This content is part of the Essential Guide: A guide to modern mobile application development strategies

Mobile projects: Here's how to get them right the first time

Mobile software applications are all the rage, but they're very tricky to get right. Expert Jennifer Lent unpacks what you need to do -- and think about -- first.

Mobile projects share common ground with other software projects. But from their narrow scope to their increased emphasis on customer experience, they present challenges all of their own. In a tutorial at the 2017 Mobile Dev + Test Conference in San Diego earlier this year, mobile design expert Jaimee Newberry delivered four tips on how to boost the odds of success for your mobile projects. Here are my takeaways from that presentation.

Narrow the focus of your mobile projects

What problem are you trying to solve by going mobile? To set the stage for successful mobile projects, ask and answer that question, Newberry said. Too often, teams skip this crucial step. "They spend six months and $300,000. And what they have is completely embarrassing," she said, describing a typical failed mobile app. When she gets called in to figure out and fix what went wrong, it turns out that no one asked that key question. So no one had a clear idea who they were designing the app for or what the mobile user was going to do with it. Often, the mobile project team developed a broadly focused app to accommodate the widest possible array of users. "It's tempting to design for everyone. Don't do that. When you make an [app] for everyone, you make an app for no one," Newberry said in her "Mobile App Project Kick Off: Get It Right the First Time" tutorial.

Successful mobile projects deliver apps that cater to a particular kind of person. Here's an example: I am designing for this persona: Jane user. She has three kids, two jobs and uses the mobile app 30 minutes at a time to get directions, compare prices, make purchases -- or whatever activity pertains to your business. "This is a tool for focusing," Newberry said. It doesn't mean you shouldn't add more features in future releases. Developing this narrow focus is more effective than relying solely on marketing services, such as Google Analytics, she said.

Isolate the mobile project team

Freeing team members from other responsibilities is challenging, Newberry said. But doing so has a big impact on mobile projects' success. Her approach? She books a conference room for six weeks, gets the boss's buy-in to make the project top priority and pushes back when the inevitable interruptions occur. She has seen this get-tough approach work -- enabling a team of six in a large corporate environment to build an entire mobile app in six weeks. "Of course, you invest time after hours keeping up with the rest of your work," she said. "I isolate myself [for the sake of the mobile project] and answer a hundred emails later."

How to deal with the boss

"I'm not a designer, but I don't like red!" If that proclamation rings true for you, Newberry feels your pain. But she has a way to manage the boss who "shows up occasionally and derails everything," she said. If you don't figure out how to do that, your mobile projects won't succeed. Here's how Newberry does it. She asks the CEO: "Are you going to be present for every meeting we have? If not, let go." The key to making this approach work is to soft pedal your tone, she said. "Don't be a jerk about it when you're asking questions of management." And, yes, if the CEO commits to every meeting, you must hold up your end of the bargain.

That doesn't mean the boss has no say in what mobile projects deliver. Ask the question at the outset of project, and pay close attention to the response, Newberry said. In her experience, top bosses usually make broad-brush requests. Asked what he was looking for in a mobile app, one CEO told her: "I just want something that I'm not embarrassed to tweet about."

She offered another tip for responding to high-ranking mobile project stakeholders. "Let's look at it; let's be thoughtful before we react. Let's watch feedback accrue before responding." That avoids the chaos that inevitably ensues when "one customer had trouble with something, and the exec team reacts with 'We have to change everything!'" Newberry said.

Give your app a personality

As Newberry's "Get It Right the First Time" tutorial wound down, she offered one last tip I hadn't heard before. "Invest your mobile product with a personality," she said. "If my product were a celebrity, who would it be?" She gave a couple of examples. "My product is like Oprah. It's trustworthy, well-known and approachable. Or, my product is like [singer-songwriter] Björk. It's creative and not afraid to try crazy things."

Why does a mobile app need a celebrity persona? "It's a way to start connecting with people. When you make [the mobile app] human and personal, you create a connection with the user," she said. What you're doing is thinking about the voice and tone that comes across throughout the customer experience. Neither Oprah nor Björk are necessarily the right fit for a conservative business, such as a bank, she acknowledged. But the message is the same. You want to make the experience pleasant and delightful. Dialog boxes, alert messages, release notes and app descriptions all offer opportunities to reinforce the image you aim to project, she said.

Did you get your mobile project right the first time? How did you make it happen? Let us know!

Next Steps

Why making it mobile can be so challenging

It's an interesting time to be a mobile developer

A primer on mobile software development

Dig Deeper on Mobile app testing tools and techniques