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"How long does it take to make an app?"
This is the second most popular question clients come to us with. The first one is, of course, about the price. You can find the detailed answer to the first one here, and today I'll tell you everything about app development time.
Paradoxical as it may sound, but creating a precise app development timeline demands time and, more importantly, experience. I've been working at Uptech for 3 years and made tons of time estimations for both early-stage startups and established companies over this time. And I know for sure how important the app development timeline is to meet investors' requirements and product deadlines.
So today I’ll share with you a detailed time breakdown for each stage of app development with real numbers and cover the following topics:
- How long does it take to build an app from the idea to full-fledged product?
- What are the most time-consuming stages?
- How to speed up the app development process?
There’s a lot to cover, let's dive into.
First of all, we at Uptech start with strong research. Moving the idea from something fluid and unclear to a well-defined area – is our goal at the Discovery stage. All in all, the Discovery stage takes from 6 to 8 weeks.
Here are the questions you should ask to know what it takes to make an app, how long each part lasts, and what you can skip.
How long does it take to research the app idea?
On average, the research takes around 1-2 weeks. When I'm telling the research, I mean the following:
- Market analysis;
- Proto personas;
- Value proposition;
For some reason, founders and product owners often underestimate this part. That's why I want to highlight that research aims to ground your idea, check if there's a place for it in the market, and if there's actually a need for your idea. Research also helps to prioritize those needs, define feature sets, and through it, we can ensure to meet the business goals.
There're only two cases when we can skip the research part. The first one is when you have already done it, or you're an expert in the industry and know it all from top to bottom.
How long does it take to validate the idea?
After the research, the validation part comes. It takes up to 1 week to fully validate your app idea. What's happening during the validation?
The short answer is we polish the knowledge gathered during research. The long answer is we conduct interviews with potential customers, check hypotheses, test app flow. So, again, we make the idea less fluid and more established.
The deliverables of validation are:
- Improved Proto Personas;
- Business model canvas (if you don't have one);
- Market strategy;
Validation is optional, as well as research. There’s no need to spend time validating the idea when you’ve already talked to potential customers, checked hypotheses, and ensured that people need exactly that solution you propose.
How long does it take to create a product strategy?
Product strategy means far more than just a step-by-step product development plan. It describes your business goals and how you will reach them with the product. We need 2 weeks to create the product strategy that includes:
- Technical design document;
- Product roadmap;
- Timeline estimation;
- Cost estimation.
The thing that I like about product strategy the most is that it provides clarity for everyone involved in product development. The whole team is on the same page, and there is less space for miscommunication and delays.
You may ask, “Can I skip the product strategy?” and my answer would be ‘yes,’ but if only you’ve created one.
How long does it take to prototype the app?
Lots of work is behind. We started with researching the idea, then made it more established through the validation, and moved to a product strategy. Finally, with all that at hand, we're ready to build a product prototype.
Just a small note, the whole app development process isn't lineral. So moving from the research part to validation doesn't mean that we stop researching. We keep growing the product step-by-step, studying the market, following the competitors, etc.
So let's get back to the prototyping. First and foremost, a prototype isn't a fully-functional app.
The prototype is an early attempt to visualize a working solution. Yes, it looks like a working app, but it doesn't include animation, full functionality. Usually, the prototype is built for 1-2 user roles, and it aims to test the key features or functions. So don't set too high expectations for the prototype, and don't focus on polishing it.
It takes approximately 1 week to build a clickable prototype.
How long does it take to validate the app prototype?
To validate your prototype, you need to test it with at least 3-5 users, gather feedback and find insights, like:
- how much users value the features;
- how users interact with the product;
- if your product is difficult to use;
- if navigation is clear.
This is called one cycle feedback, and it takes around 1 week to complete. The final time may change depending on the number of feedback cycles.
Design & Development
The Discovery stage with rapid prototyping lets you build the first version of the app quickly, test it with real users, and adapt based on their feedback. This is a crucial part of app development, and passing it will save you time during the following stages: Design and Development.
How long does it take to design the app?
App design goes alongside the development or can be ahead of time in 2-3 sprints. Often app design and development are the most unpredictable parts of the whole product creation process.
It happens for two reasons: fast-changing requirements and new technologies that roll out at lightning speed. So the question you should ask yourself isn’t “how hard is it to design an app?” but “how can I make the design process less unpredictable and more constant?” One of the solutions is implementing the Lean UX Design process.
Typically the design stage takes from 2 to 3 months.
How long does it take to code the app?
App development itself is the most time-consuming part, and it takes from 4 to 6 months. But the question “how long does it take to code an app?” isn’t crucial here. If you know the factors that affect the final timespan, it’ll benefit you more. So, here’re three most common:
- Complexity of the app;
- Number of user roles;
- Tech stack.
Stakeholders often ask “How long does it take to develop an app if we hire more people?” Interesting fact, the development team size doesn't affect the speed. I tell you more, every new member can prolong Development. How does that happen?
