The Top Three Application Lifecycle Management Tools For SMBs

Software and web development requires a specialized subset of project management (PM) tools. Due to these industries’ unique processes and fast-paced workflows, teams often follow an agile PM methodology that can support and drive the software development lifecycle.

That’s where application lifecycle management (ALM) tools come in:

ALM tools provide a standardized environment for communication and collaboration between software development teams and related departments, such as test and operations. They also automate the process of software development and delivery.

In this article, we’ll review the top application lifecycle management tools for SMBs, discuss the pros and cons of each system and let you calculate the estimated cost for each platform. But first, we’ll do a quick review of application lifecycle management and how these tools can benefit your team.

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

What Is ALM?
JIRA Software
Final Considerations

What Is ALM?

Application lifecycle management, or ALM, is a defined set of processes that govern how a team or an organization manages software development, from concept to completion.

ALM tools help automate and streamline each stage in the software development lifecycle:

Software Development Lifecycle
While features vary from system to system, ALM tools usually contain the following capabilities:

Common ALM Tool Capabilities

Project management Streamline task management, time tracking, resource management and scheduling, dashboards, reporting and analytics.
Requirements management Define end-user requirements, break work down into actionable sequences, plan backlogs and schedule iterations.
Design and development Track works-in-progress. Often, agile teams develop software in two-week iterations, or sprints. This allows for more frequent testing and review.
Bug tracking Process, track and report on bugs in the application. Also called defect or issue management.
Quality assurance (QA) and testing Document and track application testing to ensure quality and function meets predetermined requirements.
Release management Support application deployment. Oversee software release, intake of end-user feedback and planning/initiating maintenance and improvements on application.
Process review and optimization Monitor and audit various stages in software development lifecycle with the goal to optimize processes (build, testing, release, application performance etc.).

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JIRA Software

Atlassian’s JIRA Software is a project and issue tracking platform used by software development teams of all sizes. By itself, JIRA is an advanced agile PM tool that supports both scrum and kanban PM methodologies. Teams can build, test and release software and gain actionable insight from the tool’s agile reporting capabilities.

However, when coupled with additional products from the Atlassian portfolio, it becomes a capable ALM solution. In fact, Gartner named Atlassian as a prominent leader in its 2015 Magic Quadrant for Application Development Lifecycle Management (this content is available to Gartner clients).

Note: Teams looking for a full-service ALM solution can supplement JIRA Software’s capabilities by tapping into the expanse of tools within the Atlassian portfolio, including:

  • Confluence: Knowledge and document management.
  • HipChat: Communication and real-time collaboration.
  • Portfolio for JIRA: Product portfolio management.

What makes JIRA Software great for SMBs: JIRA Software’s project and issue management capabilities are hard to beat—just check out any of its 104 reviews on Software Advice and its 3.8 out of five star rating. It’s a well-known product in the software development industry, and Atlassian allows for multiple customizations and add-ons.

JIRA Software can be configured in various ways to match the exact needs of a team:

  • Custom workflows: Define workflows to streamline development processes according to the needs of the user.
  • Custom filters: Using JIRA Query Language (JQL), teams can create filters to put critical information just a click away.

Teams can connect to code repositories, such as BitBucket (Atlassian’s Git-powered code repository), so code changes are seamless and traceable between the platforms. Additionally, JIRA users have access to over 1,000 add-ons from the Atlassian Marketplace that help extend the capabilities of the platform.

Releases in JIRA Software

Fast Facts: JIRA Software

JIRA Software Pricing:
*The table below only shows pricing for up to 100 users, as SMB teams are most likely below this threshold. Discounts for annual subscriptions may apply, but are not reflected below. Potential costs for setup, maintenance and other service fees are also not reflected below. For specific pricing information, contact Atlassian.

