When to Be Agile: Ratings and Version Updates in Mobile Apps
43 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2019 Last revised: 6 Apr 2021
Date Written: November 23, 2020
Lean and agile models of product development organize the flexible capacity to rapidly update individual products in response to customer feedback. While agile operations have been adopted across numerous industries, neither the benefits nor the factors explaining when firms choose to become agile are validated and understood. We study these questions using data on the development of mobile apps, which occurs through the dynamic release of new versions into the mobile app marketplace, and the apps' customer ratings. We develop a structural model estimating the dependence of product versioning on (A) market feedback in the form of customer ratings, against (B) project and work-based considerations, such as development timelines, scale economies, and operational constraints. In contrast to when they actually benefit from operational agility, firms become agile when launching riskier products (in terms of uncertainty in initial customer reception) and less agile when able to exploit scale economies from coordinating development over a portfolio of apps. Agile operations increase firm payoffs by margins of 20-80%, and interestingly partial agility is often sufficient to capture the bulk of these returns. Finally turning to a question of marketplace design, we study how the mobile app marketplace should design the display of ratings to incentivize quality (increasing app categories' average user satisfaction rates by as much as 22%).
Keywords: Agile product development, Empirical operations management, Mobile apps, Online marketplace, Product quality and reviews, Product versioning, Sequential innovation, Structural estimation
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