3 ALM Best Practices to Guide Your Small Business Application Strategy

By: on January 26, 2018

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) need to adjust how they handle technology investments to keep pace with the changes brought on by digitalization.

According to Gartner1, the industry is trending away from managing applications (both developed or purchased) as IT projects. Instead, leading organizations are managing these ventures as products.

This movement is expected to reach mainstream adoption within the next five to 10 years. Meaning, now is the time to adjust your small business application strategy, so you can position yourself ahead of your competitors.

To help you get started, we’ve outlined three application life cycle management (ALM) best practices you can use to reframe how your organization approaches technology investments.

To create this list, we surveyed 185 managers and technical professionals currently involved with project/product management at their organizations to see how different companies are managing applications (see demographics at the end).

1. Create Easy-to-Follow ALM Processes and Workflows

With a shift to product management, you’ll need to group applications and capabilities into product suites that support specific business operations. The goal is to manage the suite of applications over the course of their life cycle, from concept through retirement, so they deliver sustained value.

To do so successfully, you need to clearly define ALM processes and workflows. More importantly, teams and departments need to adhere to them.

 Here’s how: 

  • Define business processes and ALM workflows connecting the various stages in the application/software development life cycle
  • Use ALM tools to help structure and improve the flow of work through each stage and increase transparency into the status of tasks and applications
  • Set up workflows with approvals and notifications to alert users of assignments, action items, impending deadlines and more
  • Report on workflow execution and measure individual and team performance

 Here’s why: 

Workflow management is essential to the success of your application strategy. Having defined workflows helps to contribute to a “single source of truth,” in which users know where a work item came from and where it needs to go next.

We asked respondents to rank five critical factors in terms of their impact on application strategy:

  • Trust and transparency between teams and departments
  • Defined processes or workflows and adherence to them
  • Effective collaboration with teams and departments
  • Clear understanding of business goals and product portfolio prioritization
  • Understanding resource capacity compared to demand

Respondents note that adhering to set ALM workflows is the most important factor for effective ALM, followed closely by maintaining trust and transparency between teams and departments.

2. Focus on Design and System Requirements

A successful application strategy should emphasize planning. While each stage in the application/software development life cycle (SDLC) is critical, teams should spend the most time reviewing system requirements (i.e., scope) and crafting a design plan.

This isn’t to say that scope and design won’t change over the course of a project, especially with customer/end-user feedback during testing. However, if you haven’t spent sufficient time understanding the requirements, you won’t be able to accurately predict how changing the scope will impact the rest of the system.

For example, knowing that adding a requirement will prolong the project by [X] amount of time, and will exceed the budget by [Y] amount.

As such, ALM is most effective when organizations set projects up for success by providing teams with the tools and time required to prioritize these stages.

 Here’s how: 

  • Perform stakeholder analysis
  • Gather requirements (functional and technical requirements)
  • Define the scope of the project (and corresponding timeline and budget benchmarks)
  • Perform risk analysis
  • Perform requirements review and get stakeholder approval
  • Put the system requirements into design plan (include the interface and proof of concept)
  • Perform design review and get stakeholder approval

 Here’s why: 

We asked respondents which phase or function within ALM their organization struggles with the most. Responses were tied, with 15 percent saying they struggle most with requirements definition and 15 percent saying they struggle most with systems design.

If these stages are where most organizations fall down, dedicating more time and understanding to these phases will give you a leg up on your competitors.

Respondents’ Most Common Challenges With Phases of ALM
common challenges with alm phases chart

3. Use Flexible ALM Tools

Transparency and collaboration is essential to the successful production and maintenance of applications. ALM tools should facilitate the transfer of data between teams.

ALM software can range drastically in size and function. While most small businesses won’t be able to afford a robust full-serve ALM suite, they can still benefit from best-of-breed solutions. (Be sure to discuss your integration requirements with vendors.)

 Here’s how: 

  • Identify what processes within the SDLC you need automated tools for.
    • Identify end-users and get their feedback on must-have capabilities.
      • Create a shortlist of products and vendors.
        • Set up product demos, ask vendors to provide a “day-in-the-life” walkthrough on their tools so you can see how the product handles your workflows.
          • Review integration requirements.

          Additionally, while agile is increasingly becoming the predominant software development model, it’s not automatically the right model for every project. As such, it’s important to choose tools that will allow your teams the flexibility to choose the right SDLC model for the size and scope of the project at hand.

           Here’s why: 

          We asked respondents what tools they use to manage the SDLC. Over 50 percent use automated tools in some capacity (see demographics at the end). Of those respondents, their “must-have” capabilities include the following:

          Respondents Must-Have ALM Capabilities
          must have alm capabilities chart

          We also asked respondents which SDLC model they use to manage application and software projects, e.g., agile or waterfall. Fifty-six percent say the model they use depends entirely on the application being developed and the size and scope of the project, compared with 25 percent who use an agile model for every project.

          Conclusions and Next Steps

          Your application strategy has a profound impact on your ability to meet the challenges and changes brought on by digitalization. Our recommended ALM best practices can help you structure your strategy for 2018 and beyond so you not only increase the value delivered by your portfolio, but remain competitive in a rapidly shifting market.

          Download a copy of these best practices to take with you:


          To learn more about ALM tools, head over to our Buyer’s Guide. Once there, review common capabilities, compare solutions and read reviews from real users.

          Or, email me at eileen@softwareadvice.com. I’m available to answer any questions you may have about the best practices discussed here, and can offer suggestions for recommended reading if you’d like to know what else you can do to develop your application strategy.


          The demographics for the survey respondents cited in this report are as follows:

          • 74 percent are from small or midsize businesses (SMBs) with $100 million or less in annual revenue.
            • The majority of respondents (65 percent) are from information technology (I.T.).
              • 56 percent use project/product management software for ALM<./li>
              Respondents By Annual Revenue
              Respondents By Department
              Responds Current Method For Managing SDLC

              1Source: “Hype Cycle for Project and Portfolio Management, 2017” (full report available to Gartner clients)

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