Saturday, February 21, 2015

21 questions to answer before you start that mobile app

You have an idea for a mobile app that will help extend your business and reach out to new and existing customers. Great! But before you send a development team to work on it, you’ll want to make sure you’ve answered these 21 questions:

1. Do you have a release schedule? Will your app have multiple releases? If you are releasing on multiple platforms do you expect them to launch at the same time?

2. What assumptions are you making? Do you assume the app works on iOS8 only? Do you assume that you will pay for the cost of server hosting? These are assumptions you are making that software architects and engineers need to be aware of.

3. Have you created a product backlog? What are the app’s three core features? A backlog is where you define and prioritize the functional and non-functional requirements of the app. Each feature within the app must have requirements associated with it. If the development is left open-ended and lacks requirements, then you are more likely to get something you didn’t expect. You wouldn’t ask a contractor to remodel your bathroom without giving them your requirements would you? Without the requirements, you might end up with purple tiles, green shag carpet, and mirrors on the ceiling.

4. Who are your stakeholders? Who is the final decision maker? If there are two, then which one can overrule the other?

5. Have you identified and evaluated potential competition for your app? If yes, then has that evaluation been rolled into your project plan?

6. Will your app have a cost associated with it? Do you have a monetization strategy? If yes, have you thought about how you would do this? Would it cost money to download the app? Would your app require a subscription to use? Would it have in-app advertising? Would you have features that can be unlocked with a cost? Would you use in-app purchases for physical or virtual goods?

7. What will make this app a success in your stakeholders’ eyes? A certain number of users? An increase in orders? Will analytics need to be incorporated into the app to help measure the success? Developers need to be able to take this criteria into account when gauging success. Ideally, the criteria is measurable, but in some cases that may be very difficult.

8. Do you have a budget? I get it, no one likes showing their cards, but even a range is helpful when creating a proposal. App development costs are very difficult to estimate because there are so many variables. Knowing a budget allows a developer to work with your budget while keeping in mind your critical features. Developers can help you prioritize your features based on your budget and allow you to get your most important items finished first. It’s always the case that estimates will be as accurate as the project information allows.

9. Who are your target users? What problem is your app going to solve for your users? Why does a mobile solution solve this problem better than an alternative? What kind of things should they say or do when they use the app? What devices and platforms do they use? Can you do any user research prior to design or development? Put thought into these users and how this app will reach them.

10. What dependencies do you have before work can begin or be completed? If you are responsible for writing the privacy policy for the app, then that’s a dependency. The copy for the privacy policy must be complete before that screen can be implemented.

11. Do you already have the branding for your app or company defined (logos, colors, fonts, etc)? If yes, then great! Plan on providing this information when you first speak to an app development company. If no, the company’s design team can likely assist you with the branding of your app or business.

12. What risks do you foresee associated with the project, timeline, or other outside factors? Being aware of and discussing project risks early will allow developers to plan accordingly in order to reduce the chance of that risk occurring. An example would be if you have your team setting up the server environment but it won’t be ready for a few months. If the environment isn’t ready on time or has problems, then a domino effect will occur, potentially delaying several people and ultimately the project.

13. Have you identified and validated any application programming interfaces (API), outside services/systems, or third-party vendors that you want your app to integrate with? If not and you need to, then plan on the time needed to research and validate these things.

14. Do you anticipate the app needing support once it’s launched? Most app dev companies can support your app with bug fixes and minor improvements after it has been launched.

15. Have you thought about how secure you’ll need your app to be? What sensitive information will be gathered within your app and how will it be securely stored? Most developer companies should be able to work with you on this and recommend the best solution based on your product.

16. How familiar are you with Agile development? The majority of custom app development companies you will work with these days are working with some variation of an Agile process. This is an iterative process where features will be completed, tweaked, and approved before the project is finished. Each iteration will complete a small piece of the overall project so you can see progress without having to wait until the very end. While most companies can be flexible, you will want to familiarize yourself with the process as it works very well with app development. Odds are, regardless of your companies’ process, you will want to incorporate Agile into it for this project.

17. Can you easily explain your idea and business to anyone? When working with an app dev company, you will be working with people that know their business very well, but they may not necessarily know yours. Some features you want in your app may need to be evaluated to determine how they can be done. This is the consulting part of the cost that you can expect when developing an app. The app shop must take time to understand your business, otherwise the project will suffer.

18. What are the business objectives for the app? Is the objective that it will drive new sales? Will it allow your business to gain a competitive advantage? Will it increase productivity?

19. Are there any existing apps that you would like your app to use as inspiration? Think about other apps that you would like yours to look or feel like.

20. Do you have any wireframes created? Wireframes are designs that show how the user will experience and interact with the app. If you have created wireframes, have you had anyone with a technical background vet the wireframes? Is everything you want to do feasible on the platforms you are targeting?

21. Do you have any visual design done? Visual designs are used to show an example of how the screen will look when it’s in the app and working. This process is done after the wireframes are approved. A visual designer will abide by the experience design already set but will give the screens color and improve the visual communication within each screen. If not, then don’t worry, most app companies provide services for design.

If reading this has made you sad that you aren’t properly prepared to start making your idea a reality, don’t feel bad! It’s very rare that a company approaches mobile app shops with the ability to answer all the questions above.

(c) Justin Dombroski is lead project manager at Enola Labs,

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