How to Develop an App: Understanding the Development Process

7 May 2020

If your company is getting ready to create an app or make a significant upgrade to something you already have, it is best to begin with a basic understanding of the application development life cycle. While you are likely to count on a development firm or team to develop the app, it will be up to you to oversee the entire process and ensure that things go as planned. Experts along the way will take care of details in their area of specialization. However, a general overview will give you the confidence to choose the right people for the job and ensure the launch of your app is a success.

Whether you have questions about how to develop an app for iPhone, Android, or any other platform, the general applications development life cycle is the same. There are several ways to outline the process. They are mostly the same but may include a varying number of steps depending on the level of detail that is included. For our purposes, there are eight steps: research, goal setting, project planning, wireframing, prototyping, development, testing, and launching.

App Development Process, Step One: Research

Most people with questions about how to develop an app already have an idea. Often that idea needs some clarification and refinement, but it almost always needs research. The research is essential because it sets up the rest of the process. The exact type of research will depend on the kind of app and the intended user. You will start with clarifying questions like, “Is this app for existing customers, or is it designed to draw people into a relationship with our organization?”

The research will need to be internal and external. Internal research will examine buyer personas and sales funnels. In contrast, external research will look at things like consumer trends, competition, and download and purchase data from other apps.

Step Two of Developing an App: Goal Setting

If you ask an app development firm how to develop an app, one of their first questions should be, what are your goals? With your idea and research in hand, it is time to begin to lay out what you expect your app to do in relation to your overarching goals. How will this help your current customers, draw new customers, or raise awareness? What are some “must-haves” in terms of features? At the end of this process, what will success look like for your new app?

Step Three of the Mobile App Development Process: Project Planning

As a client, you likely have some idea in mind about when you think your app will be available in app stores. Only by understanding the full project can you anticipate how long it will take and what challenges along the way may delay the rollout. In developing the project plan, the roadmap to completion is created with objectives, timelines, and benchmarks. This is how you and the team will know if things are going according to plan.

Step Four of the Applications Development Life Cycle: Wireframing

With clear goals and a plan in hand, it is time to start bringing the app the life on paper. This begins with sketching out images of the final product. This step is more than a chance for you to see a glimpse of the creation. It helps designers understand future challenges in the app development process and possible limitations in functionality. Wireframing is a more precise version of the sketch and begins to demonstrate how the app will function.

Step Five of the App Development Process: Prototyping

In some cases, it is feasible to create a limited rough version of the app so that the developers and sometimes the client have a chance to see how the app will work. This prototype will be far from the finished product in terms of polish and functionality. However, it will give everyone a chance to get their hands on the app to be sure everything is headed in the right direction.

Step Six of Developing an App: Development

If you ask someone how to develop an app for iPhone or Android, this is the part of the process they will likely think of. This step is where you will count on a team of experts. These specialists include a user experience (UX) designer, a user interface (UI) designer, coding experts, and people with specific knowledge of Apple and Android devices. This step is the most complex and often the longest part of the app development process. If you want to know how long does it take to develop an app, know that most of the time will be spent in this step. A project manager will oversee the work of the full team at this point. This leader will likely use modern project management tools and practices like Agile to create multiple iterations of the application to work out bugs and continue to add functionality. As a client, you may be involved in different aspects of this process, especially as new versions of the app are complete are ready for user feedback.

Step Seven of Mobile App Development: Testing

The thought of launching a new app is exciting, but launching one full of bugs can create a negative impression of your business. This can work against the reason you created it in the first place. Testing will be an integrated part of the development process, with tests be running on each iteration and with the addition of each feature. However, there is also a final comprehensive testing phase where the team will rigorously test the app for functionality, usability, and performance. It will also be tested on different platforms such as iOS and Android and different models of devices. Testing will also include getting the app into the hands of users with the chance to hear their feedback for possible necessary modifications or improvements.

Step 8 of Developing an App: Launching

This step is where everything comes together. However, if done wrong, you will not see the maximum impact and return from your investment. The biggest question your team will face here is how to get your app on as many mobile devices as possible. How this is accomplished will depend on the primary audience of the app. If you created it to improve the experience of existing customers, you likely already have channels to get the word out. If, instead, the app was designed to be a part of your sales funnel and draw people into a relationship with potential customers, getting the word out will be more challenging. Your team will ensure that your app is available in the appropriate app stores. However, more work will be needed to promote it to your target customers. App store optimization will help people find your app. However, it will take a comprehensive marketing plan that includes your website, social media, paid advertising, and even influencer marketing.

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