Digital products are a bit like people in the sense that they tend to change quite a bit over their app development lifecycle. We won’t go through all of Erikson’s or Piaget’s theories on human development, but we know that people go through different periods of growth throughout their lives, especially during their younger years. Like fostering positive growth for a child, understanding how things are supposed to play out at different intervals of app development is key to navigating the early stages of ownership as an entrepreneur or digital startup and to some (but a lesser) degree, established businesses looking to bring an app to life as well.
Having a sense of where you need to be at each point in the app development lifecycle is much like getting directions from a friend before modern navigation apps: by using milestones, you’re able to better compartmentalize your goals into manageable legs along the journey. So here, we’re going to identify each stage of the app development lifecycle so you can benchmark your progress and know what to expect along the way.
Building a digital product: the app development lifecycle
Your app has a magical infancy stage, a childhood with its own set of growing pains, an adolescent phase that can play out a few different ways, then adulthood where growth continues, albeit a bit differently. Here, we’re going to look at the earliest stages of the app development lifecycle through launch and provide our insights in hopes to prepare you for long-term app ownership.
The idea phase
This is what tends to occur around the time you have your first stroke of “genius” and it looks different for everyone. Of course, there are the cliché napkin doodles but there are a variety of ways people begin to work through their ideas. What’s important is how you eventually organize everything into coherent collateral.
One thing that has proved helpful to many throughout the years is a voice recorder – with voice tools like STT (speech-to-text) that are native to every modern mobile operating system, you can use tools like Evernote, among others, to be methodical about getting your ideas out. As you arrange your thoughts and “put them to paper,” think about how you’ll pitch the idea at various lengths to everyone from investors who will fund your project to the team of people you’ll assemble to build it.
Putting together concrete visuals on your own when you lack the skillset to do so is common but fortunately, there are many flowchart tools on the market that are fairly easy to use – we’re fans of Miro and LucidChart as both are simple to learn – and help you communicate the baseline for your idea. While it’s not required, it can help the team you assemble or the firm(s) you hire to get started with a little more momentum.
This isn’t necessarily the second step but it’s something that needs to come together early on. Most individuals usually start sinking some of their own money into some preliminary work, simply to have a kind of visuals – most commonly, logos and certain branding elements – to at least get a placeholder website in place as well as something tangible to begin to form relationships with your audience, vendors, and investors.
Many use savings and other resources at their disposal to fund early processes which is wildly different for each digital product. For example, some products have a hardware component that either needs to be developed or purchased before starting on the design and development portion of the software, essentially an expense that needs to be covered before you can even get to a funding round.
Down the road, you’ll eventually need to consolidate your work and research into a detailed financial model you’ll need for both your reference as well to communicate with investors how your product will earn and grow. When seeking the help of VC or angel investors, you’ll want to assemble an engaging pitch deck to demonstrate its earning power and beyond.
Assemble your team
We’ve covered what you’ll need to know when hiring an app developer and several other key pieces of talent when building an internal team. Many seek out help from someone they know and trust to be a partner or fill some other role suited to their skillset – ideally, core team members are established early on with people who are willing to make the push and commit to building a digital startup.
Among the many digital product agencies and strictly design/development labs, knowing what to look for and how to assess competency is vital to your success. Hiring a full-service, digital product agency like us is one way to ensure that you’ll be supported with services far beyond just the design and development portion – we also handle marketing, business strategy, and ongoing support throughout the lifecycle of a product. At Blue Label Labs, we use the data we uncover through user feedback and analytics to help refine the product and business portion in rapid, iterative cycles that allow it to scale at the best possible pace.
The Design Sprint & prototype
Here, as with many true digital product agencies, we kick off with a process known as a Design Sprint which was developed by Google Ventures. During this five-day long process, we tackle everything from research and discovery to prototyping and testing.
This allows us to uncover a substantial amount of information and most importantly, validate an idea with a test group that is carefully studied and watched. Note that user feedback and measuring behavior will be an ongoing process throughout an app development lifecycle. From here, most businesses leverage the prototype to begin their seed (or first) major round of funding to cover the costs of launching the real deal. Too, there’s plenty of times the Design Sprint sends people back to the drawing board after their assumptions prove to be incorrect.
As unfortunate as undesirable outcomes are after a Design Sprint, it’s far better than fully investing a digital product only for it to flop.
Design & development
After the Design Sprint, the real work begins. The design process starts next as this needs to be in place first for the developers to build around. These parts often happen in iterative phases but it almost always begins with the design first. Before development can begin, the design process is what defines the UX the developers will build into the product. Think of it like Frankensteins monster: he had to patch the body together first before he could bring it to life.
Around this time, architecture needs to be established and a framework selected. While there are advantages to building purely native apps, we recommend cross-platform development using React Native in most cases as this allows us to share about 80% of the code to create products for both Android and iOS.
This time is considered your beta period which is arguably one of the most intensive periods for learning and fine-tuning your initial release. Your goal is to develop an ideal MVP that might not be what you expect – as your goal is to get to the market quickly, this product needs to accomplish the bare minimum to produce enough that early adopters will engage with the product. The idea is to cut the product into something functional enough to validate your underlying assumptions.
Launching your MVP
Once your product hits Google Play, the Apple App Store, or some alternative solution, this is the moment that you become an official owner of a digital product! Take a minute to celebrate before regrouping to tackle the next phases of your app development lifecycle.
The initial challenge you face and all the anxiety from the anticipation of launch dissolve fairly quickly but is soon replaced by new trials as you begin to observe your app in the real world. It’s common to release your product with several known bugs but more will inevitably surface because of the strange and wonderful things users will do.
Your team or agency will need to prioritize various problems and address each instance accordingly. As the app is polished and the userbase grows, you’ll need to use what you’re learning to plan for future development – the roadmap you develop around the time of the Design Sprint will be useful as a guide but ultimately, you’ll want to adjust accordingly to release new features based on what you’ve learned from your users.
Measure & learn
Now that your product is live, it’s time to start collecting data to measure and understand behavior. Leveraging your analytics suites will allow you to see where people are dropping off or getting confused. You’ll need to do some focused testing with different people in the target audiences to see how they hold and use it. This should then feed back into the development cycle for the next release where the data can help guide your decisions.
This is why its so important to have a quick MVP as this prevents the amount of time you are iterating in a vacuum. For more on user testing, check out this blog where we go into detail on some useful strategies for user testing.
We build products with the long-term in mind
Through big-picture analysis of the market and focused testing, our solutions-oriented teams of designers and engineers develop prototypes that fit the mosaic of digital marketplaces. Blue Label Labs embodies the digital product agency motif by providing a multi-functional set of services that are deeply rooted in business strategy. We’re not here just to slap an app together and toss it on the market: we cultivate the figurative fields we sow and seeds we plant. To learn more about our process or discuss your idea, get in touch with us today.
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