July 16, 2013

The Importance of Agility and User Feedback in Today’s Market

At a time when creating fresh user experiences and applications with innovative utilities have become imperative factors in determining the success of a software product or service, agility is a characteristic that companies cannot survive without. Whether it’s referred to as agile development or just-in-time product (JIT) development, the idea remains the same: getting a product to market quickly to test and confirm assumptions about what features users will find most beneficial is a must.

User feedback can be an invaluable resource for software development teams, but it can only be gleaned if a product undergoes usability testing or is released to the market early in its lifecycle. Feedback from preliminary users can be instrumental in guiding future development efforts and uncovering important flaws that even the most savvy business analyst or product manager might not consider in a drawn-out requirements phase.

This is a theme that was echoed in a recent interview that ReadWrite conducted with Orchestra engineering lead Sean Beausoleil on how his team of developers was able to scale their Mailbox application to 1 million users within 6 weeks. Mailbox is an application that’s meant to let users take control of their email inboxes by prioritizing, archiving, deleting, or “snoozing” emails. While it may not sound like a revolutionary idea, the Mailbox app provides a utility that appeals to large swaths of the public. 1 million users can’t be wrong.

When asked if he had any advice for companies looking to emulate Mailbox’s success, Beausoleil hammered the message home: “Iterate, iterate, iterate. Whatever your current state is, it can get better…Details matter. Be obsessed with the details, but don’t let them get in the way of executing quickly.”

By releasing a product or service with beta-level functionality, developers are able to use feedback from actual users and incorporate it into the next iteration. Long, drawn-out testing phases only lead to higher development costs, as well as a product that is unable to quickly react or adapt to a consumer’s needs.

Agile software development can also play a big role in a company’s sustainable competitive advantage, or lack thereof. The average competitive advantage generally dissipates in about one year, which stresses the importance of staying agile and releasing products that can quickly adapt to change.

Looking at how quickly Apple lost market share to Android mobile devices after releasing the original iPhone in 2007, it becomes clear that competitors today are very quick to react to trends in the marketplace. By having agile products, a company’s focus can turn to creating the best user experience and most innovative utilities possible, which is what matters most to consumers, especially when hardware begins to plateau and all that’s left to differentiate two products is the software.