Software development has always been driven by companies, and teams, seeking innovative ways to improve services. The goal was — and, still is — to provide end-users with robust and reliable software that performs optimally, at all times. In the late 70s, experts discovered that, in order to achieve that goal, a development team needed to adopt Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) practices in the development process. Since then, ALM has evolved a great deal; although, it continues to mystify many.
What is Application Lifecycle Management (ALM)?
The truth is that there are many different perspectives as to what application lifecycle management is. Still, ALM is an important practice in the field of software development; hence, it is equally important to understand what it encompasses.
In simple terms, application lifecycle management is the process of overseeing and managing an application’s life. To note, an application’s life cycle begins from the moment we conceive the initial idea; up until the moment it becomes redundant.
In reality, though, application lifecycle management is more intricate than that, since it has to do with people, processes, practices, and tools, too. With this in mind, ALM provides a well-defined framework for developing an application; while also helping tech managers, and their teams, efficiently manage this application.
As mentioned, when adopting ALM, teams need to consider the entire lifespan of an application, as it unravels stage by stage. This means that one should take other aspects into account, as well; for example, planning, monitoring, maintenance, updates, etc. In this sense, ALM includes several different disciplines — apart from software development, that is — such as, requirements management, project management, IT asset management, testing, quality assurance, application portfolio management (APM), etc.
Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC) are two terms we commonly use interchangeably, even though they describe different things. The truth is that ALM extends over SDLC; that goes to say, application lifecycle management is much broader than the software development lifecycle. In fact, ALM incorporates SDLC — it can even span several SDLCs; whereas, SDLC is limited to the software development stage. It cannot include other important ALM factors, such as people and processes. These all are essential for managing the life cycle of an application — from conception to end of life.
Why is Application Lifecycle Management important?
Managing the application life cycle helps streamline the Dev team’s workflow, while also improving the software development process. How does it do that? On one hand, by helping managers and their dev team(s) set specific requirements for each application; and, on the other hand, by making sure that these requirements are met.
Furthermore, application lifecycle management helps bring testing and operations practices to the forefront, ensuring the good health and optimal performance of the software; thus, its high quality. In addition, it allows teams to deploy applications — along with updates — faster. As a result, workflows get automated. The company gains a competitive edge, by ensuring delivery of top-quality applications, fast, to end-users.
At a glance, some key benefits of ALM include:
- Helps automate workflows
- Ensures compliance
- Streamlines management
- Enables faster deployments
- Speeds up time-to-market
- Safeguards the application’s health and boosts performance through frequent testing
- Makes planning easier
- Increases quality of software and applications
- Improves customer satisfaction
All about the application lifecycle stages
As it happens with everything that evolves and grows, an application’s lifecycle, too, is marked by a sequence of events. Naturally, the life cycle of an application starts with an idea. Once everything is planned — around this idea — the application becomes clearly defined. Then, it goes into the development and production phase, and it gets deployed. Afterward, we release it to end-users.
However, the process does not end here; for the application to remain healthy and robust, we need to monitor and maintain it often. Finally, when the application no longer has value for the customers, it reaches its end of life. That’s when we can remove it from service.
In more detail, the stages of ALM are as follows:
Ideation and planning
The first stage of application lifecycle management, following the initial idea, is, of course, planning. Planning is nothing else than the breaking down of the idea, into smaller parts that will help define its requirements; and, the planning of the business case. This stage aims to:
- Justify the undertaking of this project; that is, the reason(s) why develop this application in the first place
- Define its requirements
- Analyze the ALM process; and how we need to execute it, stage by stage, in order to satisfy these requirements
- State the expected benefits of the application to both the company and its end-users
In general, planning includes the decision-making, as well as the project management, for the application. In effect, during this stage, we lay the foundations of the application; thus, the planning stage delineates — and extends over — the whole ALM process. That’s why it is such a critical stage in the ALM process. Furthermore, planning helps accelerate the development stage; and even standardize certain tasks and/or processes that will help streamline ALM.
Application Development — Deployment and testing
Even though ALM gets past the mere development of an application, nonetheless, the development stage is certainly a fundamental part of the application’s lifecycle. In this stage, the product gets from an idea, into a working application. So, once the planning stage is complete — and all requirements have been defined, and agreed upon — the application development stage begins.
First, the Dev team has to further analyze the application requirements into smaller actionable steps, to create a thorough development plan. This plan mainly includes:
- Alpha testing
- Bug fixing
- Quality assurance
After the application is designed, developed, and deployed, it needs to go through alpha testing and bug fixing; two significant tasks that will determine the application’s high quality — or lack, thereof. During the testing, the alpha users provide continuous feedback about the application to the development team. The main objective here is to ensure that the application works as expected — according to the planning stage — before releasing it to end-users.
Often, in the application’s lifetime, the development process is ongoing; with the dev team adding new features, making upgrades, or developing new versions of the product. That’s also a typical scenario for a SaaS product.
It’s also important to note that, in this stage, the team can follow a software development methodology that will help carry the whole process on smoothly. This methodology used to be drawn upon linear sequential models, like the Waterfall model. Today, we prefer iterative models, such as Agile frameworks and the Lean methodology, as well as DevOps automation — which we’ll discuss later.
