Beyond Code: a Holistic Approach to Agile App Development
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Successful mobile app development requires more than just coding and design knowledge. While extensive coding knowledge may make a product technically sound, successful app development is reliant on the value it offers its users. Mobile app development must follow a process that encompasses strategy, development, QA, delivery, and continuous maintenance to ensure a product’s ongoing success. Combined, these aspects are part of Clearbridge Mobile’s custom agile app development process, which is designed to deliver great mobile products with low risk and high predictability. 

 

This post will provide a high-level overview of our approach to mobile app development, demonstrating how considerations for a more holistic process can greatly benefit the quality of a mobile product and its ability to succeed in the marketplace. 

 

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How Our Process Works 

At its core, the Clearbridge process is designed to take a client’s vision and make it a reality. Typically, a preliminary product vision is vague and nonspecific, so Clearbridge provides rigorous product definition, strategy consultation, and product road-mapping to create an actionable plan for the design, development, and delivery of the product. 

 

agile software development process

Product Definition

Product definition focuses on determining the goals of the product, mapping business objectives, market and competitor research, and creating a mobile strategy. Businesses looking to work with Clearbridge can expect to kick off their project with an intensive design thinking session that zeros in on product definition with a clear set of goals including: 

 

  • Determine the purpose of the mobile product and how it aligns with business goals
  • Define business outcomes 
  • Identify market viability through competitive research 
  • Create user personas rooted in extensive user research
  • Communicate and justify a product’s concept with user journeys, wireframes, and mockups
  • Create and prioritize a scalable product roadmap
  • Enter the market quickly with the most impactful and useful features 

Typically, these design thinking sessions fully define the scope of a brand new mobile app; however, practicing design thinking also carries many benefits for reimagining, rebuilding, and expanding existing mobile apps. In some cases (and for many reasons), mobile apps don’t always perform as expected and businesses need to continually revisit mobile strategies to effectively reach product goals. In these cases, the product definition stage of a project helps businesses: 

 

  • Reorganize existing mobile product strategies to better align with business goals 
  • Outline a clear vision of how the product will scale 
  • Develop an app analytics strategy 
  • Validate market opportunity
  • Realign product features with user needs based on research and not assumptions
  • Continue to define a user retention strategy and opportunities for long-term growth

At the end of this process, we provide a set of deliverables that include the user journey, user personas, storyboard, wireframes/sketches, and a visual app prototype. 

 

These sessions work to set the tone and priority of the delivery schedule for the project; ensures we have a solid foundation to build a successful, marketable product; and allows teams to make the decisions necessary to deliver a great product.

User Experience (UX) Design 

Clearbridge’s entire design process focuses on the end-user. All decisions are made with the user in mind, which is why mapping out user personas during product definitions is so critical. Understanding the user and their needs helps inform design decisions so the final product has a pleasurable and intuitive UX design. 

 

The key to designing great mobile products is not only to make them aesthetically pleasing but most importantly, designing the product to be usable with a seamless user experience. From product definition, Clearbridge is able to take the discoveries and research insights and apply them visually through a process of ideation, prototyping, and styling. 

 

 

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Agile App Development Process

Our custom app development process combines elements of various agile philosophies that allow us to create great apps, minimize downtime, reduce risk, and maintain predictable project velocity. The central tenets of our development process are described below.

Flexible, Squad-Based Development

 

 

Flexibility is an integral aspect of the agile methodology in theory, but not always in practice. Having flexibility is important because it allows you to shift and adapt to changing circumstances and project needs without affecting project velocity. The reason why so many teams struggle with it is that it needs to be instilled directly into the development process, which is no easy feat.

 

At Clearbridge, the structure of our development team and the processes we follow are designed to provide flexibility. We develop using squads; small cross-functional teams that plan together, share knowledge, complete code reviews, and have a known maximum capacity that allows us to scale up or down within that capacity based on project needs. There are a number of advantages to using this approach: knowledge transfer is seamless, development cycles are faster, downtime is reduced, and there is an overall reduction in project risk.

Rolling-Wave Planning 

Rolling-wave planning involves delaying product decisions until the team has enough knowledge to make them. This approach may seem counterintuitive, but it actually reduces waste that results from having to draft detailed plans upfront, and then re-plan as the product progresses and requirements change. As a result, teams remain flexible and adapt easily, which mitigates scope creep and budgetary risks. 

 

The practice of rolling-wave planning puts product teams in the best position to analyze, understand, and act upon knowledge gained from developing the product. In the Clearbridge agile app development process, clients see a product demo after every sprint, which allows them to review each increment and evolve, adapt, or pivot without wasting money or impacting project velocity. 

 

 

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Short Iterations (Sprints)

Sprints are a common agile development concept that involves short development iterations: in our case, 2 weeks. The purpose of sprints is to accelerate development and divide projects up into smaller, attainable goals that can be accomplished within certain timeframes. For example, developers will focus on building out a certain feature or closing out a certain number of tickets within the two-week timeframe, rather than trying to aim to complete an entire app by a certain date. This way, teams are more productive, time estimations are more accurate, and you don’t waste time or money in the event that products pivot or business objectives shift.

Story Points & Predictable Project Velocity

We plan and estimate capacity based on story points. Stories are small units that describe a feature from a user perspective. We assign values to each story using a points system that measures its complexity; the more complex the story is, the more story points it is given.

 

Squad capacity is also defined in story points. In other words, we know a squad has a maximum of, for example, 25 story points per sprint. This judgment is based on the past projects we’ve done that have allowed us to determine a consistent number of story points we’ve been able to get through in sprints from prior projects. This system allows us to more accurately estimate the time it will take to complete work and maintain project velocity. 

Quality Assurance

Quality assurance serves the simple function of keeping bugs out of the final product. QA at Clearbridge is integrated with development throughout the project lifecycle, which helps reduce delays and bottlenecks and ensures that defects are corrected as they are discovered. 

 

We use a combination of testing practices including cross-developer verification (code reviews and unit testing) and have a dedicated product team that handles client verification. Additionally, we use a continuous integration system that compiles projects, checks for errors, and distributes the app to the product team for testing.

 

 

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Delivery

When the application is ready to be published, we also handle the submission process to the appropriate app stores. For iOS, in particular, this is an important yet overlooked phase that many don’t consider in project timelines, but definitely should. If done incorrectly, having your app accepted into the App Store can take up to a week, in some cases longer if the submission is rejected.

 

At Clearbridge, we have a product release manager that assembles all the assets, optimizes your app listing, and completes the submission process according to the guidelines of the appropriate app store. 

The Takeaway 

Ultimately, looking at your mobile project beyond the scope of development is important to creating a better, more successful product. While from a technical and design perspective, it needs to be sound, you should also need a corresponding mobile strategy, a clear value proposition, an understanding of your users, and a process for testing and delivery. Taking this holistic approach is what could be the difference between failure and success in the highly competitive app ecosystem.

 

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