What is the Process of Building a Mobile App?

SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT

Society is more de­mand­ing and less pa­tient than ever be­fore. Let’s not sugar coat it, con­sumers are ex­pect­ing more from the brands they in­ter­act with.

Where it used to be a nov­elty for a brand to have a mo­bile app, it’s now an ex­pec­ta­tion.

Let’s take the cab in­dus­try as an ex­am­ple. Of course, we all know what hap­pened with Uber, DiDi and the many other dis­rup­tors. Now, I can’t go longer than 15 min­utes watch­ing TV with­out see­ing a 13Cabs ad telling view­ers they have a mo­bile app. Yes, that’s right, oc­ca­sion­ally I watch live TV…

We can also look to the trends of the most down­loaded app in the world, Facebook, for more ev­i­dence that con­sumers are mov­ing to­wards a mo­bile-first mind­set.

A graphic showing the steady rise of Facebooks monthly users up to 2500-million over the 3rd quarter of 2018

With mo­bile ap­p’s be­com­ing the stan­dard for com­pa­nies en­gag­ing their users, there is a huge op­por­tu­nity to be­come an in­dus­try leader if you can de­velop a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence.

In or­der to gain all the ben­e­fits that come with a cut­ting-edge mo­bile app, you’ll first need to know the process of build­ing an app. In a pre­vi­ous blog, I out­lined the 10 steps to take be­fore start­ing a mo­bile app. This ar­ti­cle will look at the en­tire process more holis­ti­cally so that you can lever­age one of the many ben­e­fits of build­ing a mo­bile app.

Step 1: Create Your App’s Strategy

Every busi­ness has a busi­ness plan. Whether it’s doc­u­mented in a 200-page binder or the founder’s head, there is a plan.

A mo­bile app is an ex­ten­sion of your busi­ness. As a re­sult, it needs to have its own strat­egy that feeds into your busi­ness di­rec­tion.

Luckily enough, we’ve cre­ated a frame­work for you to use for your ap­p’s strat­egy.

You can view it here.

I’ll give you a lit­tle run­down of the core parts of an app strat­egy that we rec­om­mend. There are usu­ally 6 ques­tion’s that form the ba­sis of your app strat­egy. These in­clude:

  • What are your busi­ness goals?
  • How will you mea­sure suc­cess?
  • What ben­e­fit do you pro­vide to your cus­tomers?
  • Who are your com­peti­tors?
  • What dif­fer­en­ti­ates you?
  • Who are your cus­tomers?

Once you’ve for­malised that into a doc­u­ment, PowerPoint or nap­kin, you’ve set the di­rec­tion for scop­ing out the app.

Step 2: Scope Out Your App

The next stage in build­ing a mo­bile app is to scope it out.

You’ve likely got ex­pec­ta­tions for the app. Maybe users can log in and or­der their favourite item. Or they com­pete against each other us­ing a points sys­tem with a lo­cal and na­tional leader board. These ideas are great but do not pro­ceed with build­ing the app based on these alone.

If you do, one of two things is likely to hap­pen. Either you’ll end up with a never-end­ing pro­ject that goes on un­til you run out of bud­get, or you de­velop ver­sion one and it’s a dis­jointed ex­pe­ri­ence for users that does­n’t ac­tu­ally re­late back to your orig­i­nal strat­egy.

Most app de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies have a for­malised scop­ing process. You should hear alarm bells if they don’t, or if the process seems rushed (i.e., it’s done in a day).

There are a few arte­facts you’re look­ing to come out of the scop­ing process with. These in­clude:

  • A re­quire­ments back­log,
  • Designs/a pro­to­type,
  • Estimations (optional).

A re­quire­ments back­log is es­sen­tial. It takes those big ideas I men­tioned ear­lier and breaks them down into smaller pieces. In do­ing so, you re­move the po­ten­tial for dif­fer­ences in in­ter­pre­ta­tion. For ex­am­ple, you might come to me and say, “I want a red car.” I then give you a red ’92 Corolla, but you ac­tu­ally wanted a red Lamborghini. Being de­scrip­tive and break­ing re­quire­ments down into smaller pieces is im­por­tant.