Operations — Monitoring and maintenance
The operations stage includes all the work required to run and manage the application. Typically, it begins right before deployment is complete, and stops running when we remove the application from service. Consequently, operations are intimately connected to the development stage; and, as with the development, Ops, too, is a long-running process.
Upon successfully releasing the application to the end-users, close monitoring of its health and performance, as well as regular maintenance work, are in order. This means that the DevOps team’s work doesn’t end with the deployment of the application; on the contrary, they continue with regularly maintaining the application. This includes finding bugs, resolving them, and releasing updates on a regular basis.
Last but not least, an equally important task in this stage is deciding upon the retirement of the application; that goes to say, when we deem it obsolete and we no longer need it in service. Ultimately, this is when the ALM ends — with the end of the application’s lifecycle.
About the stages of ALM
As one can understand, the stages of ALM are intimately interconnected. Completing these stages successfully maximizes the value the application brings to the company, and its customers. Yet, each of the three stages is challenging, on its own; let alone, striking a balance between the three. Notwithstanding, using the right tools, and applying the right methodology — or the right combination of methodologies — can greatly help make the ALM process easier.
Using ALM tools
In essence, using application lifecycle management tools helps teams automate both the development and deployment processes. In addition, they help ensure compliance. Therefore, they can enable the standardization of tasks and workflows; while also improving communication and collaboration among different teams and departments.
As a rule of thumb, companies are recommended to look for tools that can be integrated into all three ALM stages. This will help teams make smoother transitions between them. For instance, asset management tools should be connected to dev tools; which, in turn, should work well with tools used for operations. Overall, these tools should include real-time communication capabilities, requirements management features, project planning, version control, testing and monitoring functionalities, etc.
What’s more, good ALM tools should also support the software development practices and methodologies a company’s teams apply; whether Agile, Lean, DevOps, or something else entirely.
Applying software development methodologies and practices in ALM
In a way, the very nature of application lifecycle management is such that it dictates the adoption of Agile, Lean, and DevOps development approaches. These three approaches can integrate well with one another in the ALM pipeline, enabling teams to effectively collaborate, towards delivering top-quality services to customers.
Before the manifesto for Agile software development, we’d usually follow a more traditional approach regarding ALM, like the Waterfall model. Then, companies realized that this approach was somewhat inefficient — at least in terms of time, cost, flexibility, requirements management, etc.
Simultaneously, companies realized that when people — members of different teams within the company — got together to define the requirements, plan, develop, deploy, release, and test the product, the process went on seamlessly. In contrast to the old-school approaches, mostly demanding teams to work independently, thus, separately — creating silos, thus, bottlenecks in cross-team collaboration.
Also, it’s worth pointing out that, even today, many teams naturally apply certain ALM aspects — along with the aforementioned methodologies — in the development process, without really knowing it. In other words, they haven’t set the path for a defined process around these concepts; yet, that’s exactly what they need to do, to streamline the development process. Indeed, identifying the whole ALM process, with its specific stages — and faithfully following along, step by step — will increase both their productivity and the quality of the software they’re developing.
Agile and Lean
Today, the term Agile usually refers to the techniques applied in software development, like Scrum, that focuses on frequent software delivery. Scrum also includes several iterations or sprints, enabling early feedback from the end-users. Agile ALM is all about teams. It’s also about providing teams with the knowledge, information, visibility, and tools they need to make informed decisions; all of which are critical for making quick changes to software — or its components — without causing imbalances to the entire stack. As a result, companies are able to stay on top of their competition in a constantly changing business world.
Closely associated with the Agile model, Lean software development provides tools and processes, like Kanban and Pull, that allow teams to collaborate harmoniously, following a set of Lean principles. The Lean approach helps teams:
- Visualize and optimize the entire ALM process
- Test and learn
- Deliver fast and continuously
- Make data-based decisions
The Lean methodology comes to cover the shortcomings in Agile frameworks, and provides extra support in the flexibility offered by the latter. When applied together, not only can they deliver high-quality services that bring real value to customers; but, also, help companies become or remain sustainable and scalable, by allowing them to respond and adapt fast to the ever-changing conditions of the tech market.
Without a doubt, ALM can support DevOps automation practices, since fast and continuous deployment and delivery are at the heart of DevOps. More often than not, it demands DevOps practices — along with the Agile/Lean approach.
Nowadays, with more applications being cloud-hosted, and release cycles being short, teams no longer develop and test in isolation — it would not make sense, like it once used to. The dev teams today test new updates in production-ready environments, and they do it with DevOps tools and processes. This way, they can gain visibility, and track every new alteration in the code, to ensure they have successfully passed into production. This implies that the ALM tools the team uses can integrate with CI (Continuous Integration) servers, proving that ALM and DevOps go hand in hand.
All things considered, Application Lifecycle Management is a complex process that goes beyond just writing the code. That goes to say, every stage of ALM is important — and all are integrally connected to one another. Besides, how could one expect an application that was not planned well (during the planning stage), to do well when released? No matter how great the initial idea was, the application won’t be able to provide much value; neither for the business nor for its customers — the end-users. Completing the three stages of ALM successfully may not be an easy task; yet, it is achievable, by using the right tools, and following the right software development techniques and methodologies.