Mobile App Development Step 1: What Do You Want?

Defining The Scope Of Your Mobile App

The first step of building a Mobile App (for iOS, iPhone, iPad or Android) is working out what it should do, and it’s always the hardest step. In general, the narrower the scope of your idea, the easier it will be to develop and market, so the key challenge here is to tighten up and reduce your requirements to the bare minimum (known as the Minimum Viable Product).

Where To Begin?

You should start with the strategy for your organisation for this year. What are you currently trying to achieve? Is it increasing market share? Is it breaking into new markets? Is it defending your market against new, disruptive competitors? Once you’ve answered this big question, you can focus on how you can use your new App top support your organisation’s strategy.

Objectives

Your App should have one or more objectives that align directly back to your organisation strategy. These could be objectives like:

  • Significantly increase our market share in key demographics
  • Create the most popular App in our industry
  • Provide a part finder service that allows our customers to find substitutes for our competitors part numbers

Features

At this stage you are ready to get into the details of your App and what it will actually do. Think about the objectives you have laid out above and how it might translate into the screens of your App. The most significant and important aspect of any mobile App is the user experience of the App. A poor experience or a poor user interface means that people won’t come back to use your App again and again.

But I’m Not Technical! How Can I Design My Features

The good news is that there are lots of ways for non-techies to design their App without investing in expensive computer programs. My favourite technique is known as “Paper Prototyping”.

Paper Prototyping Your Mobile App

Paper Prototyping requires:

  • Some paper widgets
  • Scissors
  • A surface to work on (my preference is a magnetic whiteboard)
  • Something to stick to the widgets to the surface (I use small magnets and blutac)
  • Some small post-its to attach notes to your prototype

If you’re looking for some widgets, you can borrow ours (based on Balsamiq’s widgets). It doesn’t matter too much what your widgets look like. We aren’t trying to create a high-fidelity representation of our App here, we are trying to do the much harder job of designing a great user experience!

The process of using the widgets is easy. Start with the most important screen in your App. Which screen is it that delivers the real benefit to your users? Which screen most closely aligns with your App objectives? Use your widgets to start to layout your important screen on a large surface. Involve as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible in this activity. Ideally, get some real customers and real users involved. You might find out that the great feature you had planned isn’t what they wanted at all! You’ll find that a diverse group breeds a lot more ideas and alternatives. Don’t be afraid of having a few different ideas for your screen going at the same time so you can encourage all of the best ideas.

Rinse And Repeat

Once you’re reasonably happy with your first screen (it doesn’t need to be perfect – you’re going to change your mind later anyway!), move on to the next most important screen and so on. If you have a large enough surface, put the screens side by side and draw arrows or use red string to indicate how the users will navigate their way through them.

Write It Up

Once you’re happy with your initial idea, it’s time to write it up electronically so that you can more easily share it with a wider audience. You could just take a few photographs or you could use a mockup tool like Balsamiq. Avoid high-fidelity tools such as Photoshop at this point. There are more changes ahead and the simpler the tools you use the lower the cost of change will be. By using a mockup tool you will also be deferring detailed decisions about the user interface until later when the developers of your App will want to have some input!

Case Studies

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Nick McKenna
Nick McKenna is a (polymath) computer programmer and scaled Agile consultant. Nick has been a professional programmer for over 20 years and an Agile guru for nearly as long! Nick's specialities include progressive web app development, mobile app development, the Internet Of Things, Azure cloud development, systems integration, Scaled Agile Framework, Scrum, Lean, LeSS, Scrum At Scale and much much more.

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