10 Biggest Challenges When Developing An App

“Two guys in a Starbucks can have access to the same computing power as a Fortune 500 company”: commented Jim Deters, founder of Galvanize, the technology learning provider.

Looking beyond computing power, the comment also demonstrates the importance of app development in today‘s global economy. The total number of iOS app downloads grew from 25+ billion in 2016 to 197 billion in 2017.

These figures are simply staggering, and unmatched by any other major industry.

However, in order to do this, companies must overcome several app development challenges. I explain them here.


The challenges of developing an app
Undertaking an important app development project?

The challenges of developing an app

We will now review the 10 biggest challenges of developing an app, and outline how they can be resolved:

1. Finding the right project manager

Developers require the right skillsets, development platforms, tools, and frameworks in order to undertake app development. However, the most critical success factor is a competent project manager (PM), and it‘s not easy to find one!

You need to hire a PM with the following skills and competencies:

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2. Selecting the right SDLC model for the project

Each software development project is unique, therefore, selecting the right software development life cycle (SDLC) model is key. Examples of popular SDLC models are as follows:

  • Waterfall;
  • Iterative;
  • Spiral;
  • V-shaped model;

Read “What Is software development life cycle and what you plan for?” to learn more about these models.

Choosing the right model can be tricky, therefore, you need to think carefully, e.g.:

  • Are you developing a core software system for a particular enterprise, e.g., ERP, CRM, etc.? Such software systems do not undergo changes that frequently. These applications deal with the core business operations in an organization. Upfront planning, definitive project scoping, etc. are vital here. We typically call these “Systems of Record” (SoRs). “Waterfall” is the best methodology for such development projects.
  • On the other hand, if you are developing customer-facing apps like web or mobile apps, you will need to enhance them frequently. You will typically launch a “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) and adjust it according to market feedback. You may even add completely new features, payment options, etc., based on this feedback. These apps are called “Systems of Engagement” (SoEs), and Agile suits such projects. Read more about it in “Waterfall vs Agile: which methodology is right for your project”.

3. Forming a capable app development team

Having a capable development team is a key factor of success, however, it can also be hard to form one! Assuming you are undertaking a web and mobile app development project, you need the following roles in the team:

  • IT architects: They need to choose the right architecture pattern.
  • UI/UX designers: iOS UI designers should know “Human Interface Guidelines”, whereas Android UI designers should be conversant with the “Material design guidelines”.
  • Web developers: Consider hiring js developers for web app development.
  • Android developers: Hire developers with Kotlin
  • iOS developers: I recommend that you hire Swift
  • Testers: Consider hiring testers with experience in Espresso for Android testing, and XCTest for iOS testing.

Note: I have not recommended that you hire cloud platform architects, mobile backend developers, infrastructure architects, and DevOps engineers. The reason for this is that I recommend using managed cloud services which don’t require these – more on this later.

4. Choosing the right software architecture pattern

After gathering your business requirements, you will need to make key decisions regarding the choice of a software architecture pattern. You need to get these decisions right, therefore, choosing the right pattern is important. There are several software architecture patterns, e.g.:

  • Layered (n-tier) pattern;
  • Event-driven pattern;
  • Microkernel pattern;
  • Microservices pattern;
  • Space-based pattern.

Read more about these architecture patterns in “Large enterprise Java projects architecture”.

Think carefully before choosing a pattern. I will illustrate this decision-making process with the following examples:

  • If you are developing a heavy-duty app like Netflix that has clearly segregated services, then the microservices pattern is the right choice since it allows for good scalability. However, ensure that you have clearly decoupled the services from each other. Read “10 best practices for building a microservice architecture” for more insights.
  • Assume that you want to ensure that your app’s business never concerns itself with the UI logic. This is important for “Separation of concerns”, however, it‘s hard to implement. Programmers might mix data access code with other code that performs calculations. Furthermore, you might tie yourself down to specific frameworks and database vendors, to manage dependencies. This is undesirable, and “Clean architecture” is your answer in such circumstances. You can read “Clean architecture for Android apps” for more information.

5. Finding the right “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) provider

If you are an up-and-coming entrepreneur or startup, you might be able to afford a high upfront high investment in IT infrastructure.

Therefore, you will need to find the right managed cloud services provide for your web app development, and this is where “Platform as a Service” (PaaS) providers come into play. I recommend that you use a PaaS provider since they offer the following advantages:

  • They manage the cloud infrastructure, networking, storage, operating system, middleware, and runtime environment. You bring your code and data, which enables you to expedite your project.
  • PaaS providers enable you to integrate database, DevOps, “Application Performance Monitoring” (APM) solutions, and auto-scaling solutions.
  • You can easily integrate 3rd party APIs in your code when you use a PaaS platform.
  • When you work with a PaaS provider, you don‘t need to hire cloud platform architects and DevOps engineers. As a matter of fact, reputed PaaS platforms like AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Heroku make it really easy to use DevOps.

You can read “10 top PaaS providers for 2019” before you choose a PaaS provider.

6. Selecting an appropriate “Mobile Backend as a Service” (MBaaS) provider

One of the biggest mobile app development challenges is the development and ongoing management of mobile backend. Most entrepreneurs are in a hurry to launch their mobile app into the market. They prioritize UI design and implementing the features. Mobile backend development, and its ongoing management, take time.

