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App Development Process: The Complete Guide to Building Amazing Apps that Work First-Time


Taking your concept and design to final execution – from getting the right team to managing workflow and best-practice coding, here’s our ultimate 10-step app development process for products that delight & surprise

The development phase of any app is kind of like conducting the biggest live symphony show in the world, every day, for months on end. There are so many people and factors involved and so much can go either wrong or right, you’re almost certainly better off with absolute expert app developers at your side.

That’s why, during the last four years developing stellar products for corporates and ambitious tech entrepreneurs, we’ve developed a highly-effective app development process – and we happily share a slightly shortened version right here:

Before you start on app development

It’s important to note that by app development in this post, we mean the actual coding and deployment part of rolling out a product, which can be costly and labour-intensive. So it’s vital before you even start writing any code, to go through a concept validation process first, to be sure there’s a need and market for your product – see more on validating your app idea, and then see exactly how long it takes to validate an idea. Also see the steps to validate your mobile app idea and how to run some key validation experiments. (And to get the full picture of timelines and options for launching a new product, see our guide to how long it takes to create a new app.)

Next up is the design process. If you remember, we recently detailed a winning app design process in our post on how to design an app

Only then do we get to development, which is taking all those elements and the final user interface design and turning it into a real, living, breathing product. See how to outsource app development successfully and take a look at the future opportunities in mobile app development and Android app development.

10 Steps for a Seamless App Development Process

1. Assemble the right team

Anyone who’s ever worked on a big software project will know that it takes a lot of seamless collaboration to make it happen. An app, for example, has both a front-end (what the user experiences) and a back-end interface (how the team that creates and manages ongoing content and features in the product engages with the system). And we’re often tempted to assume that employing full-stack developers (able to work on both front- and back-end) to fill both functions at once will suffice.

The truth is, though, that there are nuances in front- and back-end development, and, simply put, specialist developers just have more domain knowledge than an all-rounder. See what you need to build an app development team and consider the facts, figures, pros and cons around outsourcing and insourcing your development.

At Specno, we’ve found through experience that it’s often best to assemble a team of specialists – front-end developers, back-end developers, a scrum master, separate design specialists etc. and these days we use specialists in each field in our app development.

See how to choose the best app developer for you.

2. Develop the final architecture and technical requirements

Before any actual coding starts, it’s vital that the entire team fully understands the product concept, goals and different use cases (a specific scenario that describes how a user interacts with the app to achieve a goal or accomplish a task). 

At Specno, we always have a kickoff sprint with the entire development team, to fully brief everyone and then take the basic system architecture planning that was done during the design phase and refine it into a final architecture.

Importantly, this is when you nail down the specifics of making the architecture scalable – building the system so that it can handle increases in traffic, usage and data without slowing down or crashing. (This often means planning which technologies to use, how many servers to add for horizontal scaling to handle extra requests and even what redundancies and fault-tolerances like extra servers, caching, data replication and backup mechanisms to use.)

All in all, you want to plan out everything you need to ensure the day-to-day development you’re going to be doing, and even your different versions of the app, will all fit in with the long-term vision of the project. See all the benefits of custom software and what you need to know about Android app development.

3. Generate user-focused stories for features 

Features are the lifeblood of any tech product. They’re what users will keep coming back for, which is why you want to ensure they remain user-focused.

See, a feature is technically just a functionality, a bit of code; and, when writing it, you don’t want your developer to lose sight of the main goal of that feature or the product as a whole. That’s why we break down software features in “Stories” – a simplified description of what the user wants to achieve at every stage of the app. 

You can basically break down the entire scope of work for the developer team into Stories. And that’s exactly what we at Specno do – on any given day or stage of the project, a developer is working on specific Story points (subsets of a Story).

This helps ensure that the product is created around the user’s needs every step of the way.

4. Adopt CI/CD principles and get the team aligned

Again, with a large team of specialists working on individual Stories (parts) of the whole, you want to ensure continuity, and that every bit of code integrates well with the entire project.

That’s why adopting Continuous Integration (CI) is so vital. CI is a process of merging code changing from multiple developers into a single repository frequently. This allows the team to almost constantly check whether code integrates well with the system as a whole, and allows you to detect and resolve integration issues and conflicts early in the development process (before it becomes challenging and costly to fix later on).

