Build it right: How to avoid common app development challenges
Application development is one of those things that people approach in a reactive and urgent way: deciding, in response to various outside forces, that they need something built now.
We understand this sense of urgency, and we live with it every day. But it’s still important to keep a few key tips in mind to make sure you’re still building something that works and adds value.
One common response to this urgency is to throw people at the problem—fast hires, contractors, offshore developers—but that rarely goes well. In the 30 years we have been developing custom software applications, we have often been hired after a company’s managers have experienced a failed development project. It’s not easy to pick up the pieces and set everything on the right path (it is so much easier starting out right in the first place!), but we are up to the challenge. The most challenging projects always force us to grow and expand our expertise.
As we have helped these companies, we have observed a variety of “nightmares.” In this article, we will share the source of those problems and explain what you can do to keep yourself from falling into the same traps. These types of projects have equipped us with the skills and expertise to get a valuable and working product to market as quickly as possible—and we are doing everything we can to help current and prospective clients navigate today’s unprecedented and challenging landscape.
6 app development challenges—and tips to avoid them
Forgetting to clearly define the value
Teams are so excited to start work that they often forget to clearly and accurately define the vision and end goal for the application. This includes answering such questions as:
- Who is the end user?
- What value will they obtain from the application?
- Why will they want to keep using it?
The key word there is “accurate”: the most accurate answers to these questions come straight from the source, making it important to speak to actual users and find out what they really want. It’s also important to conduct proper market research and make sure there is a need for your application. Too often dev teams think they “get it” and do what they think is right, without involving the users.
This is especially important for consumer-focused applications. If an application already exists in the space you’re targeting, what will make your app stand out? Why is it better? Are these features and functions based on your own assumptions? Have you actually interviewed customers to find out what matters to them? In our experience, it is never what you assume.
All of these questions should be answered before any work begins, so you have a clearly defined vision of what the end product should do, who it will serve, and how it will address the specific, stated needs of your customers.
Not hiring the right talent
When we think of building a team to create an application, developers and programmers are often the first people who come to mind. It’s true; they are integral players in the application development process. And, of course, they need to be good at their trade.
A recent poll found that an alarming $85 billion per year is wasted on software developers spending time dealing with bad code (rather than focusing on more valuable work). If you’re not already a high-tech company, and you’re wondering how to find good developers, your best bet is to look to a full-service software development company. Why? Because this is where the really skilled programmers want to work; this is where the varied, exciting, and challenging work is for them.
Another common app problem is assuming that you only need developers to build a quality application. The truth is, you need so much more—people devoted to design, testing, prototyping, operations, and quality assurance. Building a successful software application really is a multi-disciplinary team effort that demands the right blend of skills and people.
Not focusing on the user experience
The conversations you have with users should define your goals, and should continue throughout the application design and development process. It’s all too common to get caught up in meeting deadlines and building something that works, while forgetting the real goal—to build something that adds value to your end user. Or, another way of saying it: it is quite possible—and quite common—to build an application without actually building it for the people who will be using it. If your app isn’t something they will be willing to pay for, use, and stick with, it will fail in the marketplace.
There are several app development tips we would like to share so you can avoid this trap:
- Design for the user journey—Perform user journey mapping to categorize the different types of users who may use the application and how they will engage with it.
- Conduct prototype testing—Let users interact with mockups or prototypes. Work their feedback into the design and continue to test until you’re confident you have a product users will find valuable.
- Perform additional user testing—Once you have an initial product ready, continue to conduct testing with real users and adjust as needed to make sure the application meets or exceeds their expectations.
Not conducting proper application testing
Testing can be a time-consuming process that your developers may feel slows them down. But it’s critically important to test the application for both quality and security throughout the entire development process.
No one wants to use an app that has a poor track record when it comes to performance. The best insurance policy is to follow a formal Quality Assurance plan carried out by a dedicated QA team.
When we work with clients on custom application projects, we use a combination of manual, regression, and automated UI testing, and we adhere to a set of best practices to make sure we provide comprehensive coverage of the application.
Choosing the wrong application development methodology
Different types of applications call for differing software development methodologies. Depending on the purpose of your application, it may make sense to lay out all of the requirements up front before any actual development begins; or, you may need to complete the build in small chunks and add in new functionality as you go.
If you’re questioning which approach is right for your next project, we have some guidelines that can steer you down the right path.
In general, however, we tend to follow the Agile methodology, as it provides the flexibility and speed needed to complete projects quickly and to adapt to changing requirements. A recent study actually found the Agile approach to be twice as successful as the more traditional Waterfall approach, making it a reliable choice when in doubt. That said, there are times when Waterfall or other non-Agile approaches are the right way to go, so you can’t make assumptions without thinking it through.
Neglecting security until the end of development
By now most of us have internalized how important it is to secure the software that you expose to the world—the relentless news stories of security failures are a great reminder of that. Deploying an insecure application or failing to stay on top of security patches and updates can lead to a breach that hurts your bottom line and damages your reputation. Recovery from such a problem is a slow and painful process we would much rather see you avoid.
But it can be tempting to let security take a back seat during application design and development, and “leave it for later so we can make progress.” In fact, it’s one of the most common app missteps we have seen. It requires a lot more time and money to correct security issues at the end of a development project, because it can impact all of the code that has been written.
At AVI, we bake security directly into the design and development process, right from the start. Application security is given the same priority and attention as everything else, at all stages of development and throughout the life of the application.
Whether we’re starting a project from ground zero for a client or coming to the rescue on a project that has gone off the rails, we always adhere to these best practices. If you’re getting ready to start a software build or can already see the signs that things aren’t going according to plan, let us help you get back on the track towards successful software development.