As tal­ented as de­vel­op­ers are, there are spe­cial­ists fo­cused on cre­at­ing an amaz­ing de­sign that strongly con­sid­ers the user’s ex­pe­ri­ence. Utilise de­sign­ers at the start of the pro­ject to avoid chang­ing func­tion­al­ity down the track.

Once you have these arte­facts, you’re ready to choose your tech­nol­ogy.

Step 3: Choose Your Technology

At this stage, it’s im­por­tant to con­sider the tech­nol­ogy you’ll use to build your app. Technology is a pretty broad term but in this case, we’re specif­i­cally re­fer­ring to the tech stack and any ini­tial API in­te­gra­tions.

Your tech stack may change de­pend­ing on your app strat­egy. If you’re look­ing to lever­age plenty of na­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties and pri­ori­tise user ex­pe­ri­ence, then frame­works like Flutter or React Native may be best for your app.

If you’re only build­ing for iOS, then Swift may be a bet­ter fit. Or if you’re build­ing cross-plat­form with a web ap­pli­ca­tion (it can be used as a mo­bile app and also through browsers like Chrome/Safari), and you have a lim­ited bud­get, you may want to use cross-plat­form tech­nol­ogy like Xamarin.

While scop­ing the pro­ject you may have un­cov­ered a few dif­fer­ent sys­tems you want to in­te­grate with. For ex­am­ple, your mo­bile app has a check­out process where pay­ment is re­quired. You’ve iden­ti­fied and val­i­dated that a pay­ment gate­way like Stripe is needed, as well as Apple Pay in­te­gra­tion. These are what we call API’s (application pro­gram­ming in­ter­faces). They al­low you to lever­age func­tion­al­ity, which means you don’t have to build it your­self.

Usually, the de­vel­oper or app de­vel­op­ment com­pany will pro­vide plenty of guid­ance here. It’s still im­por­tant that you do your own re­search to en­sure that you’re happy with their rec­om­men­da­tion.

Quote reads "you might come to me and say, “I want a red car.” I then give you a red ‘92 Corolla, but you actually wanted a red Lamborghini"

Step 4: Build Your Mobile App

Building the app it­self can be tricky. Despite giv­ing it the best chance to suc­ceed with your thor­ough doc­u­men­ta­tion in steps 1 to 3, there are plenty of tech­ni­cal risks that threaten to de­rail a pro­ject.

Luckily for you, how­ever, you’re not the first per­son to build a mo­bile app. There has been a sys­temic im­prove­ment over the years with a sin­gle goal in mind - de­liver the best out­come.

During step 4 this comes down to pro­ject man­age­ment tech­niques and frame­works. The two frame­works I want to dis­cuss in more depth are Scrum and Kanban.

Both these frame­works are adap­ta­tions of the ag­ile method­ol­ogy. Scrum fo­cuses on work in­cre­ments over a fixed pe­riod. For ex­am­ple, if you were build­ing an app with a check­out process then one sprint (or it­er­a­tion) might be two weeks where the team fo­cuses on all the func­tion­al­ity around the pay­ment process. At the end of those two weeks, the work is re­leased and shown to the cus­tomer for ap­proval. That process is re­peated un­til you have the first ver­sion of your mo­bile app.

The al­ter­na­tive frame­work is Kanban. It’s far less struc­tured than scrum, which has its own ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. With Kanban all the re­quire­ments you doc­u­mented in step 2 move be­tween a state of to-do, in progress and com­plete. Kanban is fan­tas­tic for smaller pro­jects but can lack the nec­es­sary struc­ture re­quired for a larger pro­ject.

The time­line for the build process will dif­fer de­pend­ing on your mo­bile ap­p’s fea­tures and the de­vel­op­ment com­pany you’ve cho­sen. It could take a mat­ter of weeks, or it could take close to a year. At WorkingMouse, we al­ways pro­mote a first ver­sion of your app that in­cludes just enough to make learn­ings and feed those back into fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

Step 5: App Store Approvals

Once an app has been built it still needs to be ap­proved by the rel­e­vant app store. Depending on the app, this can be a for­mal­ity, or it can mean ex­tra work.