Similarly, Continuous Delivery (CD) automates the entire process of integrating new code, testing and deploying it. Technically, it keeps the app in an almost always-deployable state even during development – the benefit is that you can at any given moment see the updates and test that they are actually working without any conflicts.

5. Develop your project management systems and methodology

In software development, the Agile approach is almost universally accepted (and proven very successful). That’s why Agile-rooted project management delivers the best results when developing an app.

We at Specno we like to use Agile processes like Kanban, as well as tools like JIRA or Notion.

And then we use the scrum methodology, featuring daily stand-up meetings, Agile processes and tools, CI/CD and the entire project broken up into sprints (see below).

6. Break it down into sprints

Developing a product is complex “knowledge work”, where every part affects the whole, but most importantly: it takes time. The development phase of a new product can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months up to a year, and in that time, every single piece of code/work has an impact on the whole. So, to break it all down and manage the complexity, we run the work in sprints (a short time-boxed period in which certain work must be completed).

What every sprint entails

Every sprint is planned and thus has a specific place on the total sprint roadmap (overview of all work to be done). This usually means that in every sprint there are specific Stories that can be assigned to developers to compete during the sprint.

Planning is very important, as sprints require your features to be broken down into individual work tickets and stories. Additionally, every sprint serves as a mini review of itself – every sprint there’s a report on any issues faced, and how it ties into the next sprint. At Specno, we like to have at least one client demo after every sprint, too, so the client can see the progress.

7. Document processes and flows

As one can imagine, it’s absolutely vital to keep track of all the flows in such a complex project. Everyone on the team needs to know at any given moment who is responsible for what, and what they’re currently working on. (Hence all the Agile tools.)

8. Ensure quality with best-practice

Even with the best-laid plans things can still go wrong, and that’s why you want to employ a few best-practice principles in your development process. These can include:

  • Developers should use Pull Requests before deploying new code
    When a team member wants to implement code changes, they don’t do it directly on the main code repository. Instead, they create a separate branch, apply the code changes there and then create a Pull Request – this requires other developers to help check the code, suggest changes or approve it before it gets added to the main code repository.
  • Test features thoroughly
    Testing every completed feature from as many different perspectives as possible.
  • Use dev, staging and prod environments
    To allow proper testing and validation of all features, it’s best to use the standard 3 environments when developing. 1) The Dev environment is where the developers write code and test the application – and only they have access to this environment. 2) Next, an application is moved to Staging, an environment made to closely resemble the final “live” state, but is not accessible to the public (or anyone outside of the team). And finally it moves to 3) “Prod” or product environment, which is where it is deployed and “live” – available to the public.

9. Roll out the product in stages

As the final layer of quality and security assurance, it’s best to plan product rollout in the standard set of stages:

  • Alpha Stage: After the initial development phase, an Alpha Stage is a live deployment of the application mainly for in-house testing. (It’s usually not stable enough for public release, but good enough for testing and fine-tuning.)

  • Beta Stage: After Alpha updates, the product can be released to a selection of external users (beta testers) for further feedback and refinement.

  • Release Candidate (RC): Following Alpha and Beta, developers will iron out all known issues and prepare a “final” product that’s deemed stable enough to make public.

10. Project review & maintenance

As with anything in life, it’s good practice to just look retrospectively over the entire project. Your app is deployed, and that’s wonderful, but looking back over the entire process that got you here and noting down any issues or problems you had to overcome along the way can provide valuable information for future maintenance and scaling of your product. See why a UX review is a game changer and the 8 instant business benefits of a UX audit. Also see what to expect during the UX audit process and discover how long UX audit should take.

Also see the guide to scaling software.

How long will it take to develop your app?

Every product is different, but, generally, it can take between 3 and 12 months to roll out an MVP, depending on your product's complexity. Get the full picture with our post on app development time, the budget for creating your product in our guide to app development cost and an in-depth exploration of app development.

Take a look at the future opportunities in mobile app development.

Let us Develop Your App For You

There’s a lot that goes into developing an app that actually works the first time, and that’s why we at Specno spent years building one of the best multi-speciality app development teams. See all the benefits of custom software.

To get your app deployed timeously and successfully, contact Specno now.

(You’ll get a response immediately.) 

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