Professional app developers like us get asked all kinds of questions, but by far the most common are those regarding how one should proceed once an idea for an app has been decided upon. Is research important? Do you need to write a business plan? Do you need to hire developers? All too many app ideas stall before they begin, simply because so many are unsure of the next steps.
Messapps have designed and developed over a hundred apps for our clients, and as such, we’ve got plenty of experience in getting new projects off the ground. It doesn’t all run smoothly, but it’s fair to say we always learn from our mistakes.
Today, we’ve decided to nail down our method for starting projects, and share our concept of working in sprints. Our sprints are based on the fundamentals of efficiency, precision, and deep work… and they never fail to help us start any project within 5 days, and get it ready for design and development.
This post is all about what those five days entail, and how you can utilise these sprints to make sure your idea is fighting fit, and ready for a smooth and effective execution.
Prepare for Your Project
Every sprint requires some careful preparation. Because we work closely with our clients as Messapps, this preparation is going to involve onboarding our clients, and preparing all the required project tools.
Onboarding is a process of two halves. First