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Lori Borg (Mugshot)

The nature of this post is unconventional. As President of Northwest Cadence, I get to spend a lot of time talking about all things related to helping companies improve their software development processes. But I’m not here to talk about that. Nor am I here to talk about Kanban versus Scrum; TFS versus Jira; or push versus pull. This post discusses why non-technical Business Owners, Executives, and Managers should care about Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) and know how it impacts their world.

I’m writing from a perspective I’m very familiar with – Sales. I reference the concept of a Sales Lifecycle Management (SLM) strategy as a parallel to help explain the value of ALM. As you read on, I’d invite you to use “[you fill in the blank] Lifecycle Management” to help bring relevance to you.

Why should a non-technical executive care about ALM in their organization?

We spend a lot of time and energy investing in our sales organizations to make sure they are performing. I’d encourage you to spend a little time and energy on investing in your ALM strategy for equally impactful results. There’s more in common with your development teams and your sales team that you’d think…

Skeptical? Read on!

ALM Defined

Let’s define ALM so we can get to the meat of this post. Application Lifecycle Management is exactly what it sounds like: the management of an application’s lifecycle. ALM is the end-to-end process a development team or organization has decided to follow when building software.

Why do you care?

Before starting Northwest Cadence, I ran the Sales organization for a technical training organization. For those who have worked with sales people, you know that some of the best tend to be maverick-cowboy-types with strong wills, colorful personalities, and a certain level of do-it-my-way when it comes to reporting, forecasting, and following company processes. Sound like any software developers you know?

Like any Sales Director, it was in my best interest to help support the great sales progress of my rock stars, figure out how to replicate their success, and gain an accurate read on their sales projections…all while making sure I didn’t stifle their motivation or empowerment.

A few of the common problems that occur if a well-defined process and strong team environment aren’t in place:

  • Stuff is being sold that you can’t deliver

  • The wrong stuff is being sold

  • You don’t know what’s being sold

  • Nothing is being sold

So, in effort to feed the eagles and support the teams’ growth, I did what many of you might do. I conducted a thorough evaluation of our organizational Sales Lifecycle Management(SLM) to determine what was broken, where we excelled, and what metrics were important for me to have a pulse on so I could effectively forecast various things. Once the evaluation was completed, we moved forward with a comprehensive, end-to-end SLM strategy that included the following components:

  • Step 1: Define the Process. First things first. We needed to define what would become our new sales process. I collected feedback, used my best judgment, and asked some experts for guidance. Once the new process was baked, it was time to move to Step 2.

  • Step 2: Get buy-in from the team: This was the most important piece. It was also the most difficult. By helping the team see what’s in it for them – how this process will help make their lives better and produce them more results – we can more easily get buy-in. If you haven’t already, do your homework. Find out what makes your team tick and where their pains are so you can bring relevance to their lives on the positive impact these changes will make.

  • Step 3: Train the team. We trained the entire sales and marketing teams on our new sales process. This was important to level-set our organizational sales style. A forecasted 60% in the sales pipeline is no longer a subjective percentage, and there’s now a common distinction between a sales lead and an opportunity. You get the idea. After team training, the team started speaking the same language so the members could be in lock-step, learn from one another, and work collaboratively. All important keys to team success.

  • Step 4: Choose tools wisely. It’s important to identify tools that integrate with your process and accelerate your newfound efforts. We determine how to best leverage the tools we owned and decided on what tools we should buy. Employ your tools! Get them working for you; don’t find yourself in a position where you’re bending over backwards to work for your tools.

  • Step 5: Measure results, make small changes of improvement, proceed iteratively

Results?

By creating a well-defined process and improving the team environment, we realized results better than we imagined. The team was happy, collaborative, supportive, and surpassing their sales targets! The collective knowledge base and skill set was increasing at a greater pace, and the revolving door of sales people stopped.

Simply put…

Great process means happy people. Happy people means more productivity. Couple happy productivity with great process to get bottom line results that will make you proud and happy that you showed an interest!

Get Involved!

In your position of leadership, I suspect you are quite familiar with the impact strong sales revenues, wide margins, and a happy sales team has on the overall success of your organization. You can see equally strong impact on your business by spending some time focusing on your software development teams and your ALM strategy. An organization’s ALM strategy is cultural and systemic. It spans your organization and reaches your bottom line. You need to be involved in the ALM discussions, even if it’s just to ask some hard questions and understand what’s going on. You will be surprised what you learn, and excited about the possibilities you uncover!

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  • Michael Paterson

    IMO ALM is still thrown by the wayside in way too many companies.  Especially in companies where IT is seen as a cost center.

  • LoriBorg

    Execs have a great opportunity to look to their Software Dev
    teams as strategic units that can help accomplish company goals. Some of the
    best and brightest inside an org often sit on the Software Dev teams. A
    seemingly simple but impactful first suggestion – embrace the individual
    strengths of those who sit on the Dev teams. They will have fun doing what they
    do best, they’ll do a great job (because, well, it’s their strength), and the
    company will begin to see indirect revenue impact from the personal,
    strength-based environmental change assuming the right business metrics are in
    place. How? First, learn your strengths and theirs (I’m a huge advocate of Tom Rath’s
    StrengthFinder Assessment), and find ways to align individual strengths
    with company and departmental goals.  Second,
    create good metrics (Northwest Cadence can help with this!).

  • Often in companies the developers are considered monkeys rather than the professionals that they are. You would be surprised at how quickly your software quality increases and consequently your customer happiness when you start to embrace their strengths and leverage the creativity that is often stifled by poor 
    management and convoluted process.