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Large enterprises need to build a mobile app development organisation that will scale to simultaneously develop and maintain multiple apps across different parts of the company. Business units, sales, marketing and operations will all demand different levels of support for customers, employees and business partners.
Enterprises that are already well down the path of the mobile mindshift reveal a recurring organisational pattern that works and scales well with demand. It is composed of three or four distinct teams with varying levels of seniority and technical ability.
The first is the mobile steering committee. Since mobile touches so many parts of the business – not just a single business operation or a single technology system – it is wise for chief marketing officers to own the process of setting priorities to win, serve and retain customers.
The mobile steering committee is a cross-functional team with representation from key geographies, products and functional groups. It balances participation from those who serve both customers and employees. But it appears only about 20% of companies have a mobile steering committee.
Next is a mobile centre of excellence. Since the mobile steering committee is an executive decision body, it needs an execution arm to implement the strategy it sets. This is the mobile centre of excellence (sometimes called digital centre of excellence or digital transformation group). The mobile centre of excellence coordinates the skills, investments and partnerships required to deliver mobile moments. Typically, this group integrates talent from an enterprise architecture group, a project management office, e-commerce, customer experience, application development leadership and, occasionally, procurement.
The third type of team is the mobile idea team or teams. Such a team identifies mobile moments, designs the engagement, engineers mobile apps and services, and analyses the results. Teams comprise developers, designers, quality assurance professionals, operations professionals and business owners. An idea team is typically dedicated to a single app for a year or more, although some individual team members may be part-time or come in for a quick contribution.
Team members may still report to functional managers, but they have dotted-line responsibility to the idea team project owner and take daily direction from a product owner or manager responsible for the app.
The final component is the mobile infrastructure services enablement team. Many companies struggle to integrate first-generation mobile apps with information from existing systems of record and automation. This situation is especially true when marketing and sales organisations have taken their own initiative without direct support from tech management.
In this circumstance, integration challenges can become as much about corporate politics as technical capability. That is why some organisations have established a dedicated mobile infrastructure services enablement team that is part of the tech organisation but charged with safely opening up access to core systems of record and automation.
App delivery speed is not the only criterion that a mobile development organisation must meet. Nothing will sink a mobile app faster than defects or poor app performance. And with the overall newness and rate of change of mobile devices and operating systems, it is fair to say that even the best idea teams are learning as they go and are only a few steps ahead of the rest of the class.
Many teams with highly rated apps will readily admit to making mistakes or introducing regressions into apps on occasions. But here is where they employ a bit of development jujitsu – instead of striving harder for perfection, they expect and tolerate a certain amount of first-time failure by designing in mechanisms that spur learning and improve recovery time. Agile techniques are a good starting point, but successful mobile idea teams go further by adding team roles not always found on a classic agile team.
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Mobile idea teams frequently include a formal product manager in addition to a project manager. Product managers report to business units (marketing, sales) and play the scrum role of product owner. They also own the financial and engagement success of the mobile app and collect feedback on app performance. This includes reviewing feedback from beta releases and bug reports and even interacting directly with customers or employees on public forums. If apps are sold or offer in-app purchases, a product manager should have a revenue target and responsibility for adjusting the mix of offers that customers have access to.
While project managers own the schedule, mobile project managers are responsible for the regular cadence of design, development, test and release – and making sure it operates at maximum efficiency. If a mobile idea team is using scrum as a methodology foundation, the project manager will often take on scrum master responsibilities.
The product manager-project manager combination creates in-team tension between shipping as many features as possible (the product manager’s goal) and shipping high-quality code on time (the project manager’s goal).
But because both are measured on a successful, high-quality app, both parties “in the box” are goaled on regular, quality releases. Flow is maximised.
Mobile teams will benefit from techniques that are well known in design circles but seldom used in traditional development shops, such as using personas, journey maps and wireframes. In most firms, design talent is spread thin, so it is incumbent on developers to learn from designers wherever possible and increase their focus on customer needs to the point where they can use personas to answer questions about how the app should work and assess customer feedback to identify opportunities for improvement.
The other element needed for agile mobile development is DevOps. Agile techniques help teams go faster upstream, while DevOps techniques help teams go faster downstream during build and configuration management of successful release candidates. Automated configuration management becomes essential in staging mobile infrastructure that needs to support multiple versions of clients across multiple platforms and adjust capacity on the fly to keep up with client usage patterns.
Overall, it seems acquiring the right mobile development tools and sourcing the right technology partners are not enough. Firms can easily fail without a culture that enables high velocity, rewards high quality, and tolerates failure while meeting it with a rapid response to correct mistakes.