The landscape of ALM tools is shifting beneath our feet.
Because the discipline of ALM, or Application Lifecycle Management, is undergoing a shift—IoT is blooming, and the line between physical products and software has already begun to blur.
Many organizations are finding that they need to update, integrate, or reconsider the Application Lifecycle Management tools they’re using in order set up a system that truly supports the nature of their lifecycle (whether it’s hardware, software, or something in between—I’ll get to that later).
In this review, I provide a brief ALM definition and explain what ALM tools are—what they do, what benefits they provide, and what a good ALM tool should offer. I’ve included a detailed breakdown of some of the top ALM software on the market (including their features, main pros and cons, integrations, pricing, and an overall quality score). Finally, I describe the main points you should consider when choosing an ALM tool for your organization.
First, What Is ALM?
Easy question, not such an easy answer.
To start, the Application Lifecycle Management Body of Knowledge (ALMBOK) gives a basic ALM meaning:
“ALM defines how a software application is managed from conception, through its creation and deployment, to its eventual retirement.”
In practice, ALM isn’t quite as cut and dry.
The line between software and hardware (including physical products) is blurring with the growth of IoT. The once-separate disciplines of ALM, which is largely concerned with software lifecycle management, and PLM, which is concerned with physical product lifecycle management, are converging. Many industry experts predict that within a few years we’ll simply call it Enterprise Lifecycle Management, or ELM.
That said, ALM is a broad term that encompasses many disciplines.
To illustrate my point, here’s a list of disciplines that fall under the ALM umbrella or have some overlap with ALM:
- Business Case Development
- Project Management
- Assets Management
- Security Management
- License Management
- Change Management
- Release Management
- Requirements Management
- Quality Assurance
- Customer Support
- IT Service Delivery
- Software Testing
- Portfolio Management (Project, Application, etc)
- Business Process Management
- Knowledge Management
- Architecture (IT, Solution, Infra, Software)
The list could probably be longer, but it’s more useful to distill it down to something concrete for our purposes.
A Simple Definition Of ALM
In general, a simple way to look at ALM is this:
ALM is the marriage between software engineering and business management. Looking at it through this simplified lens gives us a clearer focus when it comes to evaluating the best ALM software—which is what I cover in the next section.
What Are ALM Tools, And What Do They Do?
Unlike standalone software developing tools or agile planning tools which by and large serve the same purpose for anyone using it, ALM tools have to merge a number of disciplines under the same roof.
For that reason, ALM tools are generally sold as software suites with several modules or components. These can be integrated to provide a standardized environment that supports your organization through all of the phases of the software development lifecycle (from concept through deployment and eventual retirement), in addition to supplying business management and software engineering tools for the functions listed in the previous section.
The people using an ALM tool across an organization will be using it for very different purposes, performing different functions to achieve different goals. Because of this, it’s unlikely that you’ll find an ALM solution offering absolutely everything you need right out of the box. Even so, using an ALM software has many advantages, which I describe below.
What Are The Main Benefits Of ALM Software?
ALM tools serve many functions—here are some of the main benefits you can derive from implementing an ALM solution:
- Standardized environment for collaboration between departments, integrating new development tools with various management tools
- Automation and streamlining of the software dev process
- Enhanced clarity and simplicity for complex processes
- Improved software quality
- Reduction of costs
- Reduction of time to market
- Enhanced compliance audits (especially important for safety-critical industries)
Of course, to get these benefits, you have to make sure you’re choosing a tool that genuinely serves your use case, otherwise, you run the risk of it becoming a waste of money and space as “shelfware”. See below for criteria to help you choose the right tool.
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The Best ALM Tools
Here are a few of the best ALM tools available today. Read on to understand what they offer, how they’re different from the other tools, and what types of organizations and projects they’re best suited for.
1. Jama Software – Best ALM/PLM tool
Jama Software provides a platform for requirements, risk, and test management. Their Jama Connect product is built for industry-focused services as well as team building complex products, systems, and software.
Features include the ability to accurately capture and communicate requirements, goals, progress, and interdependencies throughout the development process. It also allows end-to-end live traceability of people, data, and processes, along with real-time impact analysis, reviews, and approvals with team collaboration. You can manage requirements and traceability across the lifecycle, with flexibility to support various engineering disciplines and development methodologies.
You can integrate Jama Connect requirements and test plans with ALM, PLM, QA, and MBSE to ensure full traceability, visibility, and collaboration across the lifecycle. With API integrations and third-party integration hubs, teams can work in familiar tools while contributing to projects in Jama Connect.
