios. For example, a conventional waterfall model is highly suitable for a project with well-defined scope and requirements, given that the direction of the project can only move one way. With such a linear workflow, the development team strictly focuses on a set of activities and dependencies at a time and will begin the next phase once the project stakeholders approve the finished tasks.
In contrast, as IT projects increasingly demand more complex requirements and variables, the adoption of continuous development models across verticals, particularly Agile and DevOps, has also gained momentum. With this approach, instead of following fixed requirements, each sprint seeks to leverage better user stories by incorporating user feedback into the software improvements. This continuous delivery allows the project team to quickly test product ideas and scale its operation on-demand.
Knowing when different situations call for each of these development models is crucial for a smoother project workflow. This is because each lifecycle stage comes with a unique set of prerequisites, and thus, your team must determine the right management approach well in advance to stay on track.
Make quality assurance (QA) a priority
With continuous delivery becoming standard practice among businesses, the pressure to meet deadlines and create fast-tracked delivery has often come at the expense of quality assurance. The prevalent reasoning is that as long as the consumers can aptly verbalize the product value in the user story, the project team can always defer the existing programming issues to the next cycle to keep up with the project timeline.
But this is not an ideal and reliable solution. The reality is that the project team can only mitigate compounding software risks insofar as it can quickly resolve an emerging threat upon detection. Such a swift mitigation effort is necessary to prevent the bugs from becoming deeply ingrained within the codebase. Thus, with every development, remember to include meticulous QA testing to verify the viability and operability of your code.
Invest in quality ALM tools
The outcome of your software management strategy greatly depends on the tools you use. Hence, we highly recommend that you audit your existing configuration and asset management whenever the opportunity arises. If you haven’t done proper inventory control in recent times, there’s a pretty good chance that you are out of the loop about your existing tools’ current capabilities and what the market offers out there.
Fortunately, there is a copious selection of ALM tools you can choose to complement the technical gap in your system environment. This burgeoning phenomenon is primarily attributed to the blistering pace at which the market demand for ALM has grown. At a CAGR of 7%, the market size is projected to increase from $2.58 billion in 2017 to $3.62 billion by 2022—an impressive feat highly indicative of the technology’s growing scope.
While revamping your software assets can be a strenuous endeavor, most modern tools come with a high level of customizability to minimize risks of disruption to your current system. These tools boast integrated features, such as version control, automated deployment and testing, quality assurance management, etc.
Perform compatibility testing prior to acquisition
With the abundance of ALM options in the market, it’s an all-too-common scenario for companies to ride on the trends for a quick scale-up, only to be rudely awakened by some hefty IT spending for idle resources at the end of their fiscal year. Consequently, while numerous tools are available to help make your job a little easier, not all of them are compatible with your system environment.
Word of advice, always research your prospective tool thoroughly before the onboarding, from carefully perusing the specifications and identifying its potential shortfalls to performing critical compatibility tests to gauge how well it would adapt to your software environment.
Proper documentation and reporting for compliance
Companies must conduct transparent and auditable reporting on their various development initiatives for better regulatory compliance, especially if their industries deal with data protection frameworks like GDPR and HIPAA. You can accomplish this by creating entries, tracking, and monitoring every activity in each stage of your application lifecycle.
Besides ensuring compliance, having a detailed backlog at hand helps companies create better emergency response protocols in a crisis. Keeping tabs on your workflows and activities also enables you to assign clear roles and responsibilities to all your team members—cultivating a better sense of ownership over their work by offering continuous skill enhancement and more work autonomy.
With manual work, all these tasks may sound daunting. The good news is that there are myriad intuitive ALM tools to help you automate this process. These include well-known ALM tools, such as Atlassian Jira and Microsoft Azure DevOps Server.
Standardize the different solutions in your ALM process
Although modern ALM tools facilitate faster deployment and testing with automated processes, without outlining the parameters and expected deliverables in the operation pipeline, this approach will often compartmentalize the many moving parts within your application lifecycle.
Inevitably, each unit in your IT team will work in silos as it cannot see beyond its own purview. For example, without overarching guidelines, the developers only concentrate on building a program with features and specifications based on their ideal criteria while failing to understand how the end users will effectively interact with the application once deployed.
This lack of continuity and consistency will diminish the quality of your application. To achieve standardization, you must integrate the disparate configurations and approaches across the ALM spectrum with the help of an underlying structure.
The use of a cloud-based infrastructure repository is a commonly proposed solution. Its introduction to the ALM process will help secure and store all the information about the application under the same roof throughout the lifecycle progression—from requirements gathering and deployment to maintenance.
Keen to manage your software lifecycle better? Asahi Technologies can help you create a custom software program with a comprehensive product roadmap. We can also gauge the right ALM tools for you to track ongoing projects, automate testing and deployment, and navigate the complex challenges in software release and maintenance. To learn more, please send your inquiry below!