/ App Development

Mobile app development checklist

As a mobile creative agency, people often approach us with ideas for mobile apps. Over time, we've developed a process for evaluating these ideas, aiming at answering two simple questions:

  1. Can the idea be turned into a successful, scalable app?
  2. Does the potential business impact justify the investment in app development?

The evaluation process may take a few days up to a few weeks to complete, depending on several factors. This post lists some of the topics we cover during this evaluation process.

✔︎ Perform Market Validation

Interview target personas
Your target persona is the person who will use your app or, in some cases, the person who will pay for the service. Your friends, family or colleagues are usually not your target personas, but may have their own opinion if you ask them about your idea. Avoid confusing yourself and wasting time. Find your target persona.

Key questions to ask your taret persona:

  • Is this issue a problem for you?
  • How often do you encounter this issue?
  • How fundamnetal is this issue? Can you operate without a solution?
  • How do you solve or workaround this issue today? Do you use other apps?
  • Will my app solve this issue, assuming it provides A, B and C?
  • Will you be willing to pay for my app? $X / $Y / $Z / None?

It's crucial to have your target personas answer at least some of these questions. Don't skip this step or procrastinate. Pick a medium that best suits you: online surveys, video chats, social media, phone calls or face to face interviews. Talking to your target personas will help you validate your idea and understand your users' real needs, goals and objections.

Great apps are developed with users and not for them, and your development process starts with validating your idea with your target personas.

Research competition
Most chances there are similar apps out there that provide a similar or alternative solution to yours. Find out how these apps operate, what's their marketing pitch, target audience and key strengths and weaknesses. Does your app introduce any new benefits that existing apps don't have and cannot easily roll out? You must find a unique selling point and ideally, a nische with as little direct competition as possible.

✔︎ Write a Product Brief

Write a brief of your mobile app that summarizes what the app does and how it works. The brief should include:

  • An overview of your business
  • The business objectives of your app
  • The target personas and the problem you are addressing.
  • How the app works - list the business and technical requirements.
  • Budget - set your initial expectations, with separate figures for development, marketing and ongoing maintainance of this app.
  • Timeline - the milestones you need to reach and when.

The product brief is a plan, and like any plan, it's bound to change and adapt. Start now and be ready to adapt your brief as new information comes to light.

✔︎ Assess Risks

Assessing risks will help you answer two basic questions:

  • What may cause the project to go over time?
  • What may cause the project to go over budget?

Technical Risks
Delve into the main user journeys of your app and understand how they work and how they can be implemented. If you're not a developer, hire one in order to perform this analysis. Many software development projects exceed their budget and/or time because of poor effort estimation and failure to understand all the complexities and issues that arise during the implementation phase. It's crucial, therefore, to delve as deep as possible into the technical details and estimate the true amount of work that will be required to reach your goal.

Commercial Risks:
What will it take for your app a commerical success? List your goals and understand what it will take to reach them. For instance: How many active / paying users will you need per month? How many downloads will you need for that? and at what conversion rates?

Use app intelligence tools such as AppAnnie, AppFigures and Reflection to get reasonable conversion rates for your app category and project how much traction you'll need in order to get to your target MAU.

✔︎ Team up

Producing a successful app is no simple feat. You'll need a team behind you. Start with the things you know least about, and make a list of skills / knowhow that you need to hire: strategy, marketing, design, coding, system, project management, sales, etc.

Hiring the right team is one of the keys to success. Devote the proper amount of energy and time to interviewing and filtering candidates. Hire one person at a time. Every person needs coaching and guidance, initially, and you will need to assess whether there's a good match or not. This takes time, so do not hire too many employees at once.

If time is of the essence, find partners such as app development or marketing agencies who can help you get to your next milestone faster, while you're staffing perms.

✔︎ Make a plan

It's very tempting to go ahead and start realizing your app. However, without planning you will have no way of measuring your development progress. You may have some vague expectations in mind about how much time and money you'll need, or what milestones you need to reach. Putting it on paper will help you organize your thoughts and understand when you need what, and who.

Your development plan, or roadmap, should include the milestones, or goals, that you are aiming to reach. These milestones may be app releases, target conversion rates or revenues. The important thing to remember is that your plan will need to adapt. Planning out where you want to go and when you wish to get there will help you stay one track and avoid "making things up as you go". You cannot forsee all impediments ahead of time, but you will be able to test your assumptions, measure progress and be better prepared with budget.

Don't worry about planning more than a few months into the future. The longer your plan stretches into the future, the less accurate it is anyway. You can set high-level milestones for 12, 18 and 24 months, but stay focused on the next 3-6 months and plan those out in more detail.

✔︎ Run an experiment

When approaching a new project, I always prefer to start with a proof of concept, or prototype, which I can build rather quickly and put to test. A mobile app is an ideal project to prototype. A prototype can help assess technical feasiblity or perform commercial validation. In other words, a prototype will help you mitigate risks and test if you're heading in the right direction.

Experimentation should not be reserved to new app development. If you are adding a new feature or integrating a new service into an existing app, experiment using A/B testing. Firebase Messaging A/B testing allows creating push-notification campaigns for selected audiences, Apptimize facilitates mobile UI experiments, and Optimizely offers an SDK for testing how new features or UI changes contribute to converstions.

✔︎ Iterate

Successful apps are not forged as such, in one piece. The process of creating a successful app is iterative. You build v1.0, give it to users, listen and observe them, learn and improve the app to make it fit better to their needs, work faster, be simpler to use, etc. This process repeats itself for a long time before your app turns into "a success". The Lean Startup methodology calls this the build - measure - learn cycle.

Remember that even if you have a great idea, its initial implementation is going to be far from ideal. Brace yourself for a long process of learning and improving, and countless iterations.