Hype or Help? An ALM Reality Check

Unfortunately, the biggest cost the failure of ALM has exacted is to the credibility of the CIO. My experience has been similar to what Borland’s survey uncovered -– lots of tools, lots of different methods, very little structure for tracking progress, identifying issues and, ultimately, understanding if all the work that is underway is actually going to result in an application that delivers what the business needs.

What I did have was “management by gut plus experience.” For every project, I would periodically gather together my development managers, sit them down, and ask them how their projects were running. Those I trusted — those who had excellent track records — I marked as “green.” I then took a closer look at the projects whose owners didn’t pass my “gut check” -– they were the “yellows” and “reds.”

I could then report to my executive peers based on the overall color dispersion of my gut “dashboard.” Sure, I could periodically ask for reports on lines of code written, hours logged, milestones met, functions delivered, etc. –- but it would take me weeks (and valuable man hours) to gather the data. And, not only was it already outdated, but it often didn’t provide any true understanding of the overall productivity of the team, or whether the project was really on track to deliver the right functionality.

Moving toward a solution

Despite these shortcomings, the core concepts that initially animated the ALM movement remain sound. According to Forrester’s estimates, organizations see the value in the ALM vision and continue to invest in ALM technologies to the tune of more than $5 billion each year.

What has become clear is that an ALM platform that aims to restrict the capabilities of the development team falls short and often fails. Fortunately, I think that the industry is starting to shift in the direction of a real solution. Vendors are recognizing that what CIOs really need is a business application to manage the entire application delivery process as it exists in their environment today — tools, platforms, chaos and all. Forrester agrees, and the research group has heralded the advent of “ALM 2.0.”

This is the right trend, as long as vendors remember that flexibility and openness are key. An ALM solution should empower CIOs and their organizations to develop systems that cater to their needs — using the tools, processes and investments that they’ve already made.

ALM is not just about tools, its about finding a way to connect, manage and measure all the various activities and assets across the application lifecycle — even in the most heterogeneous environments. At the end of the day, this is perhaps the clearest path to reaching the holy grail of full lifecycle visibility, with business objectives aligned perfectly with development activities to deliver optimum business value.

And how does an executive measure whether their development efforts are “delivering optimum business value”? This is a question every CIO should spend some time answering. Further, the subsequent measurement of this value should be supported by the next generation of ALM solutions. A recent Economist Business Intelligence Unit report on the changing role of IT in the business found that senior executives expect that over the next three years, IT’s primary role will shift from one of improving cost efficiency to one of enabling revenue generation. And the number one way these executives felt IT would contribute to revenue generation was through the development and delivery of new products and services.