Whether it stems from the dream of an app that doubles consumer engagement with your brand or a sales force in need of a new tool, organizations see the opportunity a mobile application holds, and they sprint toward it. More often than not, however, they trip up and follow the wrong, dark path that leads to cost overruns, lost productivity, or mobile apps that simply don’t meet user needs.
Why is that?
Often, it comes down to two major misconceptions many organizations — including many Fortune 1000 companies — have about mobile app development:
- The “check box” mentality
- The belief that organizations can attack new problems with old strengths
By breaking down these two fallacies, we can figure out how organizations can reinvent their line of thinking to develop apps that people actually want to use, and that positively impact their top and bottom lines.
Misconception #1: Organizations just need to check items off a list: When defining digital strategy, companies often start with a list of what they want — which typically includes a mobile app. These organizations then assemble working groups to discuss the potential of a new app, eventually making another list with assumptions on what that app will need (a login screen, a beautiful user interface, etc.) From there, they believe that all they must do to succeed is to check each box.
However, these organizations often come up short because their big dreams and checklists miss what’s most important: the hard details and data on what users want. As a result, the app they develop is neither great nor terrible because it’s an app thought up in board rooms and not tested in a real-life setting. To avoid this pitfall, you must start by researching, understanding, and designing for your end users, getting their feedback and input throughout every stage of the process.
Misconception #2: Organizations can attack new problems with old strengths: The old adage is generals fight old wars, and organizations are no different. When organizations decide to start app development, they think logically, and assign employees with web-development skills to a new mobile taskforce charged with creating an app across all platforms.
But you shouldn’t try to create a one-size-fits-all application. When you create a web app, you develop on one platform and maintain one project, but you don’t provide the experience users expect because it doesn’t work great on any one device. A web app is a shack; it may appear to be a good investment, because the upfront cost is cheaper, but users won’t like it and won’t use it. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s biggest mistake was building a web-based app and not developing a native app sooner.
The problem is that these web apps are built by web experts, not mobile engineers, and the all-in-one app is usually a buffet of tools with features that are just OK. Think of it this way: None of the world’s great restaurants are buffets. App development for iOS requires a certain set of skills, and Android requires another, and they’re both different from Blackberry and Windows.
The market says the answer is a native app — castles that are specifically designed for a unique platform. These native apps are built by experts specializing in a particular ecosystem, and always perform better than one-size-fits-all web apps. When you create castles, you take the time and energy to develop native apps on each device, maintaining several projects but ultimately providing your users with the experience they expect and enjoy.
The lessons of science class will help
Organizations that believe these two misconceptions succeed in simplifying the value chain, but they also alienate users; those consumers want an app that works and is designed well, and they don’t care what’s easiest for you. Many organizations avoid overspending on app development, only to create apps that aren’t used and are ultimately a waste of time and money.
Instead of falling into those traps, readjust your thinking twofold: through experimentation and focusing on building skills and teams. When organizations take action to capitalize on opportunities (a business strength) and remedy gaps (hiring specialized mobile app developers) they can develop truly useful mobile apps.
Fix #1: Experiment to see what works: Don’t wait until your app is complete to see if you guessed right on what will make your app successful. Start experimenting now, during your planning and design cycle. It’s the only way to determine what users will like. Increasing time spent in the design phase will save you time and money in the long run, because you’ll have the information you need to avoid costly mistakes later.
To better understand your users, invest in bringing a user experience researcher onto your team or hiring a UX researcher consultant. Let the user research guide your design, and continue to get feedback throughout the design phase with user testing. This is a fantastic time to conduct numerous small experiments over a short period and build an app based on your proven or failed hypotheses. These mini science projects could be just a few weeks long and focus on one part of an app. This process creates an agile environment that allows your designers to pivot as you can gain new information about user preferences and learn how to better serve your customers.
Fix #2: Diversify your app development: A single development team won’t cut it. You need experts in iOS, Android, Windows, and any other ecosystem your audience plays in. That might sound like a tall order, but you can achieve this by building up teams and skills within your organization.
For example, create a three-person team for the iOS app: two experts in iOS app development, and another programmer learning iOS development. By creating small teams like this, organizations can develop an app faster while also expanding their skills and mobile capabilities.
Use a slingshot to get app development moving
So where do organizations begin? One option is using a third party to act as a slingshot to move past the check box syndrome and encourage them to begin experimenting and building their mobile teams. This third-party company works with IT and other business leaders to spur development by accelerating the user research, decision-making, and early prepping process, and by filling in skills gaps while the company recruits and trains new hires. In other words, these outside parties enable business leaders to act fast and encourage learning through testing and failing earlier rather than later. Once this catalyst is put in place, the organization can focus its energy on continued iterative testing and app development.
When organizations strip away these misconceptions and get serious with an environment of skill building and testing different hypotheses, they can leverage mobile technology in ways that aren’t possible with web-based tools, creating delightful customer interactions and entirely transformative employee workflows.
What challenges are holding back your mobile strategy? Leave us a comment below.
About the author
Michael Sikorsky (@mjsikorsky) is the CEO and co-founder of Robots and Pencils, a mobile strategy and app development company. Launched in 2009, Robots and Pencils has since created more than 250 apps used by 77 million people worldwide and was named the 34th fastest growing technology company in North America by Deloitte.