WAIT! 14 Things to Consider Before Building a Mobile App

“It’s just a mobile app. How difficult can it be?”

Sadly, this is the mindset many companies take toward mobile app development. Especially when they already possess (or are working with) teams of skilled software engineers. They assume the differences are merely technical and easily overcome.

These companies jump into mobile development without fully understanding what they’re getting into.Not surprisingly, these projects often fail.

They fail for a variety of reasons. Some don’t understand the market. Some don’t deliver what their customers want. Some aren’t quick enough. Some never master the technologies. Some run out of patience or funding.

If you’re building a commercial software app, you can’t afford any of these failures. You need a return on your investment.

You need a mobile app that hits your target market squarely and is designed to sell. Which means you need to know exactly what you’re getting into before you write a line of code.

I started Ascendle because I saw (and experienced) first-hand the problems companies were facing with mobile development. Now we help clients navigate that mobile landscape every day.

So here are 14 things to consider before you start building a commercial software app of your own:

1. Does your team have the right skills for the job?

A successful commercial development team needs the right blend of business and engineering skills. Too many developers focus on the technical and miss what matters most. Or they underestimate the unique challenges of the mobile development market. We’ve compiled a list of recommended skills for your development team to help with that.

2. Do you have 3rd party resources you can rely on?

Very few companies can “go it alone” when it comes to mobile development. Even fewer get it right. That’s why working with a reliable 3rd party mobile developer can make all the difference. Outside opinions and feedback can help you stay objective and focused on the right things. And you never know when you might need extra capacity, even if you’re building your app in-house.

3. Do you have the right leadership?

Is your executive team ready and willing to support mobile development? Does that support extend downward through your organization? Agile methods don’t work well under traditional authoritarian hierarchies. They work much better with empowered, cross-functional, self-managed teams. This can be a huge challenge, especially for older, established companies. Check out our latest webinar, The 3 Secrets to Delivering a Commercial Mobile App in 4 Months, for more on how to adopt the right leadership alignment.

4. Does it fit with your overall marketing and brand strategy?

Does your mobile app idea make sense for your core business? You want your app to tie in with everything else you’re doing. You want synergies with your existing marketing and brand strategies. Also, are you prepared to invest in additional marketing for your app once it’s produced?

5. What does the competition look like?

As in any business venture, you need to do a thorough analysis of your competition and their mobile presence. This includes direct competitors in your industry, as well as indirect competitors you might face in the mobile marketplace. You need to know all this so you can differentiate your position in some meaningful way.

6. How will the app benefit users?

Seems obvious, but this is all too often overlooked in the planning stages. You might think your app is a great idea. And you might even be able to convince another company to buy it. But if users don’t like it, or won’t use it, your app will die. So right up front, you need a value statement for users that might be quite different from your value statement to customers.

7. Is your app idea worth investing in?

A commercial software app represents a significant investment over time. As such, it needs to provide a significant expected return. So how will your app create new value? What’s the estimated impact to your bottom-line?

8. Can your organization support Agile development?

Some companies are simply not set up to succeed with Agile. Whether it’s the philosophy of the leadership team, the structural processes in place, or the mindset of the project teams. A shift to Agile might require changes in your culture as well as time and training that you’re not ready to invest in. Make sure you’re willing to make that shift before starting a mobile project.

9. Are you using the right framework?

Agile methods work, but only if you adopt the right processes when implementing them. Scrum is that framework. Scrum provides the daily structure and processes that, quite simply, makes Agile development shine. For more in-depth detail, watch our free webinar on how Scrum drives business results.

10. Are you developing cross-platform?

One of the biggest questions we get is: which platform should I develop for? Ascendle’s answer is:all of them. To learn more about why cross-platform is the only way to go these days — and what tool we use to accomplish it — check out this article on avoiding the one-trick pony.

11. What will it cost to build?

Estimating your costs is one of the most important pieces of information when assessing a commercial software app. Yet most companies make up unreliable estimates based on their past experiences rather than diving in deep to the project at hand. Here’s a list of the top 10 points where companies fail in their mobile app estimates.

12. What will it cost to maintain, support and update it later?

You need to consider what “build” means to you — and when a mobile app ceases to be “built” and starts being “updated.” This might sound like semantics, but depending on the resources employed, it can make a huge difference in the cost of your app over time. Because building a commercial app is just the beginning. Maintaining, supporting, and updating an app are just as important to its success as building it right in the first place.

13. What’s the MVP?

Most people think that a good long-term vision is the key to success in business. And that’s true — in the long-term. The trouble with commercial app development is that if you focus too much on the long-term you’ll never get there. You need to start thinking and planning out short-term successes, too. You need to identify a minimum viable product and focus squarely on that.

14. Is there a “wow” factor for your customers?

Users are jaded when it comes to mobile apps. Sometimes even being useful is not enough. So if you want them to actually use a commercial app, you’ll need to give them something special. What makes your app unique? How can you push the envelope, use new technologies, or create industry leadership? Better yet… what makes them say “wow” when they use it?

Are You Ready to Build It?

So have you considered all 14 of these factors?

These are areas where, in my experience, most companies either drop the ball or underestimate the complexities. These are the areas where most companies invite failure into their commercial app projects.

Follow these guidelines and make sure you won’t be one of those companies. And if you want an expert opinion, or need commercial software help, Ascendle always offers a free consultation.

Dave Todaro has spent the last 30+ years designing and building mission-critical software applications in a variety of leadership roles. He is President and COO of Ascendle, a contract software engineering firm specializing in creating commercial-grade custom mobile and web applications.

This article was previously published on the Ascendle blog.