Take a guess as to which plat­form has the stricter ap­proval process.

If you guessed Apple, you’d be right.

Of course, there are guide­lines that you can (and should) fol­low dur­ing de­vel­op­ment. However, the goal­posts may be changed on you. For ex­am­ple, some of the tighter re­stric­tions around ac­cess­ing data in iOS 14.6 have meant apps have had to adapt and change.

While we’re on the sub­ject of app store ap­provals, there are mem­ber­ship fees to be aware of. The Google Play store has a one-off reg­is­tra­tion fee of $25, whereas the Apple Developer Program is an an­nual fee of $99.

Step 6: Integrate Analytics

This step should re­ally come dur­ing step 4 but it’s here as a re­minder in the event you haven’t in­te­grated any an­a­lyt­ics yet.

It’s im­por­tant to in­te­grate an­a­lyt­ics to gain a greater un­der­stand­ing of the suc­cess of your mo­bile app. Success comes in dif­fer­ent forms, whether it be the to­tal num­ber of in­stalls and ac­tive users or the way in which the ap­pli­ca­tion is used — an­a­lyt­ics tools pro­vide vis­i­bil­ity.

There are plenty on the mar­ket but it’s hard to go past Google Firebase for mo­bile apps. Implementing Firebase can be a bit tricky, so be sure to flag it with your de­vel­oper dur­ing the build process.

With Firebase you can cre­ate cus­tom events and con­ver­sions to see how users progress through your de­sired fun­nel. Alternatively, you may be more in­ter­ested in see­ing how the re­ten­tion rate has im­proved or de­te­ri­o­rated over time.

Be sure to re­view your an­a­lyt­ics on a weekly, if not daily, ba­sis. Data-driven de­ci­sion mak­ing is the key when you get to step 7.

Step 7: Iterate

Don’t make the mis­take of as­sum­ing that the soft­ware is fin­ished.

Once you launch ver­sion 1, your first job is to start col­lect­ing data to make ad­just­ments and im­prove­ments. Consider all the apps you use on a day-to-day ba­sis. How many of those haven’t changed over the last 12 months?

I re­mem­ber when Instagram im­ple­mented the sto­ries fea­ture a few years ago. At first, it seemed like a knee jerk re­ac­tion to Snapchat’s equiv­a­lent fea­ture. Why would any­one use it when the same thing ex­ists and is be­ing used within my so­cial net­work on an­other app?

Surely enough the it­er­a­tion started to pay div­i­dends. More peo­ple opted for Instagram sto­ries over Snapchat. It meant that more con­tent was con­sumed on the plat­form and ul­ti­mately, it led to a higher ac­tive user rate.

Maybe Instagram had the sto­ries func­tion­al­ity road mapped years ago. Or maybe, they took note of what was work­ing for their com­peti­tors and im­ple­mented those learn­ings. Either way, they did­n’t re­main sta­tic. The prod­uct it­er­ated and changed as its user base’s needs changed.

Keep in mind that it’s very un­likely you’ll build your en­tire back­log in the first ver­sion of your mo­bile app. Don’t get too hung up on fin­ish­ing the rest of your back­log if other re­quire­ments take pri­or­ity. Building an app is­n’t a lin­ear process so adapt and re­spond as you need. Don’t just build the func­tion­al­ity that was doc­u­mented first.

Takeaways

  • Building a suc­cess­ful mo­bile app is­n’t straight­for­ward.
  • Give your app the best chance to suc­ceed with proper doc­u­men­ta­tion at the be­gin­ning.
  • Choose the best ag­ile frame­work when build­ing your app.
  • Get early app store ap­proval if you can.
  • Make data-dri­ven de­ci­sions based on how users are en­gag­ing with your mo­bile app.
  • Don’t think that your app is fin­ished. There are al­ways it­er­a­tions to be made.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yianni Stergou

Marketing en­thu­si­ast and FIFA ex­tra­or­di­naire

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