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Mobile application development: Fast, furious -- and flawed?

Mobile application development is a competitive race, so is it more important to get mobile apps out the door fast? Or out feature-rich and flawless?

I recently asked a software engineer what I thought was a somewhat innocuous question: Given the competitive nature of mobile application development, is getting mobile apps out the door fast more important than getting them out the door right?

Her answer made it clear I was making light of a debate that is raging (a slight exaggeration) across corporate America and making IT and business professionals question their core belief systems (a blatant exaggeration).

"I am an engineer, so it goes against my soul to release product with known defects," she said. Having said that, she was quick to add, "However, I understand business needs to get 'good enough' out the door."

Hmmm. That's quite a contradiction (and a compromise) to live with.

Right vs. fast: The backstory

My seemingly harmless question about mobile done right versus mobile done fast didn't come out of left field. It was a question that came about from conversations I had had with J Schwan, founder of Solstice Mobile, and Simon Yates, vice president of Forrester Research's mobility and work experience practice.

Schwan and I were talking about how developing mobile apps is driving CIOs to adopt Agile best practices -- fast development cycles with quality checks embedded in the development cycle, for quick turnaround times.

The marriage of mobile app development and Agile methodologies is being driven largely by time to market, Schwan said. Companies need to respond quickly to a new opportunity or respond to a competitor's new capability. But what is equally driving this partnership is consumer behavior. "Consumers have been trained to understand that these [mobile] apps are iterative in terms of how they are developed. When you downloaded Angry Birds, for example, it started with 30 levels, but then they released another 30 and so on. We are trained for these app updates to occur, and we are more forgiving if it doesn't have all the features that we want because we know the app will continue to evolve," he said.

Forrester's Yates, as part of his ongoing mobile research, is following a group of agencies that specialize in mobile application development. Without any prompting from me, he said that these agencies are very much of the school of thinking that mobile apps should be without flaws before they reach the customer.

"[These agencies] are telling CIOs that they only have one chance to get it right, or risk losing that customer, that audience forever," Yates said.

Flaws or no flaws depends on the nature of the mobile app

So, that is the backstory behind my question -- and just as a side note, in no way was Schwan encouraging folks to send feature-lacking, flaw-filled apps out the door. His advice to CIOs is to get these apps out fast, but with heavy user testing before they hit the larger audience (and to build a mechanism into the app for user feedback). Still, it would seem that if we as customers, employees and consumers really are accepting of missing features and flaws, it should be no big deal if some slip through: After all, the problem will be fixed in the next release in two weeks.

On the other hand, as the CIO of a global insurance company said in response to the question of fast versus right: "Generally, I agree that customers have become very tolerant of little bugs and issues." But -- and this is a big "but" for this CIO -- it all depends on the nature of the app.

"There's a big difference between a game and an app that gives you an insurance quote or files a claim for an auto accident," he said. "No big deal if the game's not working, I'll just go play another one. But if I am led to believe my app filed my claim and it actually didn't, that's not acceptable."

And the debate rages on …

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