Building mobile apps takes more planning than most assume. Oftentimes, companies and individuals believe their business plan and app idea are rock solid, but they unintentionally gloss over key items that must be considered prior to any design or development begin.
The most critical phase in any mobile application development project is Design Phase. The goal of discovery is to define the project from a business, design and development perspective, identify any project risks and elaborate on the scope of the solution, all for the purpose of delivering a polished product on time and on budget. Below, we’ve compiled our app development checklist. The list includes a series of questions we believe are critical to the early stages of successfully run app projects. Obviously not all will apply to every app, but we hope you find each provides areas of exploration that your team should focus on prior to beginning development.
What Are Your Goals or Business Objectives?
It sounds like a silly question, but putting these on paper is an important step. The reason being is that they may be obvious to you, but completely absent from the minds of those working directly on the product. Write down exactly what makes your app a success in the eyes of your stakeholders. A clear vision provides your app development team with an end goal as well as reinforcement on the decisions they make to get you there.
Who Are Your Target Users?
Target demographic understanding is another key element early in your business plan. Its important you put this down on paper so you have a clear understanding of each user your app may encounter. We call these user personas. In its simplest form, a user persona is a profile of a potential user of your product. Questions to ask yourself as it relates to these users include: What problem are they trying to solve with your product? What actions will they take within your app? What platforms and devices are they using?
Identifying and researching your competitors is an obvious early step in your business plan. Make sure you fill in your developers and designers on the makeup of the competitive landscape. This allows each to properly research both UI and UX decisions based on real users and data. It’s truly amazing how much you can learn from your competition and improve your product before a developer writes a single line of code.
There are hundreds of variations on strategies to monetize your app. Choosing the right one is not an easy task. The most critical thing to remember here is not to assume you will figure out the monetization later. Having a clear plan early will allow you to save time and money pre and post-launch. Oftentimes, monetization features are built directly into the app’s user experience, so being indecisive could cause major setbacks throughout the development process. The best way to alleviate this is to have a clear path to monetization and test whether or not your potential users align with that strategy any way you can.
Oftentimes small details related to app development go overlooked when founders are focused on the big picture. It’s important to take a step back and spot these assumptions before they roadblock your project in various stages of development. Smaller details such as What are my OS compatibility targets? Does it even make sense, based on my target market, to make my product compatible with products made 5+ years ago? How will I handle server hosting? Will the app be designed for localization? There are dozens of these seemingly small details that need to be addressed prior to any project beginning to avoid issues as the project progresses.
Do You Have Branding?
You never want something so simple as logos, colours and fonts to be a blocker to your designers and developers. If you have your branding finished prior to seeking development great! If not, no big deal, typically your design team will be more than capable of providing branding services.
Wireframes and User Flows
Typically before development can begin, your team will need to see a comprehensive set of wireframes. Wireframes are product schematics or blueprints that detail each screen within your application and the general flow users will follow while using your app. Creating these design elements are critical during your discovery phase as they layout the what, why and how’s of your products key features.
Do You Require a Functional Prototype?
Prototypes are an amazing testing tool. They allow users to interact with your product as if it were the real thing. If you have key questions or concerns about certain features or usability related to your app, a design-based prototype may be great option. In most cases, we suggest developing a fully functional prototype utilizing HTML to give you a similar look and feel to the final product.
When thinking about app security, consider any and all sensitive info that is going to be entered and stored within the app. Having the discussion with your development team early will mitigate risk and save you from any potential data breaches or security mishaps.
A project backlog is used to define and prioritize your app’s features and associated requirements. A properly formated project plan does not include a single feature without the requirements associated with making that feature a reality. This again sets client and developer expectations and solidifies project understanding in an effort to avoid getting something a bit different than expected. Always ask developers and designers if there is any confusion related to any feature in your project backlog to avoid redos when deliverables start coming your way.
