A Concise Guide to Updating Your Mobile App

Do you “have” a mobile app?

Is it finished?

If you answered “yes” to the first question, you probably found the second one amusing. That’s because a mobile app is never finished. Partly because technology is always changing, and partly because your customers are always demanding new features.This can create challenges for those used to large, traditional projects where every deliverable is carefully mapped out before any work is done.

The Challenges of Updating a Mobile App

You should always plan for the “long-term” whenever you start a mobile app project. Many companies don’t, and find themselves in challenging situations down the road. Here are just a few of the common situations I’ve encountered – let me know if any of these sound familiar, or fit where you’re at!

  • Your mobile app was developed by another company. You weren’t happy with some part of that relationship, so you cut them loose. Now you own an app that you thought was “done,” only to realize your customers are using it and demanding more functionality. You’re stuck with no ability to move the app forward, but you need to update it before your customers start looking elsewhere.
  • Your team built a mobile app using traditional development methods, and now you’re wondering why it’s taking six months or more to produce a single update. You want to release updates quicker, but you don’t have the processes in place to do so. As a result, your app is devouring time and resources without incremental returns, and keeping your developers from more important tasks.
  • You needed a mobile app, so you diverted some resources out of a busy project schedule to “build a quick app.” Once it was done, team members returned to their “real work” of developing products and supporting mission critical services. But now the mobile app is in the hands of customers, and again, they’re demanding more functionality. So you keep pulling developers off their bread-and-butter projects to deal with quick fixes and minor enhancements to the app. As a result, your app is growing haphazardly, your developers are stressed, and your other projects are falling behind.

If any of these situations strike a chord with you, read on. I’ll show you how Ascendle helps companies in situations like these get a handle on their updates. And I’ll share some best practices on how companies should approach their mobile updates.

Plan Your Mobile Updates from Day One

Releasing version 1.0 of your app – or the minimum viable product (MVP) – is not the end of the road. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

I like to tell our clients, “You won’t really know what your app needs to do until real customers are using it every day.”

That’s why it’s so important to build your MVP quickly and then plan your updates strategically, based on both business needs and user feedback.

What most companies fail to realize up front is that the initial launch should just be one small phase of a mobile app’s life. More time should be spent adding features via updates than in developing version 1.0 of your product. This update-centered philosophy will be a game-changer for your team.

How Often Should You Update Your Mobile App?

So how often should you update an app, anyway?

Let’s look at the extremes.

A year is too long. Six months? Still too long. Customers don’t want to wait for you to get your act together and respond in your own sweet time. They’ll look for other solutions if their wants and needs aren’t addressed in timely fashion. And then there’s your competition. Six months between updates gives competitors too much time to catch up – too much time to provide the features your customers are asking for.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be shipping new features in less than a week, either. That would hardly allow for good planning or testing. And while the Apple App Store reviews are currently down to 2 days (a big improvement from an average 9 days earlier this year), you still need to factor that time into your schedule.

In my experience, a good cadence for mobile application updates would be every 4 to 6 weeks. This is a productive rhythm that demonstrates steady progress and shows customers you’re serious about listening to their needs.

Using Scrum to Manage the Update Process

How do you break an app down into 4 to 6 week chunks? With Scrum.

Scrum is an Agile framework that helps you prioritize and produce shippable features at a rapid pace. Large projects can be broken down into smaller, more manageable user stories, which are developed and shipped in short-term production sprints. These become your updates.

If your team possesses the mobile expertise to develop apps but is not familiar with Scrum, you’ll find it next to impossible to release updates every 4 to 6 weeks. Traditional methodologies simply don’t allow for that kind of speed and turnaround.

That’s why Ascendle offers Agile coaching – so you can keep your development projects in-house while learning to adapt to the fast-paced decisions and schedules of Scrum.  This often involves dramatic shifts in process and culture … many companies struggle mightily with that learning curve when attempting it alone. Enlisting an Agile coaching service could very well be the difference between success and failure of your next project.

Your Mobile App Needs a Dedicated Team

You saw in the scenarios above what can happen when a mobile app lacks a dedicated team. Or maybe you’ve experienced it first-hand.

But that comes from “launch and we’re done” thinking. Hopefully, we’re now in agreement that “version 1.0 is just the beginning.” Which means you’ll need a team dedicated to shipping new updates for the life of your mobile app.

That doesn’t mean you can’t scale it down in time, of course. Eventually you’ll hit a point of diminishing returns, or need to allocate more resources to other projects. When that happens, it will make good business sense to reduce the size of your mobile app’s update team. But you should always have at least someone working on those updates.

Never neglect an active mobile app – until you’re ready to decommission it.

Your Team or Ours?

One way to redeploy your developers to newer, higher-priority projects is to contract your update work out. Whether your mobile app is in a mature, maintenance mode or still needing significant enhancements and features, a third party development team can take over those duties for you.

This is especially useful for smaller teams and companies where you want your people focused on new initiatives and company growth. Hiring a professional development firm like Ascendle is the perfect way to free them up to do just that – without dropping the ball on your mobile app.

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