Jama Connect licenses are available on a user and floating basis through an annual subscription model. Pricing and trial information is available upon request.
2. Visure – Best ALM tool for systems engineering and embedded systems
Visure is known as the breakthrough vendor in ALM platforms, offering a product that allows companies of all sizes to perform advanced requirements management throughout the application lifecycle. Their Requirements ALM solution was built to address embedded systems and system engineering needs, offering a single unified requirements ALM platform capable of supporting different development lifecycle processes. This solution factors in all aspects of system engineering development, including product software, embedded software, electrical, mechanical and hardware requirements, and enterprise IT development.
Visure Requirements ALM Platform is a comprehensive tool that supports several lifecycle management activities. These include requirements management, bug, and issue management, change management, risk management, testing, configuration management, quality management, and reporting. Its end-to-end requirement traceability is defined through a graphical representation (Visure Meta-Model) that automatically enforces traceability throughout projects. The centralized database allows multiple distributed stakeholders collaborate in one platform.
Visure’s API integrates with 3 party tools such as modeling tools, other RM tools, prototyping tools, bug-tracking tools, testing tools, project management tools, ALM tools, and PLM tools.
Visure’s pricing and trial information are available on request. They also offer demos and product sheets.
3. Jira – Best ALM tool for large, distributed teams
Atlassian is a household name in software development lifecycle (SDLC) tools. Usually, people compare it to the likes of big names like IBM and the HP ALM tool. They offer solutions geared toward agile development teams in anything from startups to corporate enterprises.
The Atlassian software suite for ALM can include any number of Atlassian products, sold separately, that integrate with one another. These include JIRA (task and project management), Confluence (collaboration), HipChat (real-time messaging), Bitbucket and Stash (code management and software developing tools), and add-ons like Jira Service Desk (issue management and support). These are available on-premise or as a SaaS.
The main advantage of using JIRA and other Atlassian products for ALM is in the well-developed suite of plug-ins, add-ons, and modules that you can use to customize your solution. It’s a good choice for organizations who plan to expand or who have large, distributed teams (it’s worth noting that Atlassian products are available in about a dozen languages). The suite can be customized for just about every use case conceivable, and they offer good support and training through their Expert network and Atlassian University.
At the same time, while JIRA is highly customizable, it doesn’t offer the out-of-the-box convenience or structure that a more all-encompassing solution does. You have to come with some knowledge of the features your business requires, and where to find them in the Atlassian suite.
Jira costs from $10/month for 1-10 users.
4. Microsoft Azure DevOps – Best ALM tool for small DevOps teams
In 2018, Microsoft rebranded their Visual Studio Team Service (VSTS) as Azure DevOps. Whether you consider this an ALM tool depends on how you define ALM, but Azure DevOps does work much like an ALM solution. It provides a standardized environment for managing a software application through its complete lifecycle through a unified DevOps approach.
Azure DevOps is composed of various self-explanatory modules: Pipelines, Test Plans, Boards, Repos, and Artifacts. Between these modules, this software includes features for planning and tracking work, implementing code, managing source code, running builds in a staging environment, managing CI/CD, testing, and running diagnostics. It also offers the capability to monitor app performance and user behavior in real-time.
As part of the Microsoft ecosystem, Azure DevOps offers dozens of pre-built integrations and a readily accessible library of extensions. Another benefit of this product is its transparent, flexible pricing which you can easily determine by using the interactive price calculator on the Azure site. While it’s definitely more of a “niche” solution designed strictly for DevOps environments, it’s a best-in-breed tool that can easily be extended to provide additional ALM functionality like portfolio management, etc.
Azure costs from $1/user/month. It’s free for 5 users or less.
Tuleap is quite different from the other tools on the list. In essence, it’s an all-in-one, 100% open source ALM software that provides an open framework for various ALM configurations. They market the tool as being “designed to be re-designed” by your teams. As a result, it grants you the ability to integrate a large number of familiar project management, requirements management, code versioning, code review, CI, test management, documentation, collaboration, and tracking tools.
Tuleap can be set up for the methodologies of your choice (Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall) and allows you to work with tools that might already be in your toolkit (Git, Jenkins, Eclipse, etc). It’s an enterprise-class solution that can be hosted on-premise or in the cloud.
Like a lot of open-source software, a major benefit of using Tuleap is community support. Users can get access to the Community Edition—Tuleap’s under development branch—for free, and the company hosts regular webinars and live training and tutorials with A sessions. This is a great ALM tool for teams who use, and like using, a lot of different tools and simply want a central place to integrate them.
