Agile development is spreading like wildfire through the ranks of development teams, and application life-cycle management software providers are taking notice.

With the industry’s focus on faster product releases, organizations are adopting the just-in-time mentality and greater collaboration that agile brings. As a result, many ALM companies are tweaking their software with features such as agile templates and user story management  to meet these demands.

ALM is moving more toward one universal interface for project management, and moving away from individual pieces of management software that were the norm in traditional development environments, where projects could last anywhere from 18 to 24 months.

To track these long projects, there would usually be three different repositories for storing requirements, tests and defects. Singular pieces of software were created to manage each different life-cycle task. Teams would then usually glue a project manager, such as Microsoft Project, onto the cycle for reporting, but it wasn’t common for people in different roles, such as QA testers and coders, to stay informed on what each person was working on during a project.

“Projects were long, so we could afford to manage requirements, test and defects with separate tools,” said Richard Leavitt, executive vice president of worldwide marketing for Rally Software, who has held positions with companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM Rational and Serena Software in the past. “However, these things were highly disconnected from each other. We’d have legions of people trying to stitch together status reports.”

HP’s Mark Sarbiewski, senior director of product marketing, referred to the waterfall method as “very much command–and-control, with these discrete phases. It’s not like you couldn’t be successful in that, but it wasn’t right for all types of projects for sure.”

Tide turns toward agile
However, with the rise of agile development methodologies, the development cycle has shrunk dramatically. Teams might have a three-month release divided up into six iterations, rather than the 18-month projects of the past. The roles of professionals involved in different aspects of the life cycle are changing as well, as developers carry out test-driven development and adopt a planning-on-the-go approach.

As part of these shifting roles, barriers between developers and QA are disappearing. A QA tester, for instance, can kick off a build because he needs to test a bug fix that the engineer built. An engineer can check in code and run tests based on the code he or she changed. The tasks of builders, QA testers and other ALM contributors are beginning to cross-pollinate as project management becomes more accessible.

“From the very beginning of a sprint planning session, there’s a member of QA sitting in the meeting room,” said Paula Rome, Seapine’s director of product management. “In the waterfall process, that’s not always the case. QA doesn’t get on board until much later in the process. With agile, people are designing with quality in mind at the beginning.”

Tools are evolving as well. Agile calls for a “centralized cockpit” to manage the various life-cycle stages from one console, according to Victoria Griggs, senior director of product marketing for CollabNet. This one main project manager allows everyone on a team to stay updated on what their cohorts are working on, and it minimizes manual handoff between developers, testers and other professionals.

About Jeff Feinman