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How is Agile Methodology Used in Mobile App Development?

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Milo Mobile helps mid-size companies and mobile developers of all skill levels navigate the tech “Sea of Knowledge” through mentorship, education, and custom mobile-focused solutions.

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To say that mobile apps play an important role in today's marketplace is an understatement. According to recent statistics, there are about 2.67 million apps available on the Google Play Store along with about 1.64 million on the Apple App Store, with an additional 3,669 being added to those stores every day.

Those totals highlight the fact that the mobile app category is extremely competitive. And because of that fierce competition, the standard of excellence users have come to not only expect, but demand is very high. The mobile apps that succeed will be those that combine an outstanding user experience with functionality that customers value.

That's why Agile methodology is so important for modern mobile app development. Agile enables developers to build apps that consistently meet customer needs and expectations, and do so more quickly and cost-effectively than can be achieved with traditional development approaches.

What is Agile?

Agile is a set of principles, practices, and values for managing the development of high-quality software applications. It's based on an iterative process in which software is developed, refined, and delivered in small increments known as sprints. At the end of each sprint, which normally lasts 2-4 weeks, the development team delivers a working version of the application that can be tested or even placed in service for real users to evaluate.

The Agile approach is based on the premise that the real functional requirements of a modern app can't be fully known up front. In today's environment, both technology and market requirements evolve quickly, so that features that seemed ideal at the beginning of the design process may completely outmoded by the time the app is released.

More importantly, developers can’t always anticipate how people will actually use an app—users frequently insist on doing things that the app's creators never imagined. That's why the Agile approach focuses on delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) after each sprint that can be tested and refined based on user actions and feedback.

Why Traditional Software Development Methods Don't Work for Mobile

With all the easily accessible development tools available online today, creating a workable mobile app may seem easy. And to an extent that's true.

But in a world where, as we've seen, users demand the highest levels of functionality and usability, creating an app that truly meets the needs of both companies and their customers is far more difficult and complex.

The fact is, as a research report published in the International Journal of Technology in Education and Science puts it,

"Mobile app development is in many ways much more complex and fault prone than traditional web and desktop applications… Traditional software engineering approaches cannot cope with these new challenges in the mobile app development industry."

Why is engineering a good mobile app so difficult?

First, mobile apps must function identically on different operating systems and hardware platforms. Code developed for either of the two main mobile operating systems, Android and iOS, cannot run on the other. Plus, each of them has frequent version updates that impact important features. Building apps that can work consistently across such diverse runtime environments is highly complex.

Related: Is Developing an App Worth It?

And the hardware is even more diverse. The Android universe in particular has a huge variety of devices that differ in processing power, memory, screen size, graphics capabilities, sensors, and more.

Then there's the fact that while desktop apps may remain in use, unchanged, for years (this article is being written using Word 2003!), mobile apps must be highly adaptable due to rapidly evolving customer and marketplace demands.

Why Agile is Well-Suited for Mobile App Development

Where traditional software development methods struggle to meet the demands of the mobile environment, the Agile approach excels. In a report published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), researchers offer this conclusion:

"It was discovered that agile methodologies are best suited to the development of mobile applications."

Gartner is even more definitive:

"Agile development is essential for mobile application development."

What are the unique advantages Agile brings to the mobile app development table?

  • Greater Flexibility – Because new, working versions of the app are delivered every few weeks, developers can continuously fine-tune features based on actual user feedback.
  • High Transparency – Agile development is fundamentally a collaboration between developers and the client who commissioned the work. Clients meet with developers frequently and are intimately involved in setting requirements, testing, and assessing user feedback to drive changes.
  • Immediate Feedback – The short Agile release cycle, based on sprints that last only a few weeks, allows developers and clients to quickly ascertain whether the current feature set or user interface is optimal, and make immediate alterations at points in the development cycle when such changes are least disruptive.
  • Improved Customer Experience – Because user feedback is gathered and incorporated into requirements with each sprint cycle, the final product is more likely to be optimized for the way customers want to use the app.
  • Faster Development – The traditional approach to software development (often called the waterfall method) proceeds sequentially through well defined-phases (requirements, design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance). Developers typically only get feedback from real users after deployment, a point at which going back to make substantial changes is complex, time-consuming, risky, and costly. With Agile, user feedback is obtained continuously, and changes can be easily implemented with each sprint.
  • Reduced Risk – Agile requires that a working version of the code be produced and tested at the end of each short sprint. So there's little risk of getting to the end of the process, perhaps nine months or a year down the road, and uncovering some show-stopping issue that only reveals itself when the app is in actual use.
  • Higher Quality – Agile produces a higher quality product because its iterative approach allows developers to uncover bugs and fine-tune the app for functionality, usability, and customer experience in small increments at each step of the process.
  • Lower Costs – Because the Agile process has a shorter development cycle and produces apps that require less rework and correction after deployment, overall costs are significantly reduced.