Tuleap costs from €118.80/user/year.
6. Target Process – Best free ALM tool
Targetprocess is marketed as a visual platform to help agile teams scale, providing support for LeSS and SAFe as well as the custom agile framework of your choosing. It’s a hybrid between an all-in-one solution and a platform like Tuleap that’s designed to sync your existing tools.
Targetprocess is a really good choice for small- to mid-sized companies who aim to scale quickly. Because they offer a free basic version with unlimited users, it’s an attractive choice for teams who are trying out an ALM system for the first time and need to get the hang of their new processes without being overwhelmed by features (or paying an arm and leg for a license).
It supplies an intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface with tools for workflow configuration, requirements management, task management, web-based administration (field-level mapping, automated conflict resolution, etc), and reporting (portfolio-, program-, and product-level). Additionally, they offer a Service Desk standalone app that enables issue management in the same standard environment as your development.
Targetprocess comes with 60+ pre-built integrations and offers plugins, mashups, webhooks, REST API and SDK to sync with your existing SLDC tools. It’s available as a Saas and as an on-premise solution.
Target Process costs from $20/user/month. They also offer a free Team version with unlimited users.
7. Orcanos Application Lifecycle Management – Best ALM system for high-tech, electronics, and medical enteprises
Orcanos provides two main ALM systems, one for R&D management (requirements management, testing) and one for QMS (quality management system). It’s designed for enterprises in the medical device industry, but it delivers features that are useful in medium to large enterprises across various industries. It’s an especially good choice for documentation-heavy industries (like the medical device industry for which it was designed), with electronic document control and centralized management for MRD, Phase/Feature/Functional SRS, and ATP/ATS.
Orcanos’ ALM tool provides a comprehensive integrated suite that enables cross-project traceability and defect tracking, through an interface that users have described as “easy to learn”. Their integrated modules include everything under the sun for defining, testing, and building products: requirements management (with real-time impact analysis), project management (with some great estimation tools), test management, FMEA risk management, customer management, and QA.
While the software is a bit shy on integrations, Orcanos has also been praised for great customer support. And because of its specialized nature, it’s a compelling solution for high-tech, electronics, and medical enterprises.
Orcanos Application Lifecycle Management costs from about $69/user/month.
8. Collabnet VersionOne – Best ALM tool for SAFe
The two companies CollabNet and VersionOne merged in 2017, combining their software to create an attractive offering of ALM, DevOps, and Agile enterprise solutions. This is a leading example of the type of evolution we can expect to see in ALM as more and more organizations are unifying development and operations, adopting a customized agile approach—and needing a toolset that’s designed to actively shape this evolving, unified atmosphere.
Collabnet VersionOne’s ALM toolkit is designed to help agile enterprises scale, with support for Scrum, Kanban, XP, SAFe, and hybrid methodologies.
Along with VersionOne, which provides agile enterprise management features, their ALM suite includes products like Continuum (continuous delivery platform/DevOps), TeamForge (management platform for bi-modal development), TeamForge SCM (version control compliance, governance, security), and VS (value stream). Though this collection of products, they supply virtually everything under the sun—features for release automation, customer idea management, portfolio planning, test case management, defect tracking, reporting, budgeting, and much more.
Additionally, Collabnet VersionOne comes with 80+ pre-built integrations with leading tools like Jira, CA Agile, ServiceNow, Microsoft TFS, HP, Salesforce, Perforce, Github, Jenkins (and the list goes on). On top of this, they sweeten the deal by providing ample support in the form of Scrum, Agile, and product trainings, along with implementation and agile transformation consulting.
Collabnet VersionOne costs from $29/month/user.
9. Micro Focus ALM Software – Best ALM tool for DevOps and CI/CD
MicroFocus offers various products for application lifecycle management, with ALM Octane acting as the main platform and syncing with other applications like their DevOps suite. This is an enterprise agile solution designed to help you scale agile processes, but it accommodates Waterfall and hybrid methodologies as well.
MicroFocus’ ALM software supplies features for continuous ALM testing, defect management, requirements management, cross-project reporting, quality management, and more. It enables organizations to analyze and track continuous pipelines in order to get real-time insight into your CI and CD ecosystems, and it offers a very high degree of flexibility in its business rule engines and customizable forms.
Although the reporting features aren’t quite as good as some of the other tools on this list, users have praised MicroFocus’ ALM tools for their short learning curve: its easily configured graphical interface, as well as its speedy implementation and quick adoption by members within the organization. Overall, this tool is best suited to businesses with a DevOps focus—it offers an array of high-value DevOps-related features that don’t really make sense for use cases where DevOps doesn’t come into play.