Imagine you have 2 developers on your project, and their work efficiency doesn't equal 2. It's usually at the level of 1,7 because of communication, knowledge sharing issues, etc. Logically, when you add 2 more developers, the overall process won't go two times faster, it'll extend.
“The time spent on coding the app mostly depends on the app you want to build , not the number of people who code it.”
So, the time spent on coding the app mostly depends on the app you want to build, not the number of people who code it. Here’s the timeline breakdown for apps we made by the complexity.
- Simple Complexity App, like PNKYSWR. We spent approximately 4 months creating the React Native App to meet Android and iOS users' needs quickly.
- Medium Complexity App, like apprvl.com – a part of a photo studio Squareshot. It was a platform for reviewing commercial photos that took us 5 months to code.
- Complex Apps, like Yaza and Nomad. These apps' functionality is quite more complex. It includes 2 and more user roles. The listings search and video recording features demand more time, and took us nearly 6 months to complete.
Finally, we're ready for the launch. Only after the research, idea validation, a step-by-step product strategy, tested prototypes, ready design, and perfectly coded app, we have a product ready to meet the world.
Launching a product often looks more or less the same but always feels a bit different and exciting. Here's what happens just before the launch and how much time it takes.
How long does it take to prepare your app for launch?
Preparing for the launch is usually divided into two parts: beta and alpha release. The alpha release is an early pre-release version of the app, and it's usually performed by the Testers within the organization.
Beta testing is performed by the end-users, and their amount is larger than in alpha. We use Testflight for iOS apps and Google Play Console for Android for testing.
A big part of the pre-launch process is the cycle of submissions and reviews. This is precisely the reason why the pre-launch stage may take from 2 weeks to 1 month. App Store and Google Play Store have different reviewing processes.
For example, Apple has a far more detailed reviewing process. While Android uses an algorithm to pre-analyze your app, Apple conducts the review completely manually by a team of reviewers. So depending on the issue, the submission period can take longer.
4 Ways to Speed Up The App Development Process?
Along with the delight and satisfaction of building the app often comes the desire to speed up some stages. At this point, I do really advise you to have a conversation with your development team about the possible ways to cut the timeline.
Here are the solutions we offer when the stakeholder isn't satisfied with the mobile app development timeline and wants to save up some time.
Stakeholder should devote some time on communication
Communication takes the lion's share of the app development process. From day one, when you start the collaboration with an outsourcing partner, get ready that the number of Slack messages and Zoom meetings will increase in your schedule.
It's inevitable. You're the one who takes part in the final decision making and by responding fast, sharing your point of view clearly and on time, you do yourself a favour in terms of time.
From my experience, devoting 10-20 hours per month to the project works pretty well.
Focus on core moments and start with MVP
There are two ways to create the app. You can try to build all of the features you want with minimal work or release minimum features to maximize quality. I advise you to choose the latter.
Especially when your goal is to launch fast, the way out here is simple, build an MVP. Minimizing features and focusing on a core value always help ship a product quickly. So, don't be afraid to leave some features or customization for the next app versions.
These are the things you can do to speed up the app development process from your side. But you're not the only one who affects the speed. Here's what your development company can offer you back, and this is what we practice at Uptech on a daily basis.
Set the contact faces
Instead of involving the whole team in the meetings and creating a bunch of group chats, we set a person responsible for communication. It's usually a product manager or solution architect. They update the project status, communicate any changes, delays, challenges, basically keep you on track with everything.
We do it to avoid mess. You, as a stakeholder, have one contact person to ask, clarify, update on everything regarding the project. It saves so much time and decreases miscommunication.
Meet business goals and say ‘no’ when needed
Throughout the projects, I noticed that it's a skill and art to know how to work with stakeholders right. For us at Uptech, it's never just about doing tasks. Instead, it's working in tandem with our clients.
If the client's goal is to test the idea fast, we do everything to meet this goal. Sometimes saying 'no' to some ideas is a part of that process. From our side, we make extra effort to keep the clients in the loop on the final goal. It's not on the surface but communicating clearly and keeping the business goal in mind saves you some extra time.
To Sum Up
Now when you come to the outsourcing company to help you with app development and ask, "How long does it take to develop an application?" you know what to expect. The average time to develop an app with Discovery, Design & Development, and Pre-launch stages is around 7 - 12 months.
We found out what stages it takes to develop an app and team size doesn’t often mean a shorter app development timeline. However, there's always a way to speed up the process. We can skip Research and Validation parts if you've already done research or know the market well enough. Design and Development are essential parts and the most time-reducing techniques are connected with better communication.
Clear requirements, timely responses, and shared responsibility are the go pedals for the app development process. If you want to get a detailed estimation for your project, just drop us a line. We'll be happy to help you, and maybe it'll be the beginning of our collaboration.