A couple of weeks ago, I looked at mobile strategy and how it should play a fundamental part in the future of businesses. While developing a robust strategy will undoubtedly pay dividends and go a long way to secure relevance for the future, it’s important to be realistic about the process of acting on the strategy and making the product work for both staff and customers.
As with most technologies, the development process for a mobile product is likely to encounter issues and holdups. The difference with mobile is that, as there are limited off-the-shelf software or ready-made solutions available, as a worst-case scenario you could be faced with having to redevelop your app if you discover a fundamental flaw late in the process, which will substantially increase your costs. There are, however, ways to mitigate the outcomes of any problems which may occur:
- Keep your app or mobile site as simple as possible. Never lose sight of the fact that you are either helping users to accomplish a task or drawing attention to your brand in the most straightforward way possible. The simpler your mobile product, the less likely it is to fail. And, should the worst happen, the quicker and easier it will be to fix.
- Don’t fixate on the edge cases. In developing mobile solutions, there are often a large number of these – a combination of events or tasks the user may want or try to perform that result in unintended effects internally - and they need to be handled. These edge cases can result in a chain of functional changes that cause significant delays or big structural adjustments, and can double or even triple development costs but may only ever affect less than 1% of users. It’s easy to lose sight of why changes to the original design have been made. Make sure you revisit your original specification regularly and can justify any changes you make commercially. As a stakeholder or tester, you will inevitably use the app differently and have different priorities to the casual user – consider whether the issues which seem important to you will actually affect them.
- Set out clear parameters for testing. The mobile landscape is fragmented – particularly on the Android platform, which operates across tens if not hundreds of different handsets. You need to decide whether you will run a comprehensive testing cycle for all devices, which will ensure in advance that your product works in all circumstances but will come at a price in terms of time, resources and cost. Alternatively, you can choose to test your product on your customers’ top three or so preferred devices before launch, then deal with any bugs on other handsets as they occur, which is less thorough but quicker and cheaper to implement, and is generally acceptable to users as long as you react swiftly. Either way, you will have planned and allocated resources in advance.
- Make sure your strategy has built-in contingency plans. For example, if a function of your mobile product is proving to be too time-consuming or complex to implement, you should be able to turn to your strategy for a way of dealing with this – either planning in extra time or allowing for it to be left out of the process. Your strategy should also specify where your business is willing to make compromises, whether they are technical, financial or brand-based. Establishing levels of tolerance and areas of compromise in advance will save time and money should any issues occur, as you will have already mapped out a clear plan of action.
- The mobile market is not static – it is continually adapting and evolving. This means that there are no ‘safe options’ when it comes to development – what works in your testing environment today may not work in the real world tomorrow. New platforms, handsets and mobile devices will be launched in the time it takes you to prepare your mobile product, all with different specs and standards. And your chosen platform may well have issued a new version by the time you’re ready to go public. All these factors are out of your control – part of your strategy should be to accept that some aspects of your mobile product development process will have to be revisited and amended retrospectively. You should also plan for regular reviews and updates of the market as a whole and your product in particular, to ensure that it continues to be fit for purpose.
Put simply, mobile development needs to be every bit as agile, flexible and responsive as the mobile market itself. Provided it is anchored in purpose and reality by a solid strategy, the process should be able to weather any storm and overcome any issue.