Doing mobile well, fast and killing the competition.

Thinking about delivering a new mobile application?

A journey to the shops travelled a 100 times needs no map, however, for an adventurous trip into lands unknown we’d be wise to take our cartographic friend. But what happens when we go into truly uncharted territory where no map exists.

This is a situation that arises when conceiving a successful product such as a new mobile application. We aim to lay the foundations of how agile delivery and technology can solve this conundrum in this article.

Seeking the unknown

When sizing up a new product such as a mobile application, there are two strategies:

  1. Replicate the competition, which mostly presents known risks - features, technical, messaging and the like.
  2. Be innovative, gain a competitive edge, deliver something market-beating and be different.

Clearly the second approach is the winning formula. But how do we beat a successful path?

Moving, step-by-step

It is important to identify the opportunity that underpins the product. An extensive consultation with the eventual users (customers etc..) in a structured fashion should establish their needs and build a solid product roadmap.

But how do we put this roadmap into action and achieve that success? The short answer is: by edging carefully forward and progressing incrementally with each new version of the app - asking / testing throughout and gaining insightful feedback from the users.

This allows the product to pivot over time with unsuccessful components being snuffed out along the way. Cue stirring quotes abound from intrepid thinkers:

Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward: they may be beaten, but they may start a winning game” - Wolfgang von Goethe

Creating permanent innovation

Creating a sustainable competitive advantage over the competition, to retain (or gain) market share with a digital product, can be challenging. One can assume that given enough time, your direct competitors will mirror your advantages and chisel away at your lead.

A state of permanent innovation (or at least waves of it), must either create a wholly new product or leverage technology and behavioural ripples at the time, in order to jump ahead of the competition. For competition-beating organisations, this almost certainly takes you into uncharted waters and supports the view of progressing incrementally.

Strategies we’ve implemented to boost products include: adding viral coefficients, platform creation for intermediary businesses and testing reward mechanisms for users.

Progressing incrementally: using an iterative methodology

We need a methodology to forge ahead. You may be familiar with with “Agile” and “Lean startup thinking” - both have an ethos and represent the mantra we have discussed already. For competition beating ‘product owners’ they can be distilled down into a delivery methodology or framework, e.g. SCRUM or Kanban. These frameworks drive quality through iterative approaches made possible by business agility.

Bringing this together - agile delivery

1. Discovering the opportunity and priming the product roadmap

The process begins with identifying key user types, for example customer segments. An extensive interviewing process identifies needs and priorities for each user group. These collectively build the market-beating opportunity. This is then sliced up into a product roadmap (or backlog of features), in what is known as EPICs.


2. The first product iteration

The highest priority backlog EPICs are built and compiled into a mobile experience which can be tested with users. This experience and functionality is then tested intensively. The feedback dictates what is working. These learnings are fed back into the backlog. In future iterations we might add new EPICs, remove or amend existing ones based on the user feedback gained previously.

The agile approach with budgeted failure

So the project team is posed and key assumptions identified for successes. The roadmap is set, and we’ve broken it down, to support permanent innovation. We have created various epics in our new product - be a start-up business or an establishing business model looking to move to the front foot with new competitive advantage.

Release planning, team mobilisation and budgets conversations start. Our ‘agile-minded’ project sponsors have prepared the budget for failure.

We need sign off and the conversation between the product owner and CFO goes something like this:

© Disney (David Tomlinson in Mary Poppins) and Wikipedia

PO: “I’ve made this plan to fail. We’re trying something new here and we’ve picked an agile methodology to suit us.”

CFO: “I’m sure your guys are going to work really hard and with the utmost efficiency but you’ve got a visual designer, two mobile engineers, a tester and a SCRUM lead all posed to iterate..?”

PO: “Yup, changes will be quick and we can build something very rough each time to test with customers.

CFO: “Okay, you’ve got to find a way to half the budget for failure. Come back to me tomorrow and I’ll sign if off”

Prototyping: Enabling agility without expensive teams

Beyond Marvel and InvisionApp...

Budget is an issue - As a product owner what options do we have? Sure, two mobile engineers are expensive and they can’t work efficiently without an agile project manager.

Perhaps just the visual designer could do live prototypes with Marvel or InvisionApp (these are tools which allow us to create interactions with flat designs) to iterate with a user group?

Low fidelity mock-ups or even full visual designs in prototypes help hugely with usability testing but is this enough to chart our intrepid destination? Perhaps not - how do you test true user behaviour and workflows which depend on other people. Anecdotally customers may agree but highly usable products can still fail the behavioural test of real users.

How can we get a working version of an app into the hands of our customers to generate real insight into how they perceive the product?

Using hybrid mobile technology to prototype

You might remember PhoneGap applications with sketchy JavaScript libraries stacking on top to create all manner of memory leaks? So - they got all grown up, with some frameworks software engineers actually respect such as AngularJS (by Google) and UI frameworks such as Ionic.

Ionic is an HTML5 framework with Angular JS which uses the latest PhoneGap or Apache Cordova build to create a structured SDK (software development kit). We chose this at Byng as our preferred approach for workflow based mobile apps (i.e. not using the super graphics intensive GL based experiences). As a business this allows us to:
  • Create client’s apps cross-platform
  • Prototype fast and cost effectively to derisk product strategy
  • Share teams between web and mobile
  • Create re-use between client’s web and mobile projects

For us Ionic is serving as a production ready framework, but even before bringing the product team online, lets take a look at Creator by Ionic to turbo the creation of the user interface and get a rapid prototype released:

The handy export feature allows you to build a prototype within minutes and with the likes of Ionic Lab you can get your release out quickly to beta group tools such as Hockey App.

For the visual designers we highly recommend Sketch and Zeplin to create reusable UI inventories.

Beating competition with a low budget, #winning

So we have decided to use Ionic to rapidly prototype our app and test the iterations with the user groups. The product owner returns to the CFO and explains the following.

© Disney (David Tomlinson in Mary Poppins) and Wikipedia

PO: “Hello, I’ve carved 60% off my budget - what’s more 10% of that will give us three iterations using Ionic’s Creator.” *

CFO: “Amazing news, how about those engineering teams? Do we need to hire again?”

PO: “Nope, that’s the great bit! We can upskills team members from our Web team as Ionic uses the same technology. Also work we’ve build can be reused in their web app.”

CFO: “Fantastic, PIDs away!” (does a jig)

PO: “Score! Plus I’ve got 20% feature contingency budget.”

* come to our round table to see a worked through example of this.

Speed to market from a prototype

The Ionic approach stretches more deeply into the post-build life cycle of your mobile product with tools such as Ionic Deploy which allows you to actually do A/B testing with your product.

With a hybrid approach multi platform releases are super quick and that hidden cost of maintaining two independent code bases (iOS and Android) evaporates.

Looking to accelerate your product roadmap? Byng is a consultancy with a large amount of agile delivery and Ionic experience under our belt. Drop us a line to chat through your options to use Ionic and help you on your journey to building a robust mobile application.