Let's see how these advantages work out in practice.

How Agile Is Used in Mobile App Development

A typical Agile development process includes the following steps:

1. Gather Requirements and Create The Product Backlog

Developers meet with the client, usually on several occasions, to understand the client's goals for the app. That information is used to create the product backlog, which is a prioritized list of all the tasks that must be accomplished to complete the project. The product backlog is a key part of the Agile process because it embodies a common understanding, shared by all stakeholders, of what needs to be done.

2. Plan and Implement Sprints

With the initial product backlog in hand, the development team selects the specific tasks to be completed during the next sprint. The most important client needs are normally addressed in the first sprint to establish a solid foundation for the entire development process and the finished product.

3. Review Feedback

At the end of each sprint, developers deliver a working version of the app to the client, usually in the form of a demo that includes required quality assurance (QA) tests. The client reviews the app and provides feedback that's used to update the product backlog for the next sprint.

4. Repeat

With the product backlog updated based on feedback from the previous sprint, developers incorporate any new requirements, along with any bug fixes, into the plan for the next sprint. The entire process is then repeated until all tasks in the product backlog have been accomplished, and the app is ready for deployment.

5. Release the App

The development team oversees the final preparation and deployment of the app. This includes ensuring that all bug fixes and other QA requirements are incorporated and verified. The team then works with the client to ensure a smooth launch of the app into an App Store or Play Store, or perhaps on the client's website.

6. Maintain the App

Once the app is deployed, developers supply ongoing support, including, as necessary, fixing bugs or incorporating new features. If the client has an in-house IT organization, the development team coordinates with them to ensure a smooth handoff of the app codebase.

Keys to Success in Agile Mobile App Development

Gaining a foothold in the mobile app universe can be a complex and difficult undertaking (it's no accident that 99% of mobile app startups fail). It requires high-level technical and project management skills that most small and medium-sized businesses don't have in-house. And even for larger enterprises that have well-established development organizations, taking on the unique challenges of the mobile environment might not be the best use of their engineering resources.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Mobile App Maintenance Is Important

That's why for most companies the best route for creating a successful mobile app is to partner with an expert outside organization that specializes in mobile development. But what should you look for in such a partner? Here are a few key characteristics.

  • Your mobile app partner should have demonstrated technical and project management expertise in building, deploying, and supporting mobile apps. You'll want to check their references and how they fared in previous assignments.
  • Find a partner that will meet you at your point of need, whether it's by coming alongside your existing team to help with specific tasks, or by offering full end-to-end development services. 
  • At the same time, you don't need a partner who'll just give you what you say you want. Instead, you should seek one that, while fully embracing your vision, will work with you, even tactfully pushing back when necessary, to ensure that they deliver not just what you think you need, but what's actually required to fulfill your business objectives.

The Importance of Ongoing Maintenance

A final key to success that's often overlooked is the necessity of ongoing maintenance. Why is that important?

For one thing, your app isn't perfect. Yes, Agile helps you build in high quality from the beginning. But bugs may still appear. And sometimes the wider universe of users your deployed app reaches will uncover deficiencies that never showed up during development.

Even more important is the fact that with advancements in technology, and evolving customer and marketplace demands, many of the requirements that initially defined your app are likely to change, usually more quickly and more often than you expect. That's why more than half of the 1000 most downloaded apps on Google Play Store are updated every month. And both Google and Apple recently announced that apps that haven't been updated for two years or more will be kicked out of their app stores. Clearly, ongoing maintenance is a major, ongoing element of successful mobile app development.

Taking the Next Step with Agile Methodology

Here at Milo Mobile, we are expert and experienced mobile app development specialists. Our mission is to help companies like yours build not just an app, but the right app to help you achieve your business goals.

If you'd like to know more about how to get started on your mobile app development journey, we can help. Contact Milo Mobile today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

Related Contents

How is Agile Methodology Used in Mobile App Development?

How is Agile Methodology Used in Mobile App Development?

How is Agile Methodology Used in Mobile App Development?

How is Agile Methodology Used in Mobile App Development?

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