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Beyond ALM

MKS seems easy to forget - but it shouldn't be

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When I wrote about Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) recently a reader wondered why I hadn't mentioned MKS.

Well, the truth was, I'd forgotten about it - and, while I knew it was an interesting and somewhat publicity-shy company with some good products, I didn't think they illustrated anything radical.

But I was encouraged to go out and find out what it was up to now, and after talking to Ryan Lloyd (product manager for MKS Northern Europe) it seems that I was wrong to overlook it.

I've just been told about Mercury's new business focused cross-application configuration management tool ["fine product, tell the designer chappie" - Hancock]. Yet here's MKS doing something very much in the same vein, with a mature product: MKS Portfolios. OK, so Portfolios isn't exactly a product - it is more a feature set in existing products which delivers visibility into a portfolio of application developments and deployments.

When you think of ALM, most people think of it as bottom-up - tools for managing requirements, source code configuration management utilities, managing testing, managing deployment and tracking production problems. But what is ALM for?

Ultimately, so that a company can manage the effectiveness of its application development and support lifecycle (never forget support, it's where most of the money goes; and all of the benefits come after deployment), and ensure that it supports business strategies and is improving with time.

MKS Portfolios comes at things from this end, and that could be a good thing for developers, because if managers have transparency into the development process and can make fact-based decisions about the portfolio of products being developed, they are less likely to ask for stupid things or dream of outsourcing development as far away as possible.

To start with, MKS deals with a portfolio of products sharing resources and business objectives, not single projects. This is the reality of application development [see Geoff Reiss' concerning Programme Management].

MKS works with a five point framework, monitoring the associated metrics in real time:

  1. Team efficiency - productivity across projects, not just for individual projects
  2. Process Efficiency - a basis for continual improvement; looking at, for example whether defects are being found during coding that could be more efficiently - more cheaply - found in design or code reviews?
  3. Project Efficiency - how well does it meet schedule, budget and customer satisfaction objectives?
  4. Quality – such as defects per unit of output; or rework metrics
  5. Value and effectiveness - alignment with strategic objectives at the business level

However, MKS still deals with the ALM essentials, using a central repository which stores:

  • The results of active project activity/inventory monitoring
  • Definitions
  • Requirements
  • Documentation
  • Source code
  • Test plans
  • Deployment records
  • Help desk trouble tickets

It's all in pursuit of managers making demonstrably fact-based decisions about program development and deployment. In today's regulated world, with a premium now being placed on IT and corporate governance, this makes MKS a company well worth watching, in my view. ®

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