When a mobile app is first conceptualized, it's like a giant puzzle made up of a number of pieces of complicated, sometimes conflicting, information. At Savvy Apps, we start organizing these puzzle pieces in a meaningful way at the very beginning of the app creation process. This allows us to connect a number of complex, cross-discipline inputs before design and development begins so our team can hit the ground running with a clear vision of the app in mind.
An organized approach to starting a new app will help influence everything from your app's navigation and interface patterns, to your database structure, promotional materials, and much more. It helps connect the dots across multiple disciplines. While not an exhaustive list, here are some ways we kickstart new apps.
Start With the Big Picture
The ultimate challenge when starting a new app is trying to communicate complex information simply. That's why if an app is in it’s infancy, it’s best to stay at a high level, identifying features, business rules, and user flows. These blocks of information are needed to then begin to break the app down into more detail.
Our goal is always to try to simplify the app as much as possible. That can be a challenge because at this stage, you’re also trying to capture details and ensure that nothing will fall through the cracks. We often will start with creating an inventory or everything we know in a mind map, using a tool like MindNode. We also create either a flowchart or what we call a “system diagram,” which helps show initial business rules and user flows without worrying about the interface. Both begin to organize all the information we have in a meaningful way
Define Your App's Working Thesis
In writing, there's an idea of “working thesis.” The working thesis is what the writer initially wants to argue or persuade the reader about, while realizing that the idea may need adjustment over time as research or evidence unfolds. Similarly, every app starts out to solve a certain problem for a certain audience, which is why we like to define a working thesis for an app at the outset.
The best working thesis is opinionated and tight because it can more quickly be proven right or equally important, wrong. The right or wrong part can be on the problem the app is trying to solve, the intended audiences, or both. To help vet a working thesis we rely on everything from Blue Ocean Strategy, Buyer Legends, and Customer Development. This part of the process requires a deep knowledge of the app stores, current trends, and these various, proven frameworks to help hone and refine what the app really will be about
Get the Entire App Team Engaged Early
Once you have some of these basic materials, get the rest of the team involved. Pulling in designers, developers, marketers, and other team members or stakeholders too late in the process can result in big gaps of information and insight that are integral to the success of the app. That can then have material impacts to the schedule. Even without there being any screens to review, just talking through a mind map, system diagram, working thesis, and comparable information with people who have different skills or perspectives will provide new ideas, comments, and questions.
As various team members begin to participate, it will become a challenge to keep documentation up to date. We haven't solved this problem entirely, but tools like Quip, Trello, and Basecamp can help. It's also important to keep version numbers in documents, to ensure that people are referencing the correct ones. We've largely moved to trying to use just dates and sometimes even include them in file names
Find the Roadblocks for More Accurate Estimates
A goal of the entire kickstart is to reduce the unknowns as quickly as possible. You'll want to seek out the roadblocks now, rather than face them in the 11th hour. Roadblocks are easier to address in mind maps, user flows, or even in mockups, compared to interface designs and especially code.
Having as many details as possible—including potential roadblocks—is critical to an accurate estimate, no matter what your role, but it’s especially valuable for designers and developers. When we move into the design and development process, our creative and technical leads will often start with challenges or roadblocks first to get a better sense for how hard they truly will be. That's also one of the ways we suggested for how to build an app faster
What do each of those points lead up to? A great product that’s built quickly and on schedule because the team has been on the same page from the start. By using these principles, you’ve helped your team to communicate effectively and execute on a plan for all of your app's user flows, features, and goals. In the ever-competitive marketplace we live in today, getting to market quickly can be the difference between being a leader and a follower in your space.
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