Guest Post – Rapid App Development for Mobile – Experience of OAB Studios
When we started as a small, unorthodox team poised to build our own apps almost 4 years ago; we had read, studied and applied many software development methodologies: Waterfall, spiral and many flavors of iterative development. Since those days, we have worked with many clients, on many projects, and learned that the[tweetherder] optimal methodology depends on the project’s scope, requirements, status and client corporate culture[/tweetherder]. Today, we are predominantly an AGILE shop, heavily reliant on SCRUM, but occasionally a requirement that would be tackled best by waterfall would be developed accordingly.
As we have gained confidence in moving between methodologies and recognizing which project should be developed using which model, we began to become very interested in the Rapid Application Development (RAD) model and its application to the development of mobile applications and games.
The reason for this being that, although many mobile apps and games today are intricate and detailed pieces of software, many are very simple concepts that do a few things very well. We began to recognize that in these very certain cases heavy documentation and strict processes could often bog down the small project, elongating the development cycle simply on principle.
We felt that in these particular cases RAD seemed like a brilliant idea for a number of reasons: (1) These kinds of projects should be developed very quickly (2) These projects would require very small teams or small inputs from various teams (3) The budget for such projects should be kept as small as possible.
However, we also felt that the methodology fell short in most cases when it came to work for clients, as RAD is inherently not 100% clear and cannot produce definitive schedules and milestones, but, in the development of our own intellectual property, we felt that it was perfect. It would allow us to rapidly build prototypes of our ideas, validate them and make decisions from there. Theoretically, it also would allow us to incite an even more collaborative environment while enabling our developers and designers to have the freedom to use their creativity and intellect and push their own limits.
We decided we would experiment with the methodology, from conception to release, for two small internal projects – an iOS app and a casual game. We began by creating small teams of highly efficient designers and developers. From there we started brainstorming concepts that were the right size for RAD. These were very rough, hi-level concepts and that was where we left them. We purposefully did not define them beyond a sentence or two.
From there we began development. Design concepts were played with early on, but we really focused on mechanics, functionality and getting a usable prototype exemplifying baseline functionality as fast as possible in both projects.
In both cases, we had prototypes in one day that we could tangibly test and play. In the case of the app we had an extremely rough user experience but the core functionality was exemplified nearly perfectly to begin to drive refinements and the product to the next stage. In the case of the game, we had a very rough core mechanic we could play with and begin to tweak, but we could easily see the core mechanic was very fun and addictive.
We continued to progress without a clear schedule, but instead with a daily ritual in its place. We would come in in the morning, hold and attend our respective stand-up meetings for our client projects moving in SCRUM and then have a quick meeting about our two RAD projects. The nature of these daily meetings was rather ad hoc; we would play with the builds, decide on the next tasks and refinements for the day, whiteboard a little and then go and take care of our respective duties. Spontaneous sessions and conversations would occur regularly in between the meetings to further refine an idea or even produce another, further enabling the product to make versatile and quick changes that would usually have to wait in their slavery to the sprint.
As the projects progressed, they began to pick up features and refinements very organically, with the best user experience decisions and feature enhancements presenting themselves through testing and playing with a build rather than theorizing, applying, validating then refining. This combined with favoring daily meetings and white boarding, while keeping documentation light, enabled us to move quicker and more efficiently, as our decisions would be immediately reflected in development rather than first having to be documented, designed then implemented.
Once the products began to take shape we took a step back and began to attack the actual aesthetic and experience areas of the products. From an experiential standpoint, little work was to be done as, through our continual testing and refinement, we worked most experiential issues out naturally. This basically left us with two naked products to dress up aesthetically. Already-intimate relationships with both pieces of software made this a rather easy invocation of the character of two products. We managed to develop our app in less than 5 days and we submitted the app to Apple last week. Our game was developed in 8 weeks from conception to completion and is set to release in late August.
We were extremely satisfied with the RAD experiments for a bunch of reasons, some of which are: (1) RAD instigated a very high level of collaboration and many on-the-fly sessions that have strengthened team culture – the relationships and trust between team members (2) We were able to build two very polished products very quickly, within a very small budget (3) The highly undefined nature of RAD forced team members to make decisions and be creative.
I would recommend that any team try developing a small project in RAD.
Our two experiments, Scan2Drive (a simple navigations tool that enables users to scan an address or speak it in order to calculate directions) and our game, Dungeons + Balloons (a kitschy casual game), will be available for download for free later this month via the Apple App Store and Google Play.
About OAB Studios:
With an eclectic mix of graphic designers, animators, software engineers, game specialists, brand consultants and product strategists, OAB Studios is primed to supply arms for the digital revolution. They are a 40 member team based in the US and India delivering products for F500 & startups.