Number of users Pricing for cloud-based deployment Number of users Pricing for on-premise deployment
Up to 10 $10/month Up to 10 $10 one-time payment
11 – 15 $75/month 11 – 25 $1,800 one-time payment
16 – 25 $150/month 26 – 50 $3,300 one-time payment
26 – 50 $300/month 51 – 100 $6,000 one-time payment
51 – 100 $450/month

Pros: JIRA Software is sold as a single, full-featured solution. The pricing is broken down by number of users rather than tiered, feature-packages (where capabilities increase as packages scale). This means that all teams, regardless of size, have access to the same capabilities.

Cons: While the pricing is broken down by number of users, it is not sold on a per-user basis but rather by blocks of users. This isn’t an issue for small teams as the price for 10 users on the cloud-hosted software is quite reasonable ($10/month).

However, the price jumps considerably for the next user block: For 11-15 users the cost is $75/month. This means that if a 10-person team wants to add one additional user, they have to jump from $10/month to $75/month.

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Inflectra was named by Gartner as a key challenger in the 2015 Magic Quadrant for Application Development Lifecycle Management (this content is available to Gartner clients). There are three products that make up Inflectra’s “Spira” brand. Each product targets a different set of user needs:

  • SpiraTest: Requirements, defect and issue management
  • SpiraPlan: Robust agile PM (supports both scrum and kanban methodologies)
  • SpiraTeam: Integrated ALM solution, containing all the features and capabilities found in the other two products: SpiraTest + SpiraPlan = SpiraTeam
SMB teams looking for a full-service ALM solution would be best served by SpiraTeam. However, for teams not quite ready to institutionalize ALM practices, SpiraPlan can be a stepping stone to help them scale their processes toward product portfolio management.

What makes SpiraTeam great for SMBs: As an all-inclusive ALM solution, teams can use SpiraTeam to manage the entire product development lifecycle—from requirements management to QA and testing to reporting and portfolio optimization—all within one tool.

The platform supports teams of every size, from single users to teams of up to 500. What’s more, single users benefit from the same functionality as an enterprise team of 500 because SpiraTeam isn’t sold in tiered, feature-based packages, but rather by number of concurrent users.

Release planning in SpiraTeam


Fast Facts: SpiraTeam

SpiraTeam Pricing:
*The table below only shows pricing for up to 100 users as SMB teams are most likely below this threshold. Discounts for annual subscriptions may apply, but are not reflected below. Potential costs for setup, maintenance and other service fees are also not reflected below. For specific pricing information, contact Inflectra.

Number of users Pricing for cloud-based deployment Number of users Pricing for on-premise deployment
Starter (one user) $9.99/month Starter (one user) $99.99 one-time payment
Up to 3 $79.99/month Up to 3 $599.99 one-time payment
Up to 5 $119.99/month Up to 5 $999.99 one-time payment
Up to 10 $199.99/month Up to 10 $1,599.99 one-time payment
Up to 20 $279.99/month Up to 20 $2,499.99 one-time payment
Up to 30 $299.99/month Up to 50 $4,999.99 one-time payment
Up to 50 $399.99/month Up to 100 $6,999.99 one-time payment
Up to 100 $599.99/month

Pros: Inflectra provides unlimited phone and email support to every user, regardless of the size of the team. Additionally, users have access to an online knowledge base and support forums and can submit a help desk ticket for issues not answered in the online documentation.

Cons: While pricing is based on the number of concurrent users, it is not sold on a per-user basis, but rather in user blocks. For example, small teams using the cloud-based software that want to move from three users to four have a jump from $79.99/month to $119.99. Then again, when a team of five wants to add an additional user, they have to jump to the next price point, moving from $119.99/month to $199.99.

