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Harnessing the Product Canvas to Achieve Mobile App Dev Success: Part Two

Technology should be the last thing you think about when developing a highly engaging mobile app

In my last post, I discussed how taking the user experience of a mobile app into account during the development process is critical to ensure that the app will actually be downloaded and used. We discussed Agile software development practices and why they are excellent for fostering communication between team members. However, while constant communication is a must, the overall view of the project as a whole can be easily lost.

How can we incentivize software engineers to remember that we are building a product with specific goals for an end-user audience and also the business behind the project? How can we make sure all the people involved on the client side, not only the Product Owner (PO), can quickly validate if the view of the product is correct? While there could be several answers to these questions, we decided to look for the simplest visual solution, like the Kanbans that we use on a daily basis.

I read about Forrester’s POST method and it stuck in the back of my mind for weeks before I realized it could offer an interesting way to visually organize goals and the product development process. With this realization, the product canvas was born.

As in the Kanbans, we use Post-Its to write on the product canvas.

We have four big sets of questions represented by four quadrants, which need to be answered in this order:

  1. People: The audience of your app. You should put yourself in their shoes and try to answer the Post-It questions while identifying personas, contexts and expectations of the end users of the app. There should be as many Post-Its added as needed to draw a good picture of the app audience.
  2. Objectives: The goals of the business building the app. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes and try to answer the questions in this segment of the product canvas.
  3. Strategy: Things you have to take care of in order to increase the chances of meeting business objectives while making end users happy.
  4. Technology: Among all platforms and technical approaches, what is the best fit for the three quadrants we just discussed?

The product canvas preaches that technology should be the last thing you think about when developing a highly engaging mobile app. It facilitates the conversation between developers, designers and the business and provides valuable insight for technological decisions that otherwise would be made in a techno-centric fashion. User-centric development with business in mind is the way forward.

For technology, a mobile development shop or mobile studio should have a portfolio of approaches that can be leveraged in each specific situation. It all depends on what you want to maximize: user experience, agility, reach, savings, etc.  At the Ci&T mobile studio, we are currently focused on the following three main pillars:

· Native: iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone platforms. Although you have to program in each OS-specific language for each platform, this is the best approach if your goal is to provide the best possible user experience for a specific device.

· Hybrid: The idea is that you will be able to use HTML, CSS and JavaScript as universal languages to build apps for multiple platforms. It’s much easier to find people fluent in these languages than Objective C and Java. The hybrid approach allows you to access low-level features of the phones through specific APIs and will generate a native app that can be deployed to the specific app stores. We’ve developed apps using Appcelerator’s Titanium (a true native code generator), but our preferred hybrid approach is Phonegap (a browser-powered app engine) with native implementation of extensions whenever needed.

· HTML5: This is a standard that is currently being pushed by leaders in the market and it allows developers to build rich applications to run within compatible browsers. Your apps can potentially run in any currently available smartphone, with minor adjustments due to different form factors. The downside is the limitations of what can be done with HTML5 and that apps aren’t able to access hardware-specific features of the phones.

We have successfully used the product canvas at Ci&T’s mobile studio in all mobile application engagements in the past year. We begin building it during the pre-sales phase, and as soon as the project starts, we add a big print-out of it right next to our Kanbans. The product canvas is updated throughout the project lifecycle so that everyone is kept on the same page every time a product decision is made. It has proved to be very useful for us in understanding product goals in a very concise and direct way and to also have every stakeholder understand what the product is about.

We’ve received outstanding feedback from our clients since we started using this method. We constantly hear that we are asking the right questions at the right time, which keeps the project moving along smoothly. When keeping the business goals in mind during the entire development process, it has become easier to anticipate client questions and potential project roadblocks, so we are able to approach the client before they come to us. Based on the success we have seen utilizing the product canvas, I strongly encourage other mobile app development teams to adopt a similar structure to their development process. In the end, you’ll realize that you are not only satisfying clients, but extending your team’s development expertise. 

More Stories By Marcio Cyrillo

Marcio Cyrillo is head of mobile services and senior business manager at Ci&T, a technology outsourcing and software product engineering company. With Ci&T since 1999, he focuses on interactive services and mobile development in his current position. He also is a member of the Ci&T Entrepreneurship Program, from which he launched the program’s first mobile app, runens, earlier this year. As a result of his success developing runens, Cyrillo now serves as a mentor to Brazil-based Ipanema Games, a mobile gaming start-up. He holds a PhD in applied physics from Universidade Estadual de Campinas and two MBAs in sales management and entrepreneurship from Fundacao Getulio Vargas and Babson College.

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