Let me guess: the app your small business recently developed was flawless like a diamond, under budget, and, of course, delivered well ahead of schedule. App development challenges? Your team of da Vinci(s) never heard of them. Uncork the champagne —you deserve it.

What a dream! But the truth is app development challenges are problems every business struggles with. Smart businesses use these to their advantage: the app development challenges you face can tell you important insight about your business, and you can use this information to improve. Take, for example, one of the most common app development challenges today, keeping up with demand.

According to Gartner, market demand for app development will grow at least five times faster than IT’s capacity to deliver it through 2021.

Small businesses struggle to keep up with demand because of backlog, timelines/budget, and rework. Approximately 1 in 4 respondents to a recent GetApp survey say that their organization is not doing enough to scale business app development to meet consumer demand over the next 2-4 years.

So how can your small business counteract this productivity slump:

  1. Identify your app development challenges.
  2. Find what weaknesses these problems reveal about your small business.
  3. Consider our technology recommendations.

To overcome the increasing market demand outstripping developers’ ability to keep up with the workload and other app development challenges, your small business should invest in the following technologies:

1. Cloud-based app development environments (aPaaS) to improve app developer productivity by 70 percent.

2. Business intelligence (BI) which cause companies to be five times more likely to make faster decisions than companies not utilizing BI tools.

Key findings indicate the most common challenge is rework

In a survey of nearly 150 North American small business professionals with close involvement in application development, survey respondents brought to light common app development challenges:

  • 84 percent of organizations report apps that require rework after delivery.
  • 41 percent of respondents report app backlogs stretching as far as 20 apps.
  • As high as a quarter (6-25 percent) of all of 2017’s apps were late at delivery for 40 percent of businesses.
  • 33 percent of poll takers are minimally to not at all satisfied with their organization’s app development timeline.
  • 11 percent of companies confess that more than 50 percent of the past year’s app development projects were over budget.

Drawing from our research findings, we’ve narrowed down three major app development challenges: backlog, timetables/budget, and rework.

1. Backlogs of 6-20 apps is normal

When your queue of projects begins looking less like a to-do-list and more like a grocery receipt, you know you have a backlog problem. But an app development backlog is more than just new projects, it can also include maintenance and update requests that go unanswered.

In recent research we found that on average 41 percent of businesses have backlogs of 6-20 apps, and 6 percent experience backlogs of 20 apps or more.

application development challenge #1 backlog

Projects begin piling up for many reasons, but the main reason is that application development is a long, risky process. In most cases, app development requires investment of money, labor, and other resources for long periods of time with no guarantee of return on investment. Here’s a breakdown of typical app development timeframes in small businesses:


The painful truth of app development is that the odds are more in favor of failure.

According to Standish Group’s 2015 Chaos Report, 2015 saw 66 percent of technology projects end in partial or total failure. 17 percent of large IT projects collapsed so spectacularly that they threatened to bring down the whole company along with the failed project.

When projects fail, spent development resources result in nothing. This crushes app developer morale. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why skilled app developers leave their current company.

TEKsystems’ IT Retention and Engagement Report finds that 42 percent of IT leaders say their organization struggles to retain IT talent.

High developer attrition is a major contributor to why businesses will be unable to keep up with the ballooning business app demand. When there is too much work and not enough developers, deadlines are missed. Projects run into each other. Backlogs swell. And big project queues cause other longterm problems:

  • The roadmap for current and future projects becomes unpredictable making it more difficult to meet timeline and budget goals.
  • The backlog becomes so lengthy and impenetrable that developers lose sight of long-term goals, and by extension, lose interest in their projects.

What this says about your business: If your business is suffering from backlog problems it is most likely because of unequal supply and demand.

Backlog problems points to a skill shortage: a business which employs developer teams that do not have the needed skillset or expertise, or a business which has difficulty keeping high caliber talent. A company with backlog problems is a company that lacks enough quality developers to keep up with the demand for created apps.

Our Recommendation: You need to call in the reinforcements. Namely, you need application platform as a service (aPaaS), a cloud-based software to build, manage, and deliver business applications without the need for coding knowledge.

aPaaS works like a wartime draft in your business. All professionals —regardless of their coding ability—are called up to the front lines of app development and given tools that don’t require highly technical skillsets to assist in building apps. Net benefits of aPaaS:

However, only adding new hands to work will not solve all demand problems. Even enterprises with large battalions of app developers become overburdened with requests.

