5 steps to minimize your app development cycles

It comes as no surprise that 2015 became the year of mobile. We have seen the end of the hegemony of the PC, and are now even seeing the rise of the machines through the Internet of Things (IoT). This drive to minimization in wearables (amongst which the Apple Watch is the most known or debated about), signal a huge shift in technology adoption and use. All these trends force developers and companies to rethink their mobile strategy and development cycles.

Studies have shown that many companies are actually doing just that. Up to 42 percent have said they are investing more in new app development in 2015. Also non-tech companies are spending more and more in custom mobile app development: up to 11 percent of their IT budget is now allocated to just these tasks.

With this adoption of mobile in the IT core, it has become apparent that this also poses a number of unique challenges, challenges which were less of a problem in the PC era. The most known issue is the sheer amount of different platforms developers have to support if they want to develop a successful app. However, combine this with the number of releases you have to do, just to keep up with your competition, and the number of apps you want to support, and you get a recipe for disaster. For the more mathematical inclined, we can summarize this in:

(# platforms supported) x (# apps in portfolio) x (releases per year) = headache

In effect, irrespective of your headache, your users expect for each and every single release that your app performs examplary, will solve their problem and provide a unique and high-quality experience.

Let’s list a few key steps you can follow to avoid the mobile app development disaster.

Keep it lean

If you want to keep introducing new features, or just keep up with the latest iOS/Android update and new gimmicks, you will face releasing new versions of up to 10 times per year! To be able to do this, even with a relatively small number of apps, you will have to organize your team in a lean and efficient way.

Typically a company faces up to 10 releases per year of their apps!

  • Automate where you haven’t done so already. Ensure you reuse code as much as possible, use code-generation tools, and automate unit testing to find bugs fast before they become engrained into your app.
  • Avoid proxies and middlemen for determining your app requirements. These will only introduce latency into your development cycles and increase costs.
  • Effectively use scrum methodology to break down the requirements and speed up development cycles. Release fast and incremental.

Think lean

The lean methodology also applies to your every day app development! Building an app that nobody wants, probably is one of the most annoying if not unforgiving things you can do. Therefore, before going full bonsai into your app development, take a step back and think lean. Start with the least number of features your app would need to satisfy your client or your own requirements.

Make sure that your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) actually is minimal. That does not mean that you should provide some crappy product, but that does mean that your app will be developed in a short timeframe, contain only those features that satisfy your customers and that your development will happen in an iterative way. That way, you can make sure that you have the best app in the shortest timeframe. and generate sales before your app really is a final product!

Building and releasing an MVP does not mean releasing something crappy. Just the minimal viable featureset that will satisfy your potential customers.

Use Analytics to your Advantage

Your app should include analytics from the start. Even if you only have a relatively small user base, you can glean insightfull data from your analytics. For example, one customer’s app had an annoying bug in his app. The bug sadly did not show up on our unit tests, but it did show up at a number of his clients smartphones. We could actually see this bug appearing using analytics, and were able to pinpoint the source of it AND fix it.

That proactive way of fixing bugs only is possible if you use analytics in your app and actually make use of the data it generates!

Get feedback from your users where it matters, right from within the app!

Another way of getting better insights is using feedback by your customers. Some people only get feedback through the reviews on the App Store. That actually is not the best way of getting feedback because:

  • Only a small subset of users are represented.
  • Often only extreme opinions are captured and information is incomplete (‘I love it!’ or ‘I hate it!’ isn’t feedback that can provide you a lot of depth or detail).
  • It’s ultimately a lagging measure of success.

A much better way of getting feedback is getting it directly from within the app. There is a very good article talking about – among other stuff – this aspect. It uses Appbot to get reviews from the users of his app.

Measure what matters

There is no worse thing to do as a startup than to focus on the wrong metrics. How often you hear: I have x million visitors to my site. Well, that’s great. How many actually convert into paying users, or better, how much margin do you make per user? If you are a growth startup, you might want to focus on revenue growth, but then it still stands that the question is how many $$$ do you make in revenue on each visitor?

For app developing companies this actually is exactly the same. You can have a hit app, but if you do not make a dime from it, you probably will stop eventually. Naturally, you can still put banners or stuff in your apps, but that will potentially degrade the experience to a point that people will leave. Again, you will have to measure the right metrics to ensure that you are not loosing people without you really knowing it!

Only measure what really matters, instead of focusing on so-called vanity metrics.

If you need a refresh on the key metrics for mobile development companies, check out this post from our CEO Jeff Haynie.

  • Acquisition: App installs + opt-ins
  • Engagement: Number of sessions + session length
  • Retention: Number of active users divided by total installs
  • Conversion: User exit points (did they make it all the way through sign-up?)
  • Quality: Ratio of app crashes to app sessions
Remember: Once you know what to measure and how to interpret it, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions about how to improve your app over time.

Build an API strategy

Having your clients use your apps is one, but building an ecosystem around your apps is a whole different ballpark. These days, everyone is building APIs for everything. And it actually does make sense. The best thing you can have is that your app solves some kind of problem, and that it can interact with other systems to integrate in a bigger eco-system.

A good example is the health system that Apple now fully integrated on the iphone. All health related apps now integrate into this system, simply because it provides much better experiences to the users.

With mobile-optimized APIs, your teams can spend less time worrying about the plumbing of the systems, and more time focusing their efforts on delivering a great user experience.

What’s more, a solid API strategy will also insulate your systems from your fast-changing client apps, allowing each to be updated at their own speed. It has the added advantage of helping to future-proof your data access — a must as new channels and IoT devices appear since they can access data using the same APIs.

A good API strategy can help you cope with fast-changing requirements and feature sets and integrate better with other systems.

Building a great app is no easy task. However if you already keep in mind the above key points, you will have a better shot at bringing a successful app to life!