Maturing Your Mobile Development Team


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As the role of mobile in business grows, more and more companies are finding it necessary to bring development in-house and assemble their own teams. Although software development isn't a new field, the speed and iteration implicit in mobile means that succesful teams need to take certain considerations. This guide looks at the stages companies move through in the growth of their mobile initiatives and how to build a team made to scale.

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  • Notion is mentioned on writing requirements or functional design documentation. Is this all going to be done by the UX guys? I don't believe that. Both the design team and/or the development team need to allocate time for that. Or is this really an old fashioned approach?
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Maturing Your Mobile Development Team

  1. 1. Maturing Your Mobile Development Team Part 1: Organizing and Evolving Your Development Efforts By the start of 2011, mobile had grown within many companies to merit dedicated internal depart- ments and focused development efforts. Both the value that mobile brings and the complexity inherent in mobile development has driven this change, elevating internal mobile production teams to a level of sophistication already comparable to their web counterparts. Further, in comparison to web, this acceleration in sophistication has occurred over a much shorter time frame. So what separates successful mobile teams from the rest? We’ve found over and over that the best mobile teams adapt their strategies and team structures to the prodigious speed and breadth of mobile. And while companies have been assembling in-house development teams for years, mobile presents challenges not previously encountered in other forms of development. The most productive and effective mobile teams are structured to account for: Regular, frequent product iteration Organizations have even less lead time to build for new technologies. Despite rapid growth in all dimensions, the mobile industry is still nascent, and there is often little precedent for how users will respond to a product. Gearing the team for frequent iterations prepares companies to embrace the unknown. Cross-functionality within teams In mobile, product strategy, design, and development are intricately linked. Depart- ments within a mobile team cannot operate as islands and must work together throughout the product life cycle. 1
  2. 2. Intro to the Mobile Maturity ModelIn January 2011, IDC and Appcelerator released the Mobile Developer Report, a joint venture highlight-ing important trends in mobile development. Among many other findings, they unearthed the following: 1. Companies go through distinct phases in adopting mobile technologies. The three main stages can be categorized as Exploration, Acceleration, and Innovation. 2. Maturation is occurring quickly, with most companies entering the Acceleration phase within roughly a year of commencing a mobile practice. From 2010 to 2011, the study saw a growth in companies maturing to the Acceleration phase from 27% to 55% of the overall field. 3. Most companies are adopting a multi-platform approach that encompasses tablets, smartphones, and multiple operating systems. In 2011, the average organi- zation planned to create apps for four separate devices; in 2010, the figure was just two. 4. The average number of apps developed by each company per year increased from 2.3 in 2010 to 6.5 in 2011, an increase of 183%. 5. Many companies are insourcing their core web services development. This is generally in alignment with the Create Once Publish Everywhere (COPE) strategy that we advocate. Where Companies Fall in the Mobile Maturity Model, 2010 vs. 2011 Exploration Acceleration Innovation 60 55% 50 44% 40 30 27% 20% 20 19% 9% 10 % Getting Source: Appcelerator / IDC 1/2011 Started 2010 2011 2
  3. 3. The darker side of these facts is that this expedited growth often brings with it a lot of scrambling toget projects out the door. The result is a loss of oversight across departments and a lack of develop-ment bandwidth that can drive projects over budget and out of the dedicatedtimeline.But companies ARE finding ways to absorb these growing pains. In our experience working alongsideCMOs, CIOs, Mobile Product Leads, and product managers across a variety of industries, it is thosewith a clear team structure road map that find the most success.The following three team structures cover each phase of the Maturity Model, laying out a blueprint forbuilding and expanding mobile teams capable of operating and excelling in mobile.Exploration Stage Team Structure Mobile Developer Team Compostition • All-around skilled Mobile Developer • All-around UX and Visual Designer • Project Manager • Pool of testersThe Exploration structure offers a low-risk entry into mobile development for companies looking toproduce simple apps with a minimal number of in-house team members.The organizational structure associated with this stage is loose and incorporates only a few dedicatedcompany resources: 1. A designer and developer who are either a) a talented generalist with a variety of mobile skills, or b) a specialist on the platform the company plans to start targeting. 2. A product manager who guides the project time lines and is accountable to the company’s stakeholders. 3. A pool of company employees to carry out testing in lieu of a dedicated Quality Assurance team.This structure is inefficient for developing more than one or two apps at any given time, and lack ofexperience across platforms limits your mobile initiative’s reach across multiple platforms. However, theExploration model is a low-risk way to set off a mobile initiative, and adding more employees oroutsourcing specialty needs can increase capacity.The Exploration structure lacks the complexity necessary to facilitate a productive mobile environment,but it serves as a foundation for a company to build upon as it moves through the next phase ofmaturation. 3