Using a “Mobile Backend as a Service” (MBaaS) provider allows them to offload the backend part. The advantages of using MBaaS providers are many, e.g.:

Read How We Helped a Marketing Company to Build a Back-Office Custom Ads Dashboard

  • MBaaS providers address cloud infrastructure, persistent storage, etc.
  • Mobile platforms and devices are numerous, and this poses a complexity when developing mobile apps. MBaaS platforms simplify this.
  • User management, security, push notifications, etc. are easier to implement when using an MBaaS platform.
  • It’s also easier to scale the mobile app and integrate 3rd party APIs when you use MBaaS platforms.
  • You don‘t need to hire mobile backend developers and cloud platform architects if you use an MBaaS platform.

AWS Amplify, Google Firebase are some of the reputed MBaaS providers. You can find more examples of MBaaS providers in “How to choose the best Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS)?”.

7. Choosing the right programming languages and development tools

Using the right programming languages and tools is key to achieving maximum productivity. The choice of languages and tools open to developers vary greatly depending on the kind of app you want to develop.

Assuming you are developing web and mobile apps, I recommend the following programming languages:

  • Use Node.js for web app development: This open-source runtime environment helps in developing scalable and performant apps. Key features like streaming are easy to implement with Node.js, moreover, using NoSQL databases like MongoDB is easier. A vibrant developer community has built thousands of excellent shared frameworks and tools for Node.js. I have described a few of them in “10 great tools for Node.js software development”.
  • Code the Android app using Kotlin: A modern open-source language, Kotlin has a concise syntax, which helps to improve the productivity of programmers. Android developers can code fast, performant apps with Kotlin, moreover, the language facilitates bug-free coding. Read more about Kotlin in “Kotlin vs Java: which is the best choice?”.
  • Develop the iOS app using Swift: Swift is the language of choice for iOS developers since it has powerful features that make them more productive. iOS apps coded in Swift are fast, and code is easy to maintain. Read about its advantages in “How to migrate your Objective-C project to Swift?”.

Developers look for robust “Integrated Development Environments” (IDEs) to achieve higher productivity. I recommend that you use the following:

  • Eclipse or IntelliJ IDEA for web app development: For Node.js development using Eclipse, you need to install plugins, and you can find them here. Similarly, IntelliJ IDEA has plugins for Node.js development, and you can read about them here.
  • Android Studio for Android development.
  • Xcode for iOS development.

8. Finding the right testing solution

Selenium, Espresso, etc. help in web and mobile app testing. However, Agile projects typically have releases every 2 weeks, and test automation can be a challenge with open-source tools and frameworks. Additionally, a wide range of browsers, mobile platforms, and mobile devices further increase the complexity of this task.

To start with, I recommend the following solutions:

  • Selenium: This is one of the most popular open-source frameworks for web app testing automation. Selenium WebDriver is a very popular browser-based automation suite.
  • Espresso: Espresso is a popular framework for Android UI testing, and it works well with Android Studio.
  • XCTest: It‘s a very popular framework for iOS testing, and your testers can consult “iOS unit testing and UI testing tutorial” if they need guidance.

However, you still need to address the following:

  • You need to bring your testing effort in line with the “Continuous Integration” (CI)/ “Continuous Development” (CD) requirements in an Agile environment.
  • The test suite needs to work across a wide range of browsers and mobile devices, in a parallel testing set-up.
  • The testing team needs robust reporting and analytics.

For these, I recommend that you use the following solutions from Experitest:

9. Making the project team productive

In the age of Agile software development, the traditional approach involves using silos and centralized decision making, which are no longer considered effective. Making the project team productive requires a paradigm shift in thinking.

The solution lies in creating an environment where the team is empowered. My recommendations are as follows:

  • You might work with a remote team, therefore, learn how to effectively lead such a team. Our guide “10 essential tips to managing remote employees” can help.
  • Use the “Scrum” technique to manage the project.
  • Form small, cross-functional teams called “Scrum teams”, where the PM performs the role of a “Scrum master”. The scrum master makes decisions, but so do the team members.
  • Scrum teams have designers, developers, and testers working together, thereby breaking silos.
  • Such teams have documentation, but it focuses on what adds value to the client. An example is the “Product Backlog”, i.e. the document containing requirements, provided by the “Product owner”.
  • Scrum teams have meetings, however, these are focused on “Sprints”, i.e., iterations that create fully functional products. Teams hold “Sprint planning meetings” to plan iterations, and “Sprint review meetings” to demonstrate the app and get approval for the sprint. A Scrum team also holds “Daily stand-up meetings” to track the project status.
  • Instead of relying entirely on annual performance reviews, scrum teams have “Sprint retrospective meetings”, to learn lessons from a completed sprint.

Read more about scrum in “How to build a Scrum development team?”.

10. Measuring the progress of the project in real-time

With the onset of Agile, tracking the progress of a project has changed, as follows:

  • Such projects use a wide range of tools to run builds, managing releases, etc. These tools produce a large volume of data, however, we need to extrapolate insights from the data.
  • Project teams need to track Agile metrics, e.g., sprint burndown, velocity, lead time, cycle time, etc.
  • For an Agile team to be successful, they must know their real-time performance at all times.
  • With releases every 2 weeks, stakeholder management now requires meaningful status reporting much more frequently.

The solution is to use a real-time dashboard. Such real-time dashboard tracks Agile metrics real-time and provides actionable insights from project data.

This helps in keeping the team informed about their progress in real-time, moreover, stakeholder management becomes easier. I have already explained the importance of such dashboards in “How a real-time dashboard can revolutionize your eSports development process?”.

Undertaking an important app development project?

There is no denying that a capable team, using the right tools and frameworks, choosing the right platforms, and following best practices are key to app development.

However, overcoming app development challenges can be tricky. You might choose to seek professional help to ensure your project runs smoothly. I recommend that you read our guide “How to find the best software development company?” before engaging a development partner.

Download Our Project Specification Template