While this guide outlines the steps in mobile application development, the process isn’t the same for every project simply because no project is the same. Companies come with different product ideas, bringing different assets (graphics, designs, existing apps that need a revamp). Some steps in this guide will be skipped for those that have designs, for example. Also, not every step is necessary or mandatory — the development process should never be rigid and set in stone (just like your assumptions).
Look at this guide as a general outline of what’s involved in the mobile app development process, but by no means treat it as definitive.
The key to building successful products is flexibility and skill with which you and your vendor can target customer needs and solve their problems.
This guide is meant to show you what’s usually involved in the mobile app development process.
What Are the Main Steps in Developing a Mobile Application?
There are basically six steps involved in developing a mobile app. In the agile approach, they are repeatable — each iteration helps refine the product.
- Product discovery
- UX/UI Designing
- Development with QA
Step #1. Product Discovery and Strategy
How do I start developing a mobile app? — Validating your idea
Every app starts with an idea — so that’s where you’ll be starting your journey.
Thorough idea validation is the most important step in the life of your app. You need to be harsh with your idea: there’s no place for kindnesses or leeways. If you won’t validate your idea properly, you’ll end up sinking resources.
You should be able to describe your product idea in one sentence when woken up in the middle of the night. Such clarity helps keep everyone understand the vision better.
To validate your idea, you can use a variety of available resources, such as the Lean Canvas or similar. These tools will help you narrow down your vision.
Templates that help in this phase:
- Prioritization chart (must, should, could feature separation; you can use Miro for that)
- Value proposition canvas (consider using Strategyzer)
- User personas
- Product canvas (e.g., the Lean Canvas)
Keep in mind that these are just frameworks that yield tangible results when created by experienced product managers. It’s not to say you shouldn’t do them — if anything they’ll help you put your idea into context.
When you approach a software agency, the team might want to fill out some of those templates too. Don’t let that discourage you. The vendor needs to understand your business context because, without it, the vendor loses key information that can lead to false assumptions and an obstructed workflow.
Exploring your competition and target audience
During product discovery, you should learn as much as possible about your target audience, competition, and monetization strategy.
You should be able to answer questions such as:
- What do you want to achieve through your app?
- Who is the target audience?
- What problem does the app solve?
- Who is your competition?
- What will your app have that your competition doesn’t?
- How will you monetize your app?
Keep in mind that the process of chiseling out a defined set of features (as understood by developers) depends on close cooperation between you and the software agency you’ll work with.
This process can take a lot of time in some cases. The reason why is that it takes time to narrow down your product idea. The more complex the product, the longer it takes to finish the process of defining scope.
During product discovery, you define use cases and create functional requirements. At the end of this stage, you should have a document with user interface requirements. UI requirements will later be distilled to specifications (e.g., user stories and the backlog).
Generally, in the product discovery stage, your vendor should aim for defining the minimum viable version of your product — enough to validate your idea and deliver initial value to your target users.
The conclusions you draw from product discovery determine the direction in which your app will move. A thorough analysis is therefore necessary to secure a validated idea that will be desirable but also technically viable.
Because every project requires a thorough analysis, you might want to hire professionals to help you in this stage of the journey.
Vendor-supported product discovery can be used in a variety of scenarios. For example:
- If you already have a product but aren’t satisfied with it, a vendor should provide you with a comprehensive UX audit to pinpoint what your mobile application is lacking and what it needs to help you achieve better results.
- You don’t have a product yet but want to:
- improve an existing process (e.g., build an app to support your internal sales team in contacting and managing clients)
- expand your business and add another sales channel
- introduce a new solution that you’ve observed in your target audience
A vendor can find users for initial tests of your product for a steady stream of validated learnings. Experienced software agencies can also check your competition and do market research.
How to choose a software agency?
A software agency can come in handy during those first steps of your app’s lifecycle. Reliable agencies with a portfolio of successful projects will have enough experience to support you right from the start.
Read our guide on choosing a good software agency for more details.
Should I choose a fixed-price or time and materials contract for mobile app development?
A time & materials contract gives you more flexibility and control over the quality and budget. In a T&M contract, you can introduce changes while your product is developed, which lets you include trends and address shifts in customer preferences.
In a fixed-price model, you usually follow a sequential order in product development: requirements and analysis, design, implementation, testing, deployment, maintenance. By definition of a Waterfall model, once requirements are complete, there’s little to no possibility to change the scope.
In other words, in Waterfall-based fixed-price models, you don’t have the flexibility to introduce changes once the project enters development. This can create a few problems:
- Missed product-market fit after launch (customer preferences come and go; the longer the development the higher the likelihood of missing the fit)
- Solution not solving user problems (good products are always developed with customers embedded into the decision-making process)
- Paying the buffer for the vendor — a vendor has to offset any possible losses caused by unexpected hurdles in development