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VersionOne was also recognized as a leader in Gartner’s 2015 Magic Quadrant for Application Development Lifecycle Management (this content is available for Gartner clients). Their product is an agile PM solution designed to assist organizations with scaling agile practices from the team level to the product portfolio level. As such, it is sold in four packages with capabilities increasing as the product scales:

  • Team: Supports up to 10 users and a single project. Includes basic planning, testing and burndown and velocity reports.
  • Catalyst: Supports up to 20 users and multiple projects. Includes customized workflows, issue tracking and enhanced reporting.
  • Enterprise: Supports unlimited users, projects and teams. Includes advanced reporting and program management.
  • Ultimate: Supports unlimited users, projects and teams. Includes custom reporting, product roadmapping and portfolio management.
Software development teams needing full ALM support would be best served by VersionOne’s Enterprise or Ultimate plans. The Enterprise plan can help software development teams scale their agile practices to the product portfolio level, while the Ultimate edition can help teams already at the portfolio level optimize practices.

What makes VersionOne great for SMBs: Whether your development team is just starting to adopt agile practices, or if your organization has institutionalized agile workflows across the business, there’s an edition of VersionOne designed to fit your needs.

Additionally, investing in a solution that is sold via tiered feature packages means that teams can continue using the solution as they grow or their needs change. They can invest in the package that best fits their needs now and scale to a more advanced package in time, never having to pay for features or services outside the scope of their current processes.

Release planning in VersionOne

Fast Facts: VersionOne

VersionOne Pricing:
*Annual subscription required. Contact VersionOne for specific pricing information.

Edition Licensing Deployment Number of users Pricing
Team N/A Cloud Up to 10 Free
Catalyst Subscription Cloud Up to 20 $175/month
Enterprise Subscription or perpetual Cloud or on-premise Unlimited $29/user/month
Ultimate Subscription or perpetual Cloud or on-premise Unlimited $39/user/month

Pros: VersionOne offers training and support options for all customers, including webinars, white papers, product videos. They also provide consulting and agile training services, and have conducted an industry-renowned “State of Agile Report” for ten years running.

Cons: The downside to a tiered, feature-package pricing model is that features which offer the most return for users (e.g. custom fields, data visualization tools and resource management planning), are often available only in the higher-end editions.

VersionOne offers basic dashboards and reporting in the Team and Catalyst editions. But more advanced program management capabilities, such as cross-project reporting and resource capacity planning, are reserved for the Enterprise and Ultimate packages. Furthermore, many critical ALM capabilities, including product roadmapping and most data visualization tools, are available only in the Ultimate edition.

For teams looking for an end-to-end ALM solution, VersionOne is the most expensive ALM tool discussed in this article. For example, let’s compare the cost for 10 users on the cloud-hosted version of SpiraTeam (which has the most comparable feature-set). 10 users on SpiraTeam pay $199.99/month. Whereas 10 users on the Enterprise edition of VersionOne pay $290/month, and 10 users on the Ultimate plan pay $390/month.

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Final Considerations

SMB teams have a lot to consider when evaluating ALM solutions. As demonstrated by the products above, functionality and pricing can vary greatly from system to system.

To make it easier, here are three key factors to keep in mind as you evaluate the various ALM tools on the market:

1. Needs of your team: If your team has standard practices already in place, finding an ALM solution that allows for customizations is critical. This ensures that the tool can support existing workflows rather than dictating them.

2. Scalability of the solution: It’s likely that over time, the needs of your team will change as your department grows or the applications you’re developing become more complex. As such, it’s important to consider both your current and future needs and invest in a solution with capabilities that can support you now and into the future.

3. Pricing structure: We saw various pricing structures in the tools discussed above: Pricing based on number of concurrent users or based on tiered, feature-packages. Prospective buyers should consider how often they add users to their team as this could impact the decision to buy a software sold in blocks of users or a tool priced per user per month.

If you’d like to learn more about application lifecycle management or want more information about any of the platforms discussed in this article, email me at I’m available to answer any questions you might have and can help get you set up for a price quote or product demo.

If you aren’t sure the solutions discussed here are right for you, head over to our project management buyer’s guide for information about highly-rated alternatives. You can read reviews from real users and see how your peers have rated each system for qualities such as ease of use and customer support.

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