The secret to winning is knowing when to slow down – and when to sprint.

When it comes to app development, are you generally like the hare or the tortoise?

The hare doesn’t stop to think. It’s excited, pumped-up, ready to sprint. But by taking things too quickly, it risks crashing out early.

The tortoise on the other hand takes its time. It’s thoughtful, considered, methodical – but risks losing the race due to lack of speed and agility.

So, what’s the optimal approach to development? Is it more like the hare or the tortoise? How much time should you spend planning and researching? And when is the right time to put your head down and move as fast as your little legs can carry you?

The answer is – at least in my experience – a fine balance of both. And if you get it right, your chances of a successful launch will increase dramatically.

The app that no one wanted

I once worked with a client who had created an app, hoping and dreaming it would be taken up by thousands of users. But when launch day arrived, it was a flop.

It was a hugely disappointing end to countless months of development, but to be honest, the writing was on the wall from day one. Although the executives overseeing the project spent months talking back and forth about the app’s design and functionality, they made some fatal mistakes:

  • They didn’t take enough time to understand the problem their app was meant to solve
  • They didn’t fully understand the nuances of the needs of their target consumer
  • They didn’t make the time to involve their target users to test prototype apps or beta releases

In some ways, they acted too slow — discussions bounced around month after month with little progress. And in other ways, they acted too quickly — releasing the app before they’d even understood their consumer or tested the prototype.

Start like a turtle

Rushing into app development is like jumping into fifth gear when the light turns green. You’re just going to burn out the engine. So before you get started, take some time (generally weeks, not months) to answer some fundamental questions:

  1. What market problem are we trying to solve? Are we sure this is actually a real problem facing real people?
  1. How does our solution solve the problem, or part of the problem? Try and sum it up in 2-3 sentences.
  1. How many potential buyers are there? Is the market big enough to make our product financially viable?
  1. Who are our competitors? Who else is trying to solve this same problem? Why is our solution better?
  1. What other investments will we need to be successful? What types of marketing, technological resources, customer support and other types of support are needed?

Once you’ve answered these key questions, you’ll have the knowledge you need to quickly change gears when the time is right.

Win like a hare

In the ‘tortoise and hare’ children’s story, the hare lost the race because it rushed out too early. However, had that hare been a little more prepared, I’ve got no doubt it would have easily had the strength to win.

Start Lean
The same is true in development — once you’re well prepared using the questions above, it’s time to enter sprint mode and create your minimum viable product (MVP). This product should have just enough features to allow for testing and real-world feedback from your target audience.

In those early days you don’t want to over-engineer or you’ll waste valuable time and risk losing the race. Gather a group of your potential target users and get the feedback on your first MVP, then tweak your product. Do another short sprint and get more feedback. That rapid feedback loop is critical.

Think Skateboard, Bicycle, Car
You want to have a usable solution through every stage of development so that you can get that golden insight from user feedback. Taking that insight to guide the next phase of development can be the key to a successful product down the road, verses running out of capital and shutting down.

Of course, if your product is missing the mark with your consumer, perhaps it’s time to go back to being a tortoise for a while and rethink whether your solution really is solving the problem at hand. By taking a couple of weeks to rethink things at this stage, you can save yourself thousands of dollars and many weeks of development down the road.

Edit: "Move Fast."

Facebook's Core Value

Striking a Balance
One of Facebook’s previous core values was “move fast and break things”. This strategy worked years ago in the world of web where changes could be made fast and fixes only required a couple lines of code. Since then, they have changed that core value to be “move fast.” The edit was caused by the focus on mobile first. Changes now require including new app builds, involving more invested time. The updated app goes through a period of vetting to make sure the change didn’t break something else, then must be approved by Apple or Google before going live. A broken app can erode trust quickly with users, encouraging them to stop opening the app altogether and causing negative reviews. You know what it feels like when you have chosen to download and invest time in using a smartphone app that doesn’t work as advertised – you feel like your time is not valued and then take to Twitter to shout about it.

There is a fine balance of slow thoughtful thinking and then quick action that is needed with mobile application development. By slowing down to undertaking valuable research you’ll be sure to find a solution your consumer loves. And by following it up with quick development sprints and a rapid feedback loop, you’ll soon find the timing is right — and the market is ready — for what you’re offering.

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