Friday, July 28, 2017

Avoid 7 Common Mistakes that Lead to Mobile App Failures

Are you excited about developing a new mobile app?  I'll break it to you gently: A couple years ago Gartner's research indicated that less than one percent of consumer-targeted mobile apps succeeded.  

I doubt much has changed in the last several years as Adeven (now Adjust) reports that over 60 percent of apps in Apple's App Store have never been downloaded at all and for apps that do get downloaded, more than 75% are opened once and then never again. From another angle, analyst Andrew Chen says that the average app (that actually gets downloaded!) loses 77% of users in three days and as much as 90 percent in one month.  

Unfortunately, the rate of success for employee- or partner-facing enterprise mobile apps isn't a whole lot better--some estimate that about 80% fail to reach expectations.

The good news is that even with odds like these there are seven common mistakes that--if avoided from the outset--will substantially increase your probability of success.  Note that we'll focus here primarily on product strategy issues and not technology--which has its own unique set of common mistakes--because in my experience having the right plan will eventually overcome most technology issues (but not vice versa).  Furthermore, let's assume that you've chosen a winning idea based on a rational prioritization of opportunities.  What could go wrong?

#1 - No Product Owner
Product owners are critical to any product's development--mobile or otherwise.  However, mobile initiatives are often organized where there's a product sponsor who's generally uninvolved other than periodically receiving a status report and a business analyst who dutifully records requirements but isn't positioned to make the myriad consequential decisions needed to bring a valuable product to market.  This is not a recipe for success.

Typically, the lack of a product owner also will mean that there's little or no product vision.  Sure, version 1.0 or an MVP may be spec'd out but then what?  The reality is that it's extremely unlikely version 1.0 will meet business objectives.  The product owner must create a roadmap that they believe will deliver progressive value and then plan to take a test-learn-adapt approach to product evolution.

Once you've identified a product owner, make sure that they don't have "blinders" on; in other words, that they don't mistake themselves (regardless of relevant experience) for a target user.  Common mistake.  Product owners must constantly engage target users if they want to truly understand value.  While it's true that users don't always know what they want, they can tell a product owner if a feature will be valuable or not.

All in all, somebody's gotta be a very active and empowered product CEO.

#2 - Lack of Product Perspective
Many enterprise teams tend to think of a mobile initiative like a system upgrade.  That is, we'll do this app as waterfall project, it'll be delivered on time and within budget, we'll all declare victory over pizza and beer, and then we'll all go do something else.  Maybe we'll look at it again next year.

This approach will never work for a mobile app of any sort, at least not if you're looking to make a durable, effective investment.

First, your mobile app is a product, not a project.  That is, while a project is typically focused on delivery of a single mobile app release, a product is focused on achieving business outcomes throughout a product lifecycle spanning multiple mobile app releases.

Second, a product lifecycle means that your product owner plans a series of frequent product updates, each designed to test out a new means of achieving business results by gathering data, measuring KPI impact, and so on.  No "big bang" monolithic release.  Note that users will tend to forgive a product feature misstep or bug introduction if the product team promptly addresses it through a new release.

Third, to support a market-relevant mobile product you must use an Agile methodology for development, complete with modern application DevOps practices and appropriate automation.  The mobile space is subject to an incredible amount of flux in terms of technology, competition, innovation, etc.--only an Agile approach will enable your product team to quickly and effectively respond to these vectors.

Finally, ensure that your measure of success is not making a date or coming in within budget.  That's for projects, not products.  So, how should you define success?

#3 - Poor Definition of Success
I am continually amazed at the frequency of mobile initiatives I encounter where the stakeholders have no concept of what will constitute success.  Or they've chosen poorly thought-out measures that are not connected with business impact.  

Here's the deal:  If your app isn't impacting business results-oriented KPIs it's going to be a failure.

Consequently, it's crucial that your product owner clearly defines what success looks like, how it will be measured--and how it will move the business forward.  Ideally, success is measured by quantitative KPIs backed by a mobile analytics strategy.

After product KPIs are identified, the product owner must continually prioritize the product roadmap based on each feature's contribution toward KPI (business results) realization.  

It's also important that KPI progress (or lack thereof) should be regularly socialized within the organization.  Why?  Let's look at the next topic for an answer.

#4 - Inadequate Financial Strategy
Now that we've agreed that you need a product owner focused on product development that can be measured in terms of business results, you'll need to plan a funding strategy to support the product lifecycle.

The mistakes in this category we want to avoid include:

  • Only allocating funding for Version 1.0 and then maybe a maintenance release next year
  • Failing to make a business case based on business impact expressed as KPIs
  • Failure to put product development cost in context of expected business outcomes
  • Failure to consider cost of all the expertise required to bring a product to market, keep it relevant and updated throughout the product lifecycle
  • Failure to communicate product progress (for better or worse) to keep funding coming
In short, mobile product development is probably going to require substantial financial commitment.  If you've chosen the right opportunities, the rewards will be well worth the investment.  

The key point here is to avoid being unrealistic from the outset about what success is going to require financially.

#5 - Failure to Meet Expectations
Did you know that there are about 2000 flashlight apps in the both the Apple and Android app stores?  Most of them have never been downloaded.

While mobile app product teams don't intend to create yet another flashlight app, many of them ultimately do because they fail on any number of users' expectations:
  • Lack of Valuable Features - The app is just a port of web features or doesn't do anything truly useful
  • Lack of User Experience Design - The app feels like a website and not an app and/or is difficult to quickly grasp how to use
  • Lack of Testing - Too many bugs, poor performance, lack of device support, etc.
  • Lack of Innovation - Nothing different, feels dated, no use of new technologies
  • Lack of Support - Lack of timely response or resolution of issues
  • Lack of Brand Integration - App feels disconnected from or inconsistent with other brand channels and experiences
The list of expectations can go on and on.  The main point is that your product owner must understand your target users' expectations and ensure delivery of a product that they will find valuable--and soon cannot live without!

#6 - Failure to Experiment
We once told a prospective client that we could not deliver all the business outcomes they wanted in the MVP release of their mobile app.  They were upset and suggested we didn't know what we were doing.  On the contrary, we said, at this point you don't know what your users really want.  And it will take you multiple experiments (and app releases) to find out.

Mobile, probably more than any other channel, requires constant experimentation.  The need to experiment is driven by constant change in mobile ecosystem technologies, changing user expectations, and an evolving vision of what value mobile should provide.

Assuming you or your product owner know what your users want is a mistake.  Taking a continual test-learn-adapt approach to your mobile app will help you discover what your users really want.

#7 - Lack of Awareness and Marketing
Unlike the ball field in Field of Dreams, if you build it, they (users) will not magically come.  Improve you chances with a focused awareness and marketing effort!

Recently we were talking with a client getting ready to launch their first mobile app.  They'd checked off just about every launch prep task but one: Their internal employees who serve customers directly didn't know anything about the app.  Imagine the brand impression when customers had questions and employees knew nothing and couldn't help.

Whether your app is targeted for internal employees or to external customers awareness and marketing are crucial to your success.  And the communications need to be internal and external just as if you were launching any new service.  An app is not merely a technology or channel play--it's part of your business strategy.  Treat it that way.

Building a successful mobile application is a real challenge.  Improve your odds of success by being sure to avoid the common mistakes we've discussed here.

Magenic has years of experience guiding our clients to build impactful mobile apps that deliver real business results.  Whether you're just getting started or need help adding to your app portfolio, we can help you make informed, pivotal decisions that will best position your app for success.

Let's talk about how our expertise and experience can help you avoid pitfalls and implement best practices that will make your mobile investment durable and effective.

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