Resource type: Blog

How to successfully manage an app development project

Developing an AppThe term app is short for “Application Software” and the growth of mobile apps has been one of the most exciting developments in communications over the last decade.

This has gone hand in hand with the growth of smartphones, which are now used by 81% of UK adults. The rapid worldwide success achieved by famous names such as Snapchat and Uber has changed consumer behaviour and created massive growth for their creators.

Today we use mobile apps for all kinds of activities, including mobile banking, reading the news, online shopping, checking the weather, playing games and much more. As well as being a profit earner in their own right, apps can help to boost online visits to your website, generate more online transactions and build brand loyalty for your business.

While developing any app takes time and money, this is an area where even small operators can access this global market, provided they have an innovative idea that really captures their target market’s imagination.

Before going down the route of app development, it is important to review your existing website and make sure that it is operating to its full potential. If you create a responsive website that offers a rich user experience on mobile phones, it may be able to deliver many of your business objectives. A good responsive website will be quicker and cheaper to develop, easier to update, and available to anyone with an internet connection. It will also improve your company’s search results on the leading search engines like Google.

If you do decide to develop an app for your business, the market and the technology can appear daunting to the newcomer, but there are a series of key steps that are common to any app development project. If you follow these, you will be giving your project the best chance of success.

The starting point must be your understanding of your target customer and what their needs are. You must have a clear idea of how your app will make their lives easier, better or more enjoyable. Is there a day to day problem that your app will solve for people? Will it save them a lot of time and effort? Remember that most smartphone users only have 20-30 apps that they will use regularly. For your app to get on their radar, it must offer them a real and compelling benefit.

If you have identified an opening in the market that you believe has real potential, you must also take a step back and consider: is an app the best way of delivering this benefit to my customers? It is worth taking time to consider any alternative solutions that might be viable, before you set off down the path of app development.

Always go into the project with an awareness of the pros and cons of app development. A successful app can generate new profits in its own right, be a great marketing and promotional tool for your business, and enable you to tap into a huge potential market. But you should also be aware that it will take significant time and funds to develop, that getting your app noticed among the millions that are now available is no mean feat, and that it may need to work across a number of different operating systems.

The two main operating systems for apps are iOS (owned by Apple and used for apps sold through the Apple App Store) and Android (owned by Google and used for apps available through the Google Play Store). Together, these two operating systems are used on over 90% of the smartphones in the UK. They each have their own rules and procedures about how apps are designed and made available to their users.

Apps designed to work on a particular operating system are called ‘native apps’ and they generally offer the best user experience. However, there are alternatives. ‘Web-based apps’ are created using HTML and run via an internet connection. ‘Hybrid apps’ have the basic shell of a native app, but are supplemented by feeds from a website, making them less expensive to deploy across different operating systems.

So the most important early decision you will need to make is which format to opt for. (For example, if your app can work perfectly well as a web-based app, then you will be able to reach a big audience at a lower cost.) This decision needs to be driven by your understanding of your target customer and their needs. You may need input from an experienced web developer to help with your choice.

Then you need to create a very clear brief for your web developer that sets out the goals you are trying to achieve with your app, the target customer, the budget and timings for the project, and the key functions that you need your app to perform. Make sure your developer agrees to show you prototypes at each stage of development, so you can be sure that your app is evolving in the way that you intend.

Have a clear financial plan on how you will make money from your app. Consumers today are less willing to pay upfront fees for an app. So you need to explore all the options for making money, including subscription based apps, in app sales (e.g. paying a premium for extra features), or generating revenue by selling advertising space on your app.

The final key to success is having a strategy for promoting your app to your target audience, and you need a plan and a budget for this that is as carefully considered as that for the app itself. As well as your normal methods of communicating with your customers, social media provides great opportunities to spread word of mouth and recommendations about your app. You can also consider Cost Per Install Advertising (CPI), which places digital ads where you only pay for those people who go on to install your app.

For more information on App Development read our guide: How to Develop your Own App.

Read how Cornish business PFA Research developed an app to support their work: PFA Research Case Study.

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