Get a grip for development success

Application lifecycle management practices are becoming increasingly important in complex projects by offering improved reporting and process automation

Managing the software development process using application life-cycle tools is becoming increasingly important for businesses as development becomes more complex.

A project may involve internal and external resources and require integration with third-party or in-house applications. The aims of application life­cycle management (ALM) products are to trace the person responsible for each part of the development process, to automate processes, and to deliver reporting and analytics.

In a recent paper, Gartner analyst Jim Duggan said software and application lifecycle management techniques were evolving from manual processes with silos of disparate data to automated and integrated systems that produce real insights. He identified three main drivers for this: an increased use of services via service oriented architecture, growth in integration technologies, and composite applications.

Duggan said applications developed using a mix of in-house and external resources often required more detailed management information and more formal change control of requirements, versions and releases.

Another growing area of interest among IT directors was to "manage IT like a business", with improved auditability, manageability and predictability. "This is driving increased attention to metrics, governance, traceability and compliance," Duggan said.

"These drivers have an impact on all types of development, but the differences are most pronounced at the team and project levels. Accordingly, although suppliers are looking to offer broadly integrated solutions, many instances will be adequately served by subtle evolutions of existing processes and products."

For instance, Duggan said a requirements management tool could be deployed as the next step to improve the effectiveness of a team using an agile process. He urged IT directors to match the development styles and needs of their programming teams to strategies that achieve an appropriate balance of software lifecycle management discipline and control.

It is essential for users to get it right from the outset, said Carey Schwaber, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Without proper ALM practices, there is little chance that a development effort will deliver value to the business," she said.

Forrester Research held a briefing last month covering tools designed to help organisations manage their software development projects. The main suppliers looked at were Borland, CollabNet, Compuware, Eclipse, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Micro­soft, MKS, Rally Software Development, Serena Software, Tele­logic, and VA Software.

Schwaber said, "IT organisations spend billions of dollars a year on development lifecycle tools that do not play well together. Today's ALM suites do not offer much support for ALM beyond what can be accomplished through brittle tool-to-tool integrations. But tomorrow's ALM platforms will do much better."

Borland and IBM produce some of the most widely used software lifecycle tools. Both suppliers are developing their tools to be more modular and more neutral in terms of how they use code repositories.

By contrast, Microsoft and MKS both build ALM suites that use their own single repository.

Serena and Compuware both aim to build an open, multi-supplier software lifecycle platform, and the use of open source software is essential to their strategy.

Serena, Compuware and IBM are also involved in open source approaches to ALM, backing projects including the Eclipse Application Lifecycle Framework project, and the Eclipse Corona project.

Case Study: Met Office change programme cuts IT project delays

The Met Office has reduced delays on IT projects after rolling out a change management programme designed to improve how IT delivers services to the organisation.

The weather services provider is two years into the three-year programme to improve project delivery, which has the goal of making all IT projects deliver on time and to budget and specification.

Nigel Reed, head of technology delivery at the Met Office, said, "We are measuring how efficiently we can carry out processes within IT. And this is presented to the Met Office executive.

"We have been running a change programme to deliver projects on time, to budget and to specification."

Through the programme Reed is able to measure the performance of IT project delivery. "We are trying to put requirements at the heart of a project's lifecycle," he said.

This allows the Met Office to track the changes being made to project requirements. "This is difficult because it involves IT and the business working together," said Reed.

At the same time, he has begun moving the software development process from a waterfall approach - where IT delivers a completed project to the business after the quality assurance stage - to an agile methodology, which involves continual delivery of component parts of a project to the business.

The Met Office used tools from Borland to support its change programme, including the J/Builder and C++ Builder programming environments.

Microsoft releases ALM platform

Eclipse open source ALM project

Forrester report

Comment on this article: computer.weekly@rbi.co.uk

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