In my last post, I discussed how the user experience of a mobile app is critical to ensure that the app will actually be downloaded and used. We discussed how Agile software development practices are excellent in fostering communication between team members, but that while constant communication takes place, the overall view of the wider project can be lost.
So, how can we change this status quo? How can we incentivize software engineers and other team members 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 right? While there might be many answers to these questions, we decided to look for the simplest visual solution, like the kanbans that we use on a daily basis.
I recently 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. The product canvas was born.
As in the kanbans, we use Post-its to write on the product canvas, an example is shown below.
We have four big sets of questions represented by four quadrants and they 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 end-users of the app. There should be as many Post-its 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 client’s shoes and try to answer the questions;
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?
In brief, 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 now 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.
* 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.
In less than a year of utilizing this method, we’ve received outstanding feedback from our clients. We constantly hear that we are asking the right questions at the right time. 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 to not only satisfy the client, but extend your own development expertise and success.