Do you know the single, most important thing you must know when creating a web or mobile app? It is not anything fancy, technical, complex or spiritual, but knowing it, is the difference between a total success and a shameful disaster.
When you begin the process to create a new app, you ask your friends, post online or do a search for app developers and contact the top results. The first thing people ask is “What is your idea?” to which you answer with some of these:
- I need an app like Uber but for boats…
- We want to revolutionize the _____ industry…
- We’ve outlined the entire project in this 4.5Gb folder…
Sounds familiar? Some other entrepreneurs or more structured organizations will come prepared with a long list of detailed requirements and pages of screenshots, competitors, use cases, make-shift wireframes and a “clear” idea of what they want – or so they think.
So what is the most important thing to know?
You and your team need to know what you want. This is not the same as throwing out comparison products and not it doesn’t even mean a thousand pages of requirements, to begin with. It means understanding your goals, without being too attached to a very specific solution. Knowing what you want without being too broad, or overly specific.
There are four type of potential issues to avoid when organizing your thoughts for your next project
The “It’s just like… but different” issue
This one is one of the most dangerous (from the developer’s team perspective) and the one that can yield the biggest frustration and surprises for the client.
The clients want an application that works similar or almost identical to popular competitors, however, most of the time these popular applications have gone over dozens of revisions and learnings to be at the point where they are right now. Simple replacing “cars” with “boats” in the Uber example, doesn’t make the application automatically easy to understand, deploy and monetize. There are dozens of variables that need to take into consideration but are often ignored or hidden at the time of putting together the request and the proposal.
Another thing to consider is that there is a large “behind the scenes” component to these applications. We are just used to the nicely crafted and smooth operation of the service but don’t forget all the secondary and tertiary systems powering apps like these, from customer service to email automation. So now, we are not just building a simple Uber app replica, but also a ticketing system, integrations to email campaigns, accounting, payments, security, integrations to several third parties, etc. This obviously increases the cost of the project in unexpected ways.
Don’t get discouraged, just be realistic about the real size and implications of building such an application.
The revolutionizing idea issue
Great industry changes are awesome! We saw it with AirBnB, Uber (sorry for being repetitive), Amazon, Ebay, etc… But the reality is, most of these did not start one day with the intent to revolutionize anything… they instead were focusing on solving a specific problem and produced a legitimate good solution for it.
If you have a well-defined problem and a solution, that’s great! But if you just have a blanket statement about how great the world would be if everyone used your app, that’s different.
Before talking to developers or posting a job request, be sure to have a clear picture of what you want and then work with an experienced development team to help research and validate your solution and the viability of such product before you begin a long journey to nowhere.
Too specific is too specific
Putting together hundreds of hours is great and looks good in front of your VC’s and stakeholders, but not leaving room for change is as big of a risk as being too broad.
Being specific and detailed is better than being too broad. It shows your commitment and vision of the product you want to be built but over thinking it may cause your project to be too rigid and unable to adapt to the fast-changing technological environment.
If you are going to invest heavily upfront in requirements, we would suggest you do it in the following way:
- Do proper research to align your project with the target users
- Invest in wireframing without excessive detail
- Allow room for changes, creativity and new ideas
If you will write requirements, be careful of what we call “one-liner bombs”. These are typically small and innocent looking small requirements hidden amongst the paragraphs but in reality, they are a year worth of development. Avoid things like “the system will automatically pair drivers with the most efficient route” – sure… the app must do that, but it obviously requires more than just a few hours of fancy code to accomplish this.
Getting a software development team to deliver an application on time and under budget is not easy, but don’t make it more difficult by being unclear, too broad, or too specific. Invest in research, minimal wireframing and be open to new ideas.
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