On Making Dreams Real Part II – A Methodology for App Building

June 26, 2018

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER

 

It’s easy to forget to apps as we know them didn’t exist a decade ago. The Apple App Store in the summer of 2008 hosted a grand total of 500 apps, and Super Monkey Ball was the master of downloads.

Now the fully formed app ecosphere is teaming with everything you can imagine and many things you can’t. As a result, people are spending more and more time inside apps. In 2018, Mary Meeker reported that U.S. adults spend 29 percent (and rising) of their time on mobile, second only to TV, which remains at 36 percent and falling.

The system is so effective that apps have now expanded beyond the homes on smartphones and watches to settle new territory on laptops, TVs, appliances, connected cars and IoT controllers.

Whatever dream you have, it makes sense to address your app strategy at some point. When we came together at Tangelo to brainstorm ways to fight for equality, amplify the messages of resistance, and enact positive change in the world, we agreed that one of the best ways to accomplish these goals was by giving people a stronger voice using the WalkWoke App.

Here are a few lessons we learned in that process, along with some best practices we recommend to light the way when you are ready to embark your own app-building journey.

Step 1: Warm Up Your Metaphor Skills

The essential metaphor of your app will be the driving force of adoption and user growth by referrals. People will need to explain it to their friends in a way that is memorable and makes sense intuitively.

Metaphor building is a muscle and you may need to work out a bit to make one strong enough to carry your app to featured status in the app store or to be profiled on tech blogs.

Start from the MVP or MSP. In our earlier blog, we discussed how to go from concept to minimum viable product (MVP) and from there to minimum sellable product (MSP).

Never be afraid to abandon an idea if you can’t find a metaphor that sticks to it. It may be because the metaphor makes it clear that your app won’t solve the problem you have identified, or the problem isn’t significant enough to enough people.

Ciara Byrne, machine learning expert and app builder, advised that very early in the process you should consider the implications of impact vs scale. Do you want to solve a smaller problem for a large number of people or solve a specific and significant problem for a small group?

The example she gave of the former was a very successful app that handled all the preliminary stages of food stamp applications so people didn’t have to stand in line for hours at the local office. She wrote, “When you lose a day’s work or have to get a babysitter to watch your kids in order to apply, that really makes a difference.”

Step 2: Lay Out Your Development Roadmap

A good rule of thumb is to plan for around 18 months for development process, leaving enough time for feedback, testing, and iterative improvements.

Perfect a modest collection of features before you start adding more. You want to keep utility in mind but you also have to work hard to build user trust by not letting them down.

Keep a document in plain view that details your vision of what you want the app to grow into over time. Your development team will refer to this often as they improve performance and strategic add features.

Step 3: Assemble the Team and the Tools

Your team will evolve and grow to fit the functions of the app, but it will be extremely valuable along the way to find talent that can fill the roles of:

  • A project manager who is responsible for budgets and timelines
  • A strategist who is not bogged down in project details
  • Software architect and mobile developers (at least 1 backend, 1 test engineer, and 1 system administrator)
  • One to two designers for user experience (UX) and user interface (UI)
  • More than one quality assurance engineer
  • A group of testing engineers or non-technical testers using automation

This is also the time to start thinking about monetization and how that will impact the makeup of your team. The most common monetization methods in use now are:

  • Ad-supported – many apps start out free and only accept ads after a reaching a target user base
  • Free with in-app purchases – this comes with its own set of legal risks
  • Subscriptions – this is the preferred model for B2B and enterprise apps
  • Freemium to premium – giving users a free version with limited functions and options for upgrades
  • White labeling – finding sponsors to pay to brand the app as their own

In terms of tools, you can find many ready-build modules with high-level technical design using various tech stacks at:

This step takes you through the end of development, and but you will need to build resource capacity for the serious work ahead, including with alpha testing, beta testing and post-launch monitoring.

Step 4: Enter the Trial by Fire

You will often hear project teams estimate 60/40 in comparing development time to testing time, but it’s not unusual for testing to run much longer, especially when you are new to app building. Agile methodology simplifies communication and goal alignment, which are two of the most common problem areas in development and testing. Learn more about agile, and then make sure the entire team is clear on tasks, timelines and goals.

Testing phases (completed by automation and non-developers) are often broken down into:

  • Functional testing – Identify actions and desired app behavior to ensure features work as identified in requirements.
  • Usability and user acceptance testing – Ensure features are intuitive and user friendly.
  • Performance testing – Test the app's speed to perform tasks.
  • Regression testing – Include retesting of prior sprint functionality at the end of each sprint.
  • Device specific testing – Ensure the app works on various OS versions and screen sizes.

Before each new development sprint to correct errors or code in enhancements, conduct an unflinchingly honest appraisal of what worked and what didn’t with your team.

Step 5: Launch and Update

Too many companies perfect the development and testing of the app, only to neglect the marketing. Securing a place in the app store will not be enough. Marketing campaigns have to be crafted well in advance of launch. Even a soft launch needs supporting social proof and clear documentation. At the same time, on the backend your team will need to deploy the web server to a scalable production environment that’s configured the server to handle data transfer to and from the app. Make sure it is scalable enough to handle traffic spikes without overloading your network.

The final piece is to continue monitoring how your app reacts to the real world while keeping your development team on track with updates to address bugs, improve performance and slowly introduce high-priority features. Read all your reviews and engage with reviewers, especially those who came away frustrated. Your harshest critics often turn out to be your strongest supporters.

Ideas That Make a Difference

Over this two-part series on dream-building, we’ve walked a fine line between cheerleading and reality testing. Dreams tend to wither without encouragement and support, but not all dreams have to leave the dreamworld to achieve their goals. In fact, selecting the dream you want to pursue is the most critical skill you can develop in the emerging makerspace world where it is increasingly easy to bring all kinds of concepts into reality. The eminent philosopher and teacher Émile Chartier (under the pen name Alain) warned, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it's the only one we have.”

Dream wisely and then seek out people who share your vision of the future. Here’s one last quote to help keep you motivated and energized no matter what you encounter on the journey ahead, this one by anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER
STARTUPS, TECH STARTUPS, DIGITAL DISRUPTION, MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT