8 Tips for Leading a Mobile Development Team to Success

You’re probably aware: there’s a pretty big failure rate on mobile development projects out there.

But did you know how big?

IBM does. In their recent report, Star qualities: What it takes for mobile development projects to succeed, IBM indicates that fully two-third of all such projects fail. Specifically: “two-thirds of mobile application development projects fail to fully achieve budget, schedule, and project objectives.”

That’s a big risk to take when planning out your mobile development. Too big, in fact.

You need to minimize risks like that when it comes to your own company. So you need to ask yourself:

Why do these mobile projects fail?

And, perhaps even more importantly: how can you make sure that your mobile development projects are in that successful one-third group?

In this article, I’m going to give you 8 tips I’ve learned from my years of experience in the mobile development industry … tips to help you lead your mobile application development teams to success.

1. Study What It Takes to be an Effective Leader

You’re not leading technology. You’re leading people. So first and foremost, an effective leader needs to focus on the people, not the programming.

In a Huffington Post article entitled Effective Leaders Build Success-Driven Teams: Lead With Three C’s, author Shanna B. Van Ness talks about the three C’s of effective leaders:

  • Collaborate – Don’t Dictate
  • Cooperate – Don’t Rely on Authority
  • Coordinate – Don’t Confuse

In my own experience, this fits perfectly with a modern project methodology like Scrum. The Scrum process empowers team members to collaborate and make their own decisions. And unlike the traditional, authoritarian style of a project manager, the ScrumMaster facilitates cooperation between members and gives support rather than directing others.

2. Believe in Cross-Functional Development

I’ve seen plenty of companies give lip-service to cross-functional development, but never follow through. They bring in the business folks to help plan the project out, then let them fade back into the woodwork while the software engineers do their thing.

You want tips on how to lead a successful mobile project? Here’s an important one.

Start by assembling a truly cross-functional team. The Scrum methodology offers a perfect roadmap for this because Scrum thrives on the cross-functional model. To see how Scrum transforms the way teams work together, download our slide deck on how to Improve your Team’s Efficiency and Drive Results with Scrum.

Want another opinion? 60% of the successful companies in the IBM study followed workgroup models where engineers collaborated closely with the business and end-users.

3. Provide a Supportive Team Environment

A key component of Scrum project teams is that everyone’s voice is equal. There are no “stars” and “co-stars” – and certainly no “extras.” Each member of the team is more productive because they feel like they’re important to the project’s success.

In his Forbes article, 6 Ways Successful Teams Are Built To Last, Glenn Llopis shares six common themes that contribute to a team’s long-term success:

  • Be Aware of How You Work
  • Get to Know the Rest of the Team
  • Clearly Define Roles & Responsibilities
  • Be Proactive With Feedback
  • Acknowledge and Reward
  • Always Celebrate Success

Keep in mind that these are success points for all team environments, not just software development. But this is one reason why I believe Scrum is so useful: it enables and encourages all of those points.

4. Agree on Development Methodologies, Frameworks, and Platforms

Setting these expectations at the outset of any project is extremely important.

I recommend using Agile methodologies for all mobile app development, and implementing Scrum as your framework for doing so. At Ascendle, we use Xamarin for our development platform. This allows us to build cross-platform applications compiled to native source code.

According to IBM’s research, adopting a mobile app development platform like Xamarin contributed to 46% of successful mobile application projects – making it 31% more likely to succeed when using one.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Why waste time building something from scratch if you don’t need to? Customizing applications to specific business needs is a much more efficient use of your time.

The best software development teams rely heavily on pre-built cloud services and components. These components can be swapped in and out of other projects as needed, often with no more than minor customizations each time. The result? More reliable mobile applications which are faster to market.

In addition, experienced software developers continue to build their own libraries of code, giving them a wider array of pre-built components and services to draw from.

Making use of pre-built cloud services and components was a best practice from 67% of IBM’s successful teams. Which, of all the factors they looked at, made it the #1 indicator of success.

6. Controlled Flexibility

One of the biggest challenges in software development has always been the “slippery scope.” Project scopes were set first, then teams were built around them, and then production began along linear pathways that would ultimately deliver a “final” product.

The problem? Business leaders almost always wanted to change the scope partway through. Business and competitive forces, shifting company priorities, or even just seeing the work in progress would lead to new wants and needs.

Agile development changes all that. Instead dreading the next wave of changing priorities from your business stakeholders, you relish it. Why? Because instead of worrying about one huge final product, you’re focused on delivering a single feature – or bit of functionality – during a short-term “sprint.” These sprints can be as short as two weeks in length. Not months, not years … weeks.

This virtually eliminates the “slippery scope” problems. During a sprint, the goal is locked in and no changes are made. But it’s only two weeks. Between sprints, you’ll ask for – and even encourage – your business stakeholders to evaluate the remaining tasks and reprioritize as needed.

The controlled flexibility of Agile lets you adapt with the changing needs of your business without undermining the development team’s efforts.

7. Minimize Distractions

Recognize there’s a time and place for everything. That’s one thing Scrum does very well, when implemented properly.

Managers and stakeholders should absolutely be involved in setting the team’s goals and priorities. But they should never tell your team how to build. Or how long it should take. That’s what your empowered cross-functional teams are for. As a leader, you need to make sure other managers understand this and eliminate these kinds of distractions and frustrations for your team.

When a sprint is “on,” let your mobile developers do their thing. You need to be a buffer between your engineers and the business clients and stakeholders. Nothing should distract them from the successful completion of a sprint.

Also, keep communications open but efficient. Facilitate meetings so they’re not wasteful and unproductive. Scrum provides excellent guidelines for managing your meetings and communications, so I suggest you follow these as much as possible.

8. Look to the Users for Guidance

You can study data all you want, but the real insights about your app will come when you ask actual end-users directly. And since mobile application development takes place in short sprints, you really need to know what that bottom-line functionality is.

Enter the concept of the “Minimum Viable Product.” In a video at eCorner, Building the Minimum Viable Product, author Eric Ries discusses what this means. “The challenge… is to figure out the smallest amount of product features and capabilities necessary for release, and then to slowly add more functionality as needed.”

This obviously meshes well with sprint-based mobile development methods, and provides an excellent starting point. But it’s more than that. The Minimum Viable Product can also be a foundational check for every subsequent sprint, and each step of the way. Users – and project teams, too – will often invent requirements they don’t really need. Assessing your project in terms of the Minimum Viable Product at each turn can help you avoid that.

Leading Your Team to Success

Your leadership can make all the difference in whether your mobile development team ends up in the top one-third of project successes … or the other two-thirds. Follow these 8 tips and you’ll lead them to consistent, successful results.

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