If the ‘app fits

So, you want to build an app? Read on for our Top Tips!

According to comScore’s latest report*, apps now account for 82% of total mobile minutes, so it sounds like an app is a no-brainer solution for all of us, right? Wrong. Whether you’re an existing business looking to expand your product set or a startup with a killer app idea which you want to get to market, there are some pertinent questions you should consider before you pursue the idea. WHO is the app for? HOW will your target audience use it? WHY will they use it? WHAT solution is it providing for them over and above a mobile website, for example? If you’re happy that the requirement exists then keep reading!

Finding the right partner

So now you’ve made the decision to go ahead with your app idea, the next step is to find yourself someone to build it. The chances are (particularly if you’re reading this) that you’re not a developer yourself and if you don’t have any internal resource, you’ll need to look elsewhere for your development resource. This is a big decision and one that can determine the success of your project. The first thing that happens when most people have an idea is they write down a short version of what they want and then approach developments companies to invite them to quote. At this point, all anyone knows about the project is that brief summary, but as everyone wants your business they will quote anyway. This is why you’ll often end up working through dozens of quotes, anywhere from £5k to £100k – regardless of what it is you want! To avoid being burned we’ve written up some top tips to help you find and engage the right development partner for you.

LightStart’s Top Tips

  1. Set your project goals and share them

Every project needs a set of outcomes. Really clear, honest and genuine outcomes, ordered by their priority. They don’t need to be that detailed, but they need to exist.

Too many projects begin with the business stakeholders defining these, writing them down and then locking them away in a drawer.  When they engage with a development team, these goals aren’t communicated… so the team starts off, usually with your best interests at heart, trying to achieve what they think you want them to achieve, not what you actually want to achieve.  Good teams will ask, but good clients will also share.

  1. List features and prioritise them

Everyone who loves their idea, loves thinking and talking about features. More often than not, you are designing the cool features in your head first, or on the back of napkins, long before you start thinking about the basic features like logins and registration. That’s fine, it’s what makes having an idea such a creative process.

To give the team delivering your digital project the best chance, list your features and give them a priority. This will make EVERYTHING that follows go much more smoothly and, if you have a delivery team that works using Agile methodologies, this will be part of their process anyway.

  1. Phase your delivery

When you have your features prioritised, to match the priority of your outcomes, then you are in a good position to create realistic, achievable delivery phases.

At the same time as planning the features of your digital project, you’re likely to be thinking about the general strategy of how to get it out there. Phased sets of features should both align with and help drive your delivery strategy, as you match things like marketing and revenue plans to new feature sets becoming available for your users.

We recommend that you look at a first phase of delivery called an MVP – a minimum viable product. This is a version of what you are delivering that contains the minimum number of features to make it viable. If you approach your project as delivery phases from the very beginning, then a handful of features moving from one phase to another really shouldn’t be too horrifying to you.

  1. Plan a demo phase

Imagine you could only raise half the money required for the MVP but you were still desperate to keep momentum going.  What could you achieve with a demo version of your project that would help you secure traction and/or funding?  We’re talking basic designs, creative only screens (with no interaction), interactive wireframing… there are lots of creative ways to get something that at least looks like your final version, for when you’re not able to get it all completed in one go.

  1. Create a functional specification

Good agencies will create a specification but it’s not usually in a single document – it’s in the wireframes, in the notes that the sales person writes, it’s in the time estimates the developers create for the features. In large corporate projects, you couldn’t dream of getting the budget for a project signed off without a spec – whereas most digital projects in web agency land are signed off on the basis of a 30 minute pitch and a few conversations.

At whatever point you are able to, before or after you have already signed on the dotted line, our top tip is to make sure there is a functional specification document. This should be a living, breathing document containing all (non-technical) elements of your project. Good agencies will suggest or provide a version of this – if they don’t, ask. And if you want to see what a really great functional spec looks like, come speak to us!

  1. You are already an expert

It’s your idea.  You came up with it and you are probably a little bit in love with it. Your only requirement to make your vision a reality is to be able to explain it clearly to the people who are tasked with delivering it.

Don’t let your delivery team railroad your vision for what you want, unless there is a good technical reason why it’s not possible to achieve what you want. It’s their job to explain to you clearly, in the least technical way possible, if something can be achieved or not. If not, let them suggest the closest alternative options (see the next tip).

  1. Your delivery team are also experts

When you start a project, if you are looking for a 3rd party to work on it, it’s almost certainly because you don’t have the skills to create what needs to be created. So you’re usually looking for the cheapest expert you can find within your budget to create it for you.

This is exactly what you should expect from a healthy relationship with your experts:

  1. To be able to provide clear requirements to your experts
  2. To have those requirements played back (or put in a spec!) by your experts, in a way that demonstrates your common understanding
  3. To let your experts get on with doing the bits you aren’t able to do yourself
  4. To have the experts explain to you exactly what has been done in plain language, both at the end of your project but especially during, when requirements or outcomes can change

If all these activities are allowed to happen, then you have the best chance of a project running smoothly and avoiding a build-up of frustration and bitterness.

  1. To the best of your abilities, pay the right amount of money for your project

Digital projects can cost large sums to deliver.  Behind buying a house or a car, if you are setting up your own business, paying for your digital project to be completed might be the single largest ‘big ticket’ item you pay for.

If a company tells you your project will cost £20k and you only have £15k – you really only have a handful of choices. You can find more money and pay the amount; you can try and haggle or you can go and find someone else who will do it for £15k. Price is no indication of quality, that’s why it’s perfectly fine to ask for as many examples of previous and current projects as you need to feel reassured.

Basically, wherever financially possible, pay the suggested amount and accept the suggested delivery timeframe, if you trust them as your experts.

That’s it! 

Those are our top tips. If you feel like you need more help and if you think our approach is right for your project, why not book in to see us for a FREE 1 hour workshop. We’ll set up a room with nice coffee, a whiteboard and some comfy chairs and we can mindmap your idea onto the whiteboard in our own unique way. Get the ball rolling today, there’s really nothing to lose (did I mention it was free?!). Book in here and we’ll get straight back in touch 🙂


*Source: comScore MMX Multi Platform, June 2017, UK, Adults 18+ MMX Multi
Platform includes desktop browsing, desktop video streams, smartphone browsing & apps, tablet browsing & apps.

This is a thought-leadership piece we were asked to write for the Digital Enterprise (part of The LEP). It was first published on their website on Thursday 25th January 2018. To see the published post, click here

Snippets of the Top Tips were taken from a blog we previously wrote in 2016. To see this and even MORE tips, click here.