  4. 4. Acceleration Stage Team Structure Team Compostition • Design team led by director • Development team led by director • Project Managers • QA team led by directorStage two - Acceleration - expands the number of projects a mobile team can handle and introducesways to share team resources across individual projects.As more projects are introduced to the company’s pipeline, they will invariably exist at a variety ofdifferent stages, and the availability of talent will also ebb and flow with the progress of projects. TheAcceleration model accommodates this by assembling employees into virtual teams with flexibility towork across multiple projects, in different phases, all at once.In contrast to the Experimental structure’s fixed teams, the Acceleration structure charges departmentheads with managing their employee resources. PMs work with these departmental directors toassemble a virtual team for each project according to employee availability at the time. If certainprojects appear to be particularly demanding over a long period of time, members can be peeled offfrom each department to create a dedicated account team. At this level, enough applications are beingproduced that a library of reusable code will begin to accumulate, greatly improving overall efficiency.The Acceleration structure’s only weakness is its lack of cross-functionality. Because each teammember’s time is fully allocated, they are frequently unavailable to return to products in need ofrevision. Few employees stay on for each of an app’s iterations, obstructing the evolution of thoseapps and hindering the full practice of agile development. 4
  5. 5. Innovation Stage Team Structure Team Compostition • Development Dept. w/ Lead iOS, • Design Dept. w/ Lead Visual Designer, Android, Blackberry, Server, etc. User Research, User Experience, etc. • QA Dept. w/ Unit Testing, Load Testing, • Project Management Department Usability Testing, etc.The Innovation phase is designed for large, oftentimes global, companies seeking to offer completeshared services for departments requesting mobile products company-wide. This structure accommo-dates all major platforms, with specialists to address each, and can handle the creation and long-termmanagement of a nearly-infinite number of projects.These goals are made attainable by taking the concept of the small, specialized team and multiplying ithundreds of times over.Unlike the Acceleration structure’s departmental directors, Innovative organizations are more granularand possess a director for each particular function. This iOS team, for instance, would consist of a leadand two medium-grade engineers, with the understanding that these three members could cover allnecessary iOS skills including front and back end development, computation, and integration. Thismodel is then repeated not just with other mobile platforms, but throughout all of the organization’sdepartments, including QA, UX, Visual Design, and others.The Innovation structure comes with two main benefits not achieved in the previous structures: 1. Running Knowledge of Availability Each small, dedicated team operates with a complete understanding of its availability. This allows for a considerable degree of balance between projects, enabling each departmental unit to work on three to four projects simultaneously while still possessing the flexibility to offer its time for cross-functional purposes when needed 5
  6. 6. 2. Incorporated Help Structure Should any individual team become overwhelmed, it can easily gain assistance from one of its fellow teams. Because no department team is over-saturated with projects, any unit can shift efforts to help when neces- sary and quickly re-prioritize its own tasks. Through this method, problems can easily be contained and absorbed by the whole.Dynamic teams also offer the benefit of creating clear paths of advancement for the future. Pairingjunior and senior talent facilitates instant, side-by-side feedback and prepares junior staff members toeventually lead their own teams.ConclusionOnly 20% of companies currently operate at the Innovation phase, but if the Mobile Maturity Modelholds true, 2012 may see a much larger pool of companies ready to massively expand their mobileefforts.By structuring your mobile road map at the division’s inception and driving toward Innovation, you canexpand to more platforms, produce higher-quality apps, and reach a broader audience, all within ashorter rollout cycle. A calculated development structure will also enable your organization to maturebeyond a reliance on outsourced expertise, trimming costs and enabling a prolonged and higherdegree of engagement with users. Establish clear intentions for your mobile initiative during its initialphases and take charge of your company’s capabilities. 6