Therefore, it’s important to pair development teams with an application portfolio management (APM) discipline to help scale requests to the demand. APM assists your team by pivoting to a “product-centric approach” where as Gartner analyst Bill Swanton describes “…instead of planning projects to make changes to their applications, [you] are constantly evolving the software.”

2. Over time 74 percent/Over budget 50 percent

Another common app development challenge is meeting budget goals and timetables.

According to GetApp research the following data was gathered on budget targets:

  • 70 percent of respondents experienced app development projects that were to some degree over budget in the past year.
  • 11 percent of organizations report that more than 50 percent of the past year’s app development projects were over budget.

In regard to project timelines, the following trends were revealed from our survey:

  • 74 percent of respondents experienced late app development projects.
  • As high as a quarter (6-25 percent) of all of 2017’s apps were late at delivery for 40 percent of businesses.

Application development challenges - Late at delivery

Projects that exceed budget targets cause various problems. Not wanting to scuttle a project despite an increasing budget may result in taking resources away from future projects. Or a project could see its scope drastically reduced from the original vision when funds run on empty. Overtime, taxed budgets stop being able to feed new projects, which causes the backlog to get out of control.

Late projects butcher customer confidence and are a quick way to lose business. The race to wrap up projects that have overslept their original deadlines may bump other projects in the queue, overloading developer workload. Developers can quickly become frustrated in this scenario.

As it stands today, 33 percent of poll takers tell us they are minimally to not at all satisfied with their organization’s app development timeline.

What this says about your business: At best your business is setting unrealistic expectations at the outset of projects. At worst your business is over-promising to close the deal with customers and please upper management requests.

Inability to say no to unreasonable overhauls mid-development and other interruptive changes is a precursor to lateness and debt.

Our Recommendation: A project manager responsible for deadlines and keeping projects above board on budget is a vital addition to any development team.

Project managers also help level expectations with both the app development team and the customer to keep both parties on the same page. This helps to avoid sudden interruptive changes mid-development or unsatisfactory deliverables due to a miscommunication.

It’s also important to learn how to say “no.” IT managers need to learn how to say “no” assertively without damaging key relationships. Gartner analyst Tina Nunno provides her recommendation on how to say “no” effectively in an episode of CIO Power Politics: Assertive No.

3. Rework feels like you’re only going backwards

Who can stand doing the same work twice?

Some amounts of rework in app development is good, such as performing scheduled critical post-development updates. However, rework is a problem when it becomes needed due to last minute changes, client expectations not aligned with the development team, or mistakes made during development causing apps to be riddled with bugs or glitches. This type of rework slows down your business and prevents developers from working on new projects.

  • 84 percent of organizations report apps that require rework after delivery.
  • As high as a quarter (6-25 percent) of all of 2017’s apps required rework for 39 percent of businesses.

App development challenges - Rework

Despite the high level of rework, polled professionals are still overall satisfied with the quality of apps their teams create:

70 percent of respondents say they are moderately to very satisfied with the quality of apps delivered in their organization.

What this says about your business: If the rework is consistently happening, your business lacks communication. It may also struggle with sharing the project vision to all stakeholders.

Closed lines of communication can lead to constantly moving goal posts or unclear requirements before development begins. These issues lead to coding mistakes and unsatisfactory deliverables.

This is an environment ripe for bugs and rework.

Our Recommendation: To improve communication, application development data and activities must be made more transparent to all relevant users. Without rapid access to key information businesses cant make decisions as fast as their competitors.

Analytics and Business Intelligence (BI) tools allow companies to be five times more likely to make faster decisions than companies not utilizing BI tools.

Typical BI tool functionality includes data visualization, analytics, reporting, and data mining. These features enable small business to implement better tracking and reporting on critical app development events. This insight helps teams collaborate as well as steady project plans to avoid miscommunication, duplicative work, and bugs.

For more information on other ways BI can help businesses check out this beginner’s guide to BI and this report detailing tips to select the best BI tools.

App development challenges are symptoms that illuminate causes

Your IT operations team should use app development challenges to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of their app development approach. Using this insight, your company can course correct with improved training, revised policies, and better select a solution to correct problems at the source.

Key actions to take today:
1. Create a survey to ask your app development team what their biggest development pain points are. These are the app development challenges you need to prioritize.

2. Chart your current application portfolio and process including backlog, approach to rework, and record of late or over budget projects. Use this information to determine your organization’s weaknesses.


To better face app development challenges in your small business, here are our recommended resources:

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