Working as a product manager can be a busy, unpredictable and octopus-like existence. Bringing team members together, organizing user research, product strategy, demos, road mapping and more. You’d be forgiven for pausing if someone asked you to describe your role in a nutshell…where do you start?
If you’re a mobile app product manager there’s a whole additional layer of complexity to add to that cake. Your software needs to be updated frequently and to the satisfaction levels of the app store gatekeepers. You’ve got limited room to play with when it comes screen-size. Your audience has extremely high expectations and you’ve got more than a million other apps competing for your users’ time and attention.
In a recent product management insights report, as many as 57% of PMs said they don’t spend enough or any time road mapping. They also said they wished they had a clearer roadmap when it comes to their product strategy. In addition, product managers said that direct customer feedback and insights were the best sources of their new ideas. As many as 69% reported being responsible for organizing customer interviews – an increase of 10% since the last report was released in 2015!
We’ve taken all these findings onboard and put together this comprehensive product strategy checklist for you to follow. Simply follow the below steps and tick them off in turn to deliver the best mobile app product you can.
1. Start from the beginning
A comprehensive audit of your current situation is always the best place to start when it comes to your product strategy. You should know your company’s broader vision, objectives, target, and KPIs inside out and constantly view your product through the lens of this wider context. If you’ve already got an app, figure out what’s working and what’s not as part of this process. You should also consider your financial model and top-level measures of success early on. If your app serves as a time-saving support tool for banking customers, these things will look very different compared to a level-based gaming app seeking to monetize.
Confirm the need
Whether you’re considering an entirely new build, or already have an app that you now want to accelerate, the first question to ask is why you have or need a mobile app at all. What are you trying to achieve? What needs are you planning to meet through the app? An app should never be viewed as an extension of a web-based online experience, so it’s worth confirming your requirements wouldn’t be met just as easily through a mobile site. The last thing you want is to waste time and money creating a product that didn’t need to exist.
Understand your users
We weren’t surprised to read as many as 34% of product managers conduct user research on a daily basis. As a mobile app PM, understanding as much as you can about your users will be essential for short and long-term success. A mixture of approaches and resources will be useful here. Review any existing feedback you have as well as additional direct channels such as chat bots, surveys, focus groups, and interviews. You can also make use of third-party voice of customer tools for a more automated and managed process. At this planning stage, the goal is to create detailed personas for your target app users and a comprehensive set of mobile use case examples for your objectives.
Understanding your users better will also help to determine your app’s ideal technological specifications. Are most of your audience using iOS or Android? What features are most important to them? Which smartphone devices do they commonly use?
Know your neighbors
Explore your competitors’ apps, and public feedback to document their strengths and weaknesses. It’s a good idea to run searches for ‘crash’ or ‘bugs’ across competitor reviews to see where users might be experiencing specific usability issues.
An ASO tool like App Annie can also provide you with insights into the keywords your competitors are ranking for, which SDKs they are using, and where the majority of their users are based. These insights will help you to create a baseline minimum for your app as well as a competitive gap analysis to highlight where you could jump ahead.
Unite your app team
As a mobile app product manager, you’re going to rely on many stakeholders to help you achieve your product goals. At the minimum, your mobile product will bring design teams, IT, marketing and operations together – these departments may not have had a lot to do with each other in the past. It’s your job to bring them together as one smooth functioning cross-functional outfit for the good of your product. Get to know who’s who early on and and engage – who do you rely on and where do they rely on you? How will you work together to achieve success? It’s also a good idea at this point to discuss any team limitations, strengths and ways of working. Could your development team support an agile development strategy over waterfall? All this information will inform your future roadmap.
The final step is to bring all your findings together into a comprehensive SWOT analysis. You’ll use this as a reference point when it comes to identifying priorities and managing risk later on. If you’ve already got an app, this stage should help you to identify if your app needs a complete rethink, or whether there are some low hanging fruits to be won. For clarity, we suggest segmenting your analysis according to existing UX, development, competitor and marketing categories. Here is a UX example from The App Solutions.
2. Bringing your product strategy to life
Now you’ve got your risks, strengths, and weaknesses clearly laid out, it’s time to start documenting your mobile product strategy in a practical and concrete way. To focus your efforts here, we suggest starting the process with an elevator pitch-style description to communicate your app idea, objectives and benefits as clearly as possible. You should ensure this statement is feasible as well as concise, and use it as a reference when making decisions concerning your roadmap, technology stack and prioritization.
Your roadmap should incorporate all the components required to deliver on your mobile strategy in a visual way. There are a number of highly recommended roadmapping tools to help you lay your sprints out. This activity should be completed as a cross-functional activity to help you prioritize specific product features for development and the minimum viable product for your initial release or update.
Example product roadmap template from Roadmunk
Something to be aware of here is feature-creep. This can be tricky if you have stakeholders pushing for particular features – at this point, the best strategy is to identify the essential, basic features or improvements required from a user’s perspective and to keep it simple. Things can always be improved on or built in during later iterations if needed.
Choose your technology stack
Having the right SDKs in place will be essential for ensuring success in the future. Refer to our mobile SDK ecosystem wallpaper below and map out your requirements according to each of the categories charted. Some SDK categories (security, crash tools, testing tools, data management) are a must for all apps while others (payments and geolocation) will depend on the service your mobile app is providing.
In addition to the features offered by different SDKs, you should also pay close attention to the footprints and performance impact they’re likely to have on your app. The features won’t mean anything if your app starts to run slow, frustrating users.
