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The seven habits of highly effective app development

In his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen R Covey presents an approach to achieving personal goals by aligning with principles that are universal and timeless. Matt Hatch, CEO of leading mobile application solutions company Mubaloo, describes how the same ‘Seven Habits’ can be applied to the development of ‘highly effective’ mobile applications.

The success of a business application is not measured by how great it looks or its original user interface, but by whether it meets the business objectives of the client. The following principles maximize the likelihood of developing highly effective applications for business customers.

Habit 1: be proactive

The companies that shape the mobile app industry need to stay ahead. In many cases, business customers are at the beginning of their mobile journey and beginning to realize the capabilities of the smartphone as a business platform. Developers must innovate and invest in a wide range of new skills and technologies to enable the client to take full advantage of these opportunities. Companies like Mubaloo must offer expertise on virtually all mobile platforms including iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows 7, Blackberry, Bada, Symbian, and Web.

Application solution companies must take the lead and continue to innovate, complementing raw performance and functionality with advanced technologies like 3D graphics and augmented reality (AR). Having the confidence to offer up-front conception and design help separates the application solutions company from the basic application developer, allowing the customer to embrace and harness the power of the mobile platform.

Habit 2. Begin with the end in mind

The next step is to establish the final objectives of the application. Goals may include brand awareness, access to information, extension of existing services, and revenue generation. It’s important to establish the desired user experience before diving into app creation, which enthusiast developers tend to do. Time must be taken to determine the ideal characteristics and the analyzes that will allow success to be measured. This takes the form of open brainstorming followed by a structured business analysis, narrowing down options before final decisions are made. Aids for this part of the process include screenshots and rapid prototyping, allowing the customer to see samples of the finished application before embarking on construction.

Habit 3: Put first things first

The next stage is to plan and prioritize the project tasks. Mubaloo, for example, has established a structured 5S approach to engage with the customer and obtain the optimal specification. These are:

• Strategy: what do we want to achieve and how will we measure its success?

• Scope – Develop a concise brief containing business and user requirements, target platforms, functionality, budget, and timelines.

• Structure: detailing the information architecture (IA) and the user journey

• Skeleton: development of the functional structure of the complete application through wire-framing

• Surface: development of Technical, Design and Quality Assurance (QA) specifications.

The client can decide the entry point of the commitment; from the initial concept (strategy and scope), through the delivery of a detailed specification (structure and skeleton), to the technical and design details (surface).

Habit 4: think win-win

The ideal partnership results in a great app for the customer and a testimonial for the developer. In a nascent market there are few benchmarks. A developer with a portfolio of successful apps, satisfied customers, and high app store ratings provides that benchmark and gives trust to both parties.

Applications that are well specified can be delivered on time, on budget, and meet business objectives for both parties, which in many cases leads to a long-term relationship. When it comes to ROI, there are many ways to measure the effectiveness of an app. A good developer integrates analytical tools that allow the client to measure success in terms of number of users, satisfaction and ROI. It is also important for the developer to manage customer expectations. While the app has the potential to transform certain businesses, in many cases it is a tool that complements existing sales systems and channels.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand and then to be understood

The partnership must be greater than the sum of its parts. Even if the developer has already prepared some great ideas, the first thing he should do is listen to the customer’s requirements and seek a better understanding of the business priorities. The client should also be open-minded, especially if the developer has worked with similar clients and can also bring ideas and concepts from other market segments. In general, the customer experience will be narrow and deep, while the developer will have a wide range of case studies to draw from.

Habit 6: Synergize

As with the previous two habits, it’s important to recognize that the mobile app journey is a partnership between developer and customer, combining the strengths of both parties. It is rarely the case that the client blindly spends a brief ‘over the wall’ and then receives an application that meets their objectives. The client knows his business and what he needs, but to achieve the final application it is essential that the strengths of both parties are used to the full.

A true app solutions company combines a range of skills beyond the software development team, including a UI design team that specializes in a wide range of mobile platforms; business analysts who work with the client to obtain the optimal mobile experience; project managers who ensure that the application is developed on time, according to specifications and on budget; QA professionals draw up the test plan and implement tracking tools that the customer can share to monitor and use. Professional mobile app companies align with the client, working together to make the app solution a success.

Habit 7: Sharpen the saw

The circle is complete with the continuous improvement necessary to create long-term sustainable business relationships and continue to develop great apps. A good carpenter spends time sharpening his tools for the next day’s work. Similarly, a leading app company must continually fine-tune processes, invest in new cross-platform skills, forge fresh insights into user experience, and continue to innovate in a rapidly changing marketplace.

In the embryonic mobile app market, successful companies will be those that guide their customers through the hype curve (Gartner ref), managing expectations through mutual understanding of platform capabilities; avoid disappointment by ensuring that objectives are clear, achievable and measurable; and accelerate the customer journey to lighting, where exciting new mobile technologies open up a whole new realm of business opportunity

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