Product Lifecycle Management, Application Lifecycle Management, and Product Line Engineering
There is a convergence taking shape among the closely related technologies of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Application Lifecycle Management (ALM), and Product Line Engineering (PLE) for Systems and Software.
Product Lifecycle Management refers to a class of software tools for managing the lifecycle of a product line portfolio of mechanical products. The entire lifecycle is addressed from inception, through computer-aided design (CAD), through manufacturing, and into maintenance and repairs. For example, when you go to your automotive dealer for a replacement part on your auto, the system they use to navigate through the diagrams, part descriptions, and part numbers is a PLM tool for the maintenance and repairs phase in the lifecycle for your auto model. PLM systems typically support both the variation in time (evolution throughout the lifecycle) and the variation in space (variations among the products within a portfolio at any point in time) for a product line. PLM systems typically have only rudimentary support for software, such as tracking a compiled and executable firmware version as a single part number.
Application Lifecycle Management refers to an analogous class of software tools for managing the entire lifecycle of a software product, as opposed to mechanical products for PLM. A suite of ALM tools typically supports requirement management at the inception end of the lifecycle, all the way through architecture and design, source code, configuration management, quality assurance and testing, change management, and maintenance. ALM systems typically support variation in time (via a configuration management tool), but do not support variation in space (variation among products in a product line portfolio).
Product Line Engineering tools provide support for variation in space within a portfolio of similar products. These tools, such as BigLever Software Gears, manage the product line variations that exist in requirements, architecture, design, source code, test cases, documentation, and so forth.
The Convergence of PLM, ALM, and PLE Technologies
As systems and software play an increasingly vital role in innovation and product value, the need intensifies for greater collaboration across these multiple domains, throughout the full engineering lifecycle. PLE has emerged to provide a foundational framework for the convergence of these technologies.
The relative strengths of PLM, ALM, and PLE converge in near-perfect jigsaw puzzle fashion. PLM's limited support for software can be overcome by ALM tools. ALM's limited support for product line variation in space can be overcome by PLE tools. The result of this technology convergence is a powerful solution for managing the full engineering lifecycle of software-intensive mechanical product lines.
For more information, review the Product Line Engineering: Underwriting ALM and PLM Convergence report or listen to the podcast presented by analyst firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton (MWD) Advisors.