The Role of Growth in Mobile Product Development

This post explains how to incorporate growth thinking and action into each major phase of product development.

Best Practices
April 4, 2017
Image of Al Harnisch
Al Harnisch
VP of Growth, Prolific Interactive
The Role of Growth in Mobile Product Development

As the native mobile space matures, the biggest app-related issue brands face has shifted from UX and backend infrastructure to growth and monetization. Brands are learning that launching a proper native app is a great first step, but only a starting point. There’s so much more road to travel, much more product development needed, and this is where brands often get tripped up.

For a native app to drive sustainable value for a company, growth techniques must be top-of-mind for the product team from day one. If you wait until launch to invite marketing into the conversation then you’re already months behind, and the executives are impatiently waiting to see their mobile ROI. This post explains how to incorporate growth thinking and action into each major phase of product development.

Team Composition

Imagine, a brand’s executive team decides it’s time to do native mobile right, and earmarks a substantial investment in building a custom, tailored, native app. Whether in-house or outsourced, the first step is to assemble a team. A baseline development team usually consists of product management, design, and engineering. Smart companies also integrate UX research and dedicated QA into the process, but the team rarely extends beyond there. This is a mistake. The crucial component missing from the product team is growth marketing. Philosophically, the team needs someone who is constantly thinking about scaling a sustainable user base that drives value. In practice, this means someone on the team needs to be:

  1. Creating a detailed growth plan during discovery.
  2. Facilitating its technical implementation during product development.
  3. Executing and iterating on the plan once the app launches.
    The most effective way to prepare a native app for growth right from the start is to have a full-time member of the product team focused on a growth marketing plan and the corresponding technical requirements for success. At Prolific Interactive, we call this individual a Product Strategist. The role evolves throughout the product development process and post launch. Here’s how.

Phase 1: Discovery

During the discovery phase of new product development, all folks on the product team have different roles. The Product Manager is responsible for creating a roadmap and prioritizing development work. Engineers must audit the APIs and communicate to the team what is available to work with. UX speaks to customers to understand their motivations and pain points. Designers get a feel for the brand and any UI guidelines.

The Product Strategist must study the current state of data and marketing, and identify how this new mobile product will fit into that situation.

Many product growth techniques have a technical component that requires engineering time and can impact architectural decisions. It is important that the technical requirements are identified upfront and communicated with the team so they can be included in the roadmap from the start.

The Product Strategist will outline the technical requirements in partnership with a Lead Engineer. They will then partner with the Mobile Product Manager to negotiate priorities within the backlog and roadmap.

To prepare the team for these considerations, the Product Strategist needs to answer the following questions during the Discovery phase: Growth Planning

  • What are our volume-based goals of this initiative (ie: revenue, user volume)?
  • How many users with a given goal completion rate do we need to reach our goals?
  • How will we grow the app user base? Can this approach reach our volume goals?
  • How will we measure and optimize the app experience itself?
  • How will we maximize user retention? How long do we expect users to be active?

Related: You’re Measuring Daily Active Users Wrong

Technical Planning

  • What set of tools do we need built into the app to enable the growth plan?
  • Which features of each tool need to be implemented for success?
  • How do these tools integrate with the brand’s existing data/marketing infrastructure and processes?
    Answering these questions early on empowers the entire product team to have a more growth-driven mindset from the start, and affords growth-related considerations (typically critical to achieving and maintaining an ROI) to properly influence the product roadmap.

Phase 2: Initial Product Development

The first few weeks of agile production are usually an opportunity for the Product Manager and engineers to settle in and establish a high-level architecture while design gets a slight head start. With the development team pre-occupied, this is the perfect opportunity for the Product Strategist to map out the details of the growth strategy and give it some depth. It is also a good time to form an early alliance between marketing, product, and engineering by rallying the group around ROI and scale as opposed to deliverables. Growth touches many aspects of the business, so getting various people involved early and often is key. For each service and technique we plan to employ, the Product Strategist now needs to address the following: Operational

approach to growth
  • What is the timeline for each initiative?
  • How will we phase in each aspect of the plan?
  • Who will be owning the execution of each aspect of the plan?
  • Which stakeholders do we need to involve?
  • What level of education does each stakeholder need to be successful?
  • Will we be integrating the SDK directly or through a tag management system?
  • What are the specific events, user attributes, and ecommerce data we need tracked?
  • How will we communicate these requirements with the team?
  • What backend, API, and marketing system integrations do we need setup?
  • Which services also need to be implemented on the website?

