Help! I Want to Build a Mobile App.

We see it with both startups and established companies: They want to build a mobile application. They have a vision, but need help with the details. Is it even feasible? How much will it cost? What’s involved?

First, let’s assume you’ve done the necessary up-front work. You’ve identified:

  • Your audience
  • Whether it is solving a problem
  • Your competition
  • Your return on investment

If you’ve hit these questions, you’ve at least addressed the basics of whether or not the app has potential. In essence, whether you’re a startup or this is a value added to your organization, you should create a mini business plan for your app — especially if it is intended to be a revenue-generator.

OK, now on to the meaty stuff:

  1. Have you created a Vision Document?
    This is critical. This is the floorplan. This is what creates the final deliverable and ultimately determines cost, timeline, phases and expectations. Without it, you’re flying entirely blind. Worse, you’re flying blind and don’t even know how much fuel you’ve got!

Your vision doc needs to spell out in detail:

  • Specific functionality (I want it to do this, and then this…)
  • A walk-through of the app. Step-by-step, screen by screen. (If I click this, then it does this…)

Also, don’t forget the things you need that are outside the app (reports, billing integration, etc.)

2. Have you thought through the business logic needed in the app?
Forms and front-end can be simple. It’s the back-end logic where things get complex and time-consuming. An example of business logic might be:

  • Does every user have the same rights and functionality, or are there special features available based on user, or their group, etc?
  • Are there workflow requirements? For example, one user creates something, but another has to approve it before moving it along the process.
  • Does the user have multiple paths s/he can take during a process (whatever that process is)? How are those paths decided? Automatically? User choice? Based on some kind of data it’s checking?

Remember, if some combination of business logic only happens once, it still needs to be planned for in programming. Run scenarios to catch it all.

3. What are the minimum features needed to roll out the app?
Does the app need everything completed in order to roll out, or can it be done in phases? What are the minimum Phase 1 requirements? Rolling out the app in phases can save cost and implementation time.

4. Do you have a guinea pig?
One important way to save cost is to first create a wireframe mockup (with clickable buttons, etc.) and then run/beta test by your guinea pigs. What did they like? What would they change? What’s not needed? It’s amazing how many times the one feature you like (which might take up 60% of development time and cost) ends up being something your users can take or leave. Finding this out early can be a huge cost-saver.