Define your testing process
It’s easy for bugs to go undetected in pre-released app versions, or for minor points of interaction to cause much larger UX issues for users than you anticipated. For these reasons, we suggest paying close attention to the range of mobile app beta-testing platforms out there.
To get the most from these tools, you’ll want to clarify scope, test cases, anticipated outcomes and what passes as a test or fail with your development & design teams before starting the testing process.
Allocate resources & budget
There will be a number of factors likely to impact your time, resource and budget allocation decisions, such as wider business priorities and the level of existing in-house development and IT infrastructure you have for a new app or version release. To help with this stage, we recommend referring to Teamdeck’s comprehensive Resource Allocation guide for project managers.
3. Achieving Growth
Your mobile app can always be improved. Getting a new version released or a new app launched is just the first step. Over the short and long term, you’ll be working closely with your marketers, designers and developers to continually develop the UX of your product. Do you know where and why your users are dropping out of important processes? Are in-app push notifications getting in the way of the experience of your app? These are all important questions you should be asking to prevent a leaky bucket of abandoned users, and to ensure growth and engagement over the long-term
Be obsessed with UX
UX can be the make or break of any mobile app, so any solid mobile product strategy should have this is a key focus. Tasks such as prototyping and usability testing are likely to fall under your umbrella as the expert of your product.
Simply put, you should be obsessed with perfecting the mobile app experience your product provides. After all, every facet of your app contributes to the overall UX, from in-app messages, navigation design, gesture implementation, to even the smallest micro-interaction. You should pay particular attention to any onboarding, form, and payment based processes – after all, undetected errors or subpar UX experience at these critical moments can mean real money lost for your business as well as growth targets. We outline the absolutely essential conversion funnels you should be tracking in more detail here.
Track the right metrics
In order to improve your product, you need to delve into the detail when it comes to poor performing areas of your experience. You should consider your data strategy as early on as possible and ensure your analytics is ready for the first version of your app. This will help to ensure you’re making good product strategy decisions down the line. You’ll also need solid analytics in place to confirm that the changes you’re implementing over time are really improving things – no senior level manager or director is going to support new initiatives without clear evidence of progress.
There are a number of must-track user engagement metrics to arm yourself with – session intervals, daily app users, retention rates and more. We recommend setting KPIs (check out this KPI tree method) and using these to track your UX performance and other key metrics. See here for our essentials.
However, quantitative metrics, like conversion rate percentages and numbers of abandoned sessions, alone aren’t going to cut it. A key part of your role as a product manager is to understand the whys behind the numerical results you’re seeing. Qualitative analytical tools are a must-have when it comes to your toolbox – for example, you might receive an alert that a particular screen is experiencing a large number of app kills. By delving into the qualitative data for these sessions, you’ll be able to identify the reasons for this, then take the necessary action: It could be that users were experiencing trouble completing a form at a particular field or your heatmaps may reveal a high percentage of unresponsive gesture.
4. Creating long-term love
Keeping your mobile users engaged and satisfied over the long term is likely to be one of your biggest challenges during the lifetime of your product. A 2017 report by App Annie found that an average of 80 apps was installed on an average person’s phone, but only a half get accessed on a monthly basis. Further, 3 months after installing an app, a measly 29% of users actually continued to use it. It’s a tough game to keep your users, which is why you should always push for a focus on user-retention alongside new user acquisition initiatives.
Learn from feedback
It’s important to have a process in place for any feedback or reviews you receive directly through your support teams or through the app store. A negative review does not have to be bad if it triggers a particular area of grievance for a user that you can do something about. In order to inform future priorities, it can also be a good idea to engage a specialist app voice of customer tool like Mopinion or Apptentive. Tools like this can help you gather feedback, track your NPS score and monitor sentiment trends for your product. These insights will be invaluable when it comes to prioritizing future product development areas.
Plan your future features
As previously stated, your product can always be improved, but you don’t need to add additional bells and whistles unnecessarily. This stage is all about keeping a prioritized record of future areas for product development with a loose time frame for delivery. You can define the specific deliverables in more detail as you get closer to the project sprint kickoffs. It’s always a good idea to offer users the ability to submit product feature requests or improvement ideas through your app. If you find yourself being inundated by many of the same kind of requests, this will provide a clear indication that you’re missing something.
When it comes to product improvement, this is an ongoing feedback loop which will always require further testing and analysis. So, when you’ve got a good idea of the new features you want to add, be sure to return to the user research, validation, and testing process to ensure that the new feature will successfully deliver on a user need in the right way.
Reward User Loyalty
The practice of rewarding users for coming back and engaging with your brand has been around since the beginning of trade – you should be applying this practice for your mobile app product too.
However, our advice is not to limit this to discounts for spending, which can often seem like a thinly veiled attempt to encourage users to spend more with your brand. Instead, find ways to encourage even further engagement and exclusivity – could you give loyal users a usually premium feature for free? Could you offer them exclusive early privileges on all future rounds on beta tests? Most loyal users love to be included in discussions about the product they’re engaged with, so simply engaging them this way can prove to be successful and fruitful.
When it comes to winning in the mobile app world, a considered product strategy, powerful analytical tools, a thirst for constant product improvement and diligent research are all essential ingredients. With so many moving parts, different team members and cross-functional requirements, your task will also be to foster collaboration and eliminate disconnects for the good of your product vision. Building a great app is a challenge but also uniquely empowering – do it right and you’ll be responsible for bringing a huge amount of value for your users and for your organization.