Once the product team is moving at full speed, the Product Strategist’s role becomes increasingly technical.

For the engineering squad to properly implement the various marketing and analytic services required for the growth plan, they need a detailed implementation guide that demonstrates what to track, and how to track it. This usually manifests in the form of a spreadsheet that becomes a key communication tool and the living contract between the Product Strategist and Engineering squad. Ensuring each tool is implemented exactly as outlined, and that the data is QA’d and feeds into each service cleanly, is an essential component of launching a successful growth plan. Minor infractions such as inconsistent capitalization can dirty entire reports in many analytic and marketing tools. It’s important to note that the implementation of a mobile growth stack can be quite tedious for all involved. At [Prolific][] we’ve found it useful for engineers and strategists to collaborate on the spec document and which helps build empathy for each others’ role and vision. A shared understanding of the importance of each service and the accuracy of the data makes for a more productive and energetic relationship between the roles.

Preparing for Launch

As the launch date draws near, the Product Manager, Engineers, and Designers are in crunch mode to get the build prepared for launch. They need to move to production environments, fix any remaining bugs, and accomplish that last piece of scope creep. The Product Strategist certainly plays a role in all that, ensuring the SDKs are properly integrated and the data collection is clean, but they must also turn their attention towards launch planning. The more buzz around launch the better, but keep in mind that the hype-generated influx of traffic tends to be less qualified than regular users, so having a few retention techniques in place on day one can be especially helpful to get tangible value from the hype. As we approach launch, the Product Strategist is focused on the following questions: Launch Plan

* What will we name the app? How should we structure the app store description? Which keywords will we focus on for the App Store? * Do we have a mobile app splash page for the website? Homepage takeover? * Is the marketing team set to send an email announcing the launch? * Is our advertising team ready to launch an install and re-engagement campaign? * Are we taking full advantage of the PR opportunity? * Do we have a [product analytics][6] platform in place to measure performance and track growth?

Growth Plan

* Are all our data and marketing services properly implemented and thoroughly QA’d? * Are CTAs in place on our website to drive the right users to the app? * Which product metrics should we pay close attention to? Have we build dashboards to track them? * Is our MVP push notification strategy configured and QA’d in our messaging tool? * Has our email process been updated to accommodate app-friendly links?

Many companies try to cram all service integrations into the final weeks. However, an advantage to starting growth conversations early is that you can take an “agile” approach to growth planning. At Prolific, we make data and marketing service integrations a part of each features’ acceptance criteria in order to balance the workload and lessen the burden during “crunch time”.

Related: Why Underestimating Small Growth Wins is a Costly Mistake

Release and Post Launch

The app is live, congratulations! We’ve officially made it to the finish starting line. If all went smoothly, there was a big launch and plenty of upfront installs. The MVP growth plan shows some wins and losses, and adjustments are being made accordingly. The carefully crafted analytic integration demonstrates what is and is not working within the app experience itself (Amplitude is great for this!).

Once the dust settles, the Product Strategist can now iterate on the initial growth plan rollout and bring the full vision to life.

You may even require a team dedicated to mobile analytics and growth! It is critical at this stage to stay in lock step with the Product Manager and development team, as the feature roadmap will continue to have growth-related implications as well as new opportunities. Some questions to continually focus on with a live app:

  • Are we on pace to hit our volume-based KPIs? If not, we must diagnose the core issue. Is it because of a lack or users, a lack of engagement/conversion, or high user churn?
  • What is working with the current growth plan? How can we capitalize further?
  • What isn’t working with the current plan? What new experiments can we shift to?
  • Are we complementing or duplicating the company’s wider marketing efforts?
  • What traffic sources can we look to for incremental value and/or high-quality users?
  • What is the appropriate retention interval to pay attention to? Are my retention techniques helping to drive that number up?

Related: Download the Product Analytics Playbook: Mastering Retention

The key to success and sustainability is a relentlessly data-driven approach to both development and growth. As I’ve demonstrated, there is a lot of upfront strategic planning and technical consideration required to be prepared for robust growth. The earlier you start incorporating it into your workflow, the faster you’ll achieve success.

About the Author
Image of Al Harnisch
Al Harnisch
VP of Growth, Prolific Interactive
I have extensive experience working with SaaS startups, agencies, and Fortune 500 brands across product, marketing, data, analytics, growth, and business development. These days, I apply this multi-faceted experience by helping companies establish value-add partnerships and build energizing partner teams to nurture and grow these important relationships over time.
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