Mobile developers must balance priorities – and expect failures

mobile phone

Producing a successful mobile application rarely, if ever, goes precisely according to plan. Mobile developers frequently face problems throughout the app development cycle, and failure to address these issues could lead to significant delays.

For example, Ben Lee, CEO of Los Angeles-based mobile developer Neon Roots, told FierceDeveloper that his company recently encountered issues with the initial beta release of a mobile game.

"One of our main goals was to launch fast and get [the mobile game] to users as soon as possible," he said. "By about our third [development] sprint, we realized that we weren't on track to hit our target launch date."

Lee noted Neon Roots performed extensive "backlog grooming," i.e., the process of removing features from the initial launch and putting them on a "backlog" of items to add later, to accelerate the app development cycle. However, Lee said that there was still plenty of work ahead if his company wanted to hit its target release date.

"We knew that hitting our release date meant we had to groom more aggressively," he said.

Ultimately, Neon Roots chose to remove features from the mobile title to ensure the project could stay on schedule.

"We ended up letting go of some features that, at first, we thought were really critical to the function of the game, but we found that the game worked fine without them and they weren't necessary for the initial launch," Lee said. "Cutting those features out let us stay on track and hit our launch date, which gave us user feedback earlier in the process."

In many instances, mobile developers face tight deadlines. At the same time, these developers often receive client requests to incorporate many features into an app and ensure it performs seamlessly after the initial launch.

Mobile developers must weigh priorities to produce engaging, state-of-the-art apps that meet a client's needs without sacrificing app features and functionality. Many developers struggle to find the right balance between producing a flawless app and achieving a client's goals on schedule, leading to failures during the app development cycle.

Several mobile developers have offered recommendations to help their peers avoid these failures – here are three tips to help mobile developers streamline the app development cycle. 

1. Accept failures as part of the app development cycle.

Ben Dolmar, mobile technology manager at Minneapolis-based app developer The Nerdery, said he believes mobile developers must be ready to deal with problems throughout the app development cycle. By doing so, these developers will be better equipped to understand the root cause of a problem, resolve the issue and work toward producing the best app possible.

"Problems are a standard part of development," Dolmar told FierceDeveloper. "My advice to a developer who encounters a seemingly intractable problem is to step away from the code and start talking through the specific problem."

Furthermore, Lee said mobile developers need to accept that an initial release may be far from perfect, and bugs and errors can be repaired as needed.

"I think I'd just always stress that if your first release doesn't have any bugs, then that's a problem," he said. "It's important to have ideas for all the bells and whistles you're going to add, but when deciding on a backlog for the [first version], really be merciless about grooming off anything that isn't vital to the core function of the app. Build lean, launch early and iterate – those three steps go a long way, and it's important to take the first one to heart."

2. Educate clients about the app development cycle.

Sarat Pediredla, CEO of technology consultancy hedgehog lab, told FierceDeveloper that he believes mobile developers have a responsibility to teach clients about the complexities and challenges of app development.

He also noted that mobile developers who dedicate the time and resources to educate clients can minimize the risk of failures during the app development cycle.

"While app development gets increasingly popular, there is still very little education in the wider business world about what good apps cost or how long they take to build," Pediredla said. "Timescales are a continuous challenge with app developers being subjected to very aggressive deadlines."

3. Leverage mobile app analytics early in the development cycle.

Adam Fingerman, co-founder of San Francisco-based app developer ArcTouch, said that neglecting mobile app analytics was a problem for his company in the past.

To overcome this challenge, ArcTouch now integrates analytics into every project's upfront strategy, according to Fingerman. This enables ArcTouch to help its clients define key performance indicators, establish return on investment targets and capture insights to optimize an app over an extended period of time, Fingerman said. He also noted that an agile development process can provide mobile developers with the flexibility they need to overcome failures.

"We use two-week sprints, and during the course of those sprints, we'll often encounter a surprise or maybe even make a mistake. But at the end of the sprint, it's easy to reassess or course-correct without disrupting the whole project," he said.