MicroFocus can be integrated with 3rd party tools through its REST API, and it comes with out-of-the-box integrations with leading tools like TFS, JIRA, Jenkins, Git, and Visual Studio.
Micro Focus ALM Software costs from approx. $150/month.
10. CA Agile Central – Best ALM tool for agile teams
Of the ALM tools on this list, CA Agile Central takes a leading position in terms of implementation and ease of use. It offers one of the most intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces on the market, easy configuration, a wealth of high-quality training videos that make it easy for a novice to quickly learn to use the software.
CA Agile Central’s focus is on synchronizing and automating the functions of your enterprise agile tools. The tool has features for iteration and releases planning, agile ticketing, testing, managing defects, dependencies, and tasks, capacity planning, portfolio management, risk management, and more.
Teams who get the most out of this tool will be the ones who already have a structured process for agile delivery—they’ll be able to take advantage of the highly customizable dashboards, displays, and reports right away. It’s especially well-suited for use in product management and software delivery teams who are already working fully to Agile or Scrum methodologies.
CA Agile Central is offered both as a SaaS and on-premise product. It comes with pre-built integrations to essentials like JIRA, Bamboo, blueprint, bmc, Visual Studio, eclipse, IBM products, Github, various HP products, Rally, ServiceNow, Bitbucket, etc. They also have a pretty good selection of free apps in their CA Agile Central App Catalog.
CA Agile Central costs from $240/month for 10 users.
The Best Application Lifecycle Management Tools: Summary
This chart offers a basic summary of the top ALM tools in this review. View each tool’s basic pricing info, trial info, and quality score. Then, to find out more, find detailed reviews of each tool in the following section.
Other ALM Tools List
I haven’t had time to fully review these, but if the featured software above doesn’t work for you, here a few more good ALM tools to check out:
- IBM CLM
- Digite SwiftEnterprise
- Rocket Application Lifecycle Management
- Intland codeBeamer
- Kovair ALM Studio
- Rommana ALM
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ALM Software Selection Criteria
Below, I outline the criteria I’ve used in selecting the best ALM tools on the market so you can easily compare tools based on the critical features that I believe any good ALM software should provide. Here are the features and functions that the best ALM software offers in order to support the entire application development life cycle:
- Develop requirements and user-stories, then decompose into detailed tasks for resource tracking
- Prioritize and schedule requirements for each release/iteration
- Assign requirements, tasks and incidents using Agile planning board
You can also look into requirements management tools if this is your main reason for looking at ALM tools.
Testing and QA:
- Create, edit and execute test-cases
- Create and assign test sets for test execution management
- Map tests to requirements to track coverage
- Manage manual and automated testing
- Record bugs linked to test steps for full test traceability
- Track bugs, enhancements, risks and issues linked to changes in your source code repository
You can also look at bug-tracking tools if this is your main reason for looking into ALM software.
Project Management + Reporting
- Personalized dashboards and customizable reporting
- Full audit history of all changes made in the system
- Customizable graphs and reports in multiple formats (HTML, MS-Office and Adobe Acrobat)
- Ability to attach documents, screenshots and URLs to all artifacts
- Messaging, notifications, reviews, approvals
You can also look into tools that specialize in collaboration.
- with other tools—integrations with software development tools (SW development tools), deployment environments, servers, reporting tools, etc.
How To Pick The Best ALM Tool
More so than most other tools, implementing an ALM software suite can be a large investment of time and effort. There’s a lot of pressure to choose the right tool because virtually everyone within and around your organization will be using it to some degree.
Below, I simplify the process by providing a list of the important questions to ask during the selection process in order to choose the right ALM software for your use case.
I recommend that you attempt to answer as many of these questions as possible. Then, use them to create a list of requirements you have in an ALM tool, and rank them in terms of importance. When you start looking at tools, this will bring much more definition to your decision-making process.
Are you merging assets?
If you’ve undergone a merger (or multiple mergers), you’re tasked with the challenge of unifying disparate legacy systems and diverse approaches to ALM. You’re primarily concerned with consolidating your existing ALM processes and establishing a common framework for collaboration. In this scenario, tools with strong collaboration and integration capabilities should be at the top of your list. Look to industry heavy-hitters with solutions geared toward CLM (collaborative lifecycle management) like IBM Rational, Rally Project Management, Microsoft, and HP ALM.
Are you a startup?
