Forrester’s West said that while ALM tool makers have begun to support agile practices, the link between the tool and the practice is sometimes “transient at best.” He did not single out specific tools or offer examples.

Tool support for agile practices makes ALM teams more efficient, insisted Poole. For instance, with traditional development efforts, team members typically merge their changes to code every six weeks. With agile, that happens automatically on a daily basis. “If you are spending your time reconciling the merge and the changes, you are not going to be successful,” said Poole.

Kevin Parker, vice president and chief evangelist of tool provider Serena Software, elaborated on that theme. Agile ALM automates ongoing release management, he said. Traditional application development projects typically deliver software every six months, but agile efforts are likely to release working software every two weeks.

“Instead of building the battleship and releasing it in six months, you build the most important features first and deliver them on an incremental basis,” he said, adding that because Agile ALM has shortened the development cycle, it has forced application teams to come up with more efficient ways to define requirements—a task they have struggled with for years. In the past, business analysts interviewed project stakeholders to find out what they needed the software to do. “What you end up with is a 400-page document of dreams and ambitions,” he said.

Agile projects require a streamlined approach, where only the current space (what the software does now) and future space (what you want it to do in the future) are defined. “That allows you to focus on getting from point A to point B,” Parker said. “It’s faster and more scientific.”

The big questions
For all the improvements it may offer, agile ALM also raises questions. Chief among them is what happens to traditional lines separating developers and testers, said Tieren Zhou, founder and CEO of tool provider TechExcel.

In agile, QA and development are essentially one, but in traditional development efforts, they are separate, he said. “Where does the QA team fit in agile ALM?” The answer is still unknown, but he predicted that companies will take the one-team approach, and by next year, agile development be fully integrated with quality management.

Zhou said he believes ALM tools should reflect the methodology they are designed to carry out. “As tools mature, the methodology will be completely blended with the tool.” He also said that agile isn’t the answer for every project; waterfall development still has a role. “An update to a banking application, where the requirements are well understood and clearly specified, is a good fit for waterfall,” he said as an example.

What is clear is that the agile movement has wreaked havoc with traditional role-based ALM, where point products for requirements, coding and testing align closely with the business analyst, developer and tester roles, said Microsoft senior product manager for Visual Studio ALM Matt Nunn.