Define Project Stakeholders and Key Contacts
Communication will be critical throughout your design and development. Both you and your development team should have a full understanding of which individuals on each side of the coin are the appropriate contacts and, more importantly, the final decision-makers. The main goal of the initial discovery phase is to have everything related to your project fully understood so that developers can sprint through their requirements and deliver your product on time. Setbacks related to communication confusion simply cannot happen and are easily avoidable.
Social Media Integration
Have you considered how social media will fit into your app’s strategy? Typically apps will utilize one or more networks for login streamlining as well as adding to your product’s in-app virality. Each social network has its own demographics and particular use cases, so doing your research will help you understand the best fit for your app.
Have You Identified and Validated 3rd Party API’s?
Finding the right API’s for your product upfront is important and validating their usability is even more critical. Again, these are items that are roadblocks to project timelines should project managers or developers be forced to research new services or validate API’s after development sprints have already begun.
Will you require that users of your application be able to access features without an internet connection? A perfect example is when a company’s salesperson requires the ability to update client information within the app while on the road- allowing the user to access critical components and features within the app and syncing when a connection becomes available. Things to consider include the total size of data you need to keep offline, the number of records needed to be kept offline, and the total number of data fields you’ll need to search within. This will allow your app development team to choose the best solution going forward.
Will You Need App Analytics?
Depending on your application, the data that exists within the app can be incredibly important. Understanding user motives, most used features and simply who your users are will allow you to make the right decisions in future releases and especially in your marketing efforts. You check definitely checkout Firebase from Google.
Will You Need Push Notifications?
Push notifications can be a great feature that increases app engagement and bring people back into your product’s ecosystem. On the flip side, using them too often can be annoying and turn users off. Having an early strategy in place to elegantly utilize notifications and optimizing as your user base grows is a nice feature that can set your app apart from the sea of competitors.
Let’s Talk Budget
Unfortunately, it’s always an awkward conversation early in the process, but it’s critical that all parties understand your budget constraints. App development companies are experts at what they do and can work with you and your budget to prioritize your critical features and elements that will allow you to deliver the best possible product at the price point you have set.
App’s should have a release schedule that coincides with development timelines and any marketing efforts planned pre and post-launch. A well thought out plan with target launch dates (especially when dealing with a multi-platform app) not only gives your designers and developers a full understanding of your project delivery expectations but also provides set timelines that will allow your business development teams to set customer expectations and build a coordinated marketing plan.
What Are Your Project Risks?
It’s good to know any possible risks that may throw off your project timelines. This way, your team can set up backup plans that allow you to take immediate action when something comes up. Items like backend setup/coordination, API integrations, regulatory hurdles and hundreds of other project-specific factors need to be addressed prior to getting started to ensure a smooth recovery when any issues arise.
Post Launch Support and Maintenance
Most development teams are used to supporting products for bug fixes and iteration improvements, but make sure this is discussed up front. App development shops typically plan projects far in advance in an effort to schedule team capacity, so unplanned work sometimes can be an issue.
App Store Optimization and Marketing Plan
Considering your marketing plan prior to launch seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse, but doing your homework and putting a plan in place early will set you up for longterm success. Since over 60% of app downloads come directly from app store search and discovery, it’s critical to do your homework on the factors that increase app store optimization. Proper planning of marketing efforts inside and outside the app store will put you on the path for sustainable downloads.
Consider Your Company’s Rollout Strategy
If you are creating an app for your business, how will the transition from old technology to new happen? It’s important to consider things like potential critical system transition downtime, user training or even employee change management. Oftentimes these items are just as critical as app functionality.
Will Your App Have a Website?
Depending on the purpose of your application, many companies build companion websites. These websites serve as a central hub of all info related to your product. There are many ways to design an app landing page but most contain a few key components including your pitch, marketing materials, download buttons that lead the appropriate app store, app press kits and contact information. These core elements not only provide potential users with a web space to learn more but also aid in the promotion and discoverability of your product.