Small organizations expecting or experiencing rapid growth require a different kind of ALM setup than a long-standing enterprise. Your ALM tool needs to provide an environment that can be quickly reconfigured—that can accommodate new levels of management and new departments.
You’re also probably heavily focused on Agile and/or continuous integration, so you’ll need a tool that’s designed to scale an agile enterprise and supports Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). In this use case, Collabnet VersionOne, Targetprocess, MicroFocus, and Atlassian are all strong contenders.
Do you need ALM software because you’re subject to regulation?
For organizations subject to regulatory authorities such as safety-critical or medical enterprises, compliance with standards is a main point to consider when choosing between ALM tools. In this case, you’ll want to prioritize tools with strong QMS (quality management systems) such as Orcanos. Likewise, look for tools with ample features for documentation management, FEMA risk assessment, and traceability that allows you to follow audit trails across projects.
Where are your most serious bottlenecks in the current process?
What are your licensing, hosting, and budget constraints?
To answer this critical question, it comes down to knowing your organization’s demographics. What’s your company size, location, technical infrastructure, geographic distribution, security policies, firewalls?
Some notes on hosting:
Most vendors offer a SaaS (cloud-hosted) version in addition to a licensed version. Knowing your technical infrastructure will tell you whether you’re able to host an on-premise version. On top of this, it will inform any decision to invest in a new server in order to host on-premise (you’ll need to factor in those server and hardware upgrades as part of your ALM total cost of ownership, of course).
Some notes on licensing:
Your ALM tool will only be effective if there are enough licenses for your users, if the type of available license fits your use case. For example, some providers offer either named licenses (for a designated user), floating licenses (multiple people can use at different times), or both. Likewise, keep in mind that some ALM software providers charge different amounts for onshore vs. offshore licenses.
Unfortunately, licensing and pricing for most ALM tools aren’t straightforward because most are designed as suites of separate modules—and certain modules or features can have different licensing and permissions than others.
The exceptions to this rule are Tuleap, Targetprocess, Inflectra SpiraTeam, and Azure DevOps, who’ve adopted more transparent pricing than most other vendors.
Some vendors also offer a sort of hybrid option as well, where you pay yearly to rent an annual license. This yearly fee typically includes any upgrades and support as well. This arguably carries less risk than buying a perpetual license and getting locked into paying separately for support and upgrades each year.
Are you already heavily invested in other tools?
In most cases, if you’re looking for an ALM, your teams have already used a handful of industry tools for quite some time. Determine whether you’re so heavily invested in a services vendor (SAP, Oracle, etc) that you should prioritize ALM tools that offer pre-built integrations with those services.
Which methodologies are you following?
Most ALM tools on this list can accommodate Waterfall, Agile, and hybrid methodologies—but some do specialize.
Here are some examples:
- ALM tools for agile teams: Check out Jira, CA Agile Central, Azure DevOps
- ALM tools for waterfall methodology: Check out Perforce Helix ALM, Orcanos
- ALM tools that support hybrid methodologies: Collabnet VersionOne, MicroFocus, Inflectra SpiraTeam, Tuleap
How soon do you need it? (a.k.a. implementation and learning curve)
A couple of factors contribute to how easy a solution is to learn and implement. Application managers should consider:
Cloud-based or on-premise?
Most ALM tools offer both options, but keep in mind that SaaS is quicker to implement than an on-premise solution. If you’re installing an on-premise solution, check to see whether the vendor helps speed the process with on-site consulting during roll-out.
Some ALM products are more intuitive than others. Frequently, CA Agile Central, Targetprocess, and Orcanos have been described as highly intuitive and easy to learn, while Perforce Helix ALM is reported to take a bit more time.
Availability of training and support?
If you predict your teams will require more in-depth support, look to software from Orcanos, Inflectra, Collabnet VersionOne, CA Agile Central, and Tuleap, who’ve all received praise for above-average training and support. Not to mention, you should peruse the resources that each vendor offers—implementing is bound to go faster with live training, tutorials, webinars, and a healthy resource library for your teams.
Especially if you’re already using a dozen different tools, the ALM software with the largest number of pre-existing integrations will speed your implementation.
Check for solutions like Azure DevOps, Jira, Targetprocess, Collabnet VersionOne, and Inflectra SpiraTeam, which offer the most pre-built integrations.
What Do You Think?
What software have you used for managing the application development life cycle? Share your insight with our community below.
For more on application lifecycle management, I’d point you toward The QA Lead—it’s an online community for QA folks, software engineers and testing professionals. There’s a great podcast that interviews leaders in the QA, DevOps, and software development space, plus lots of articles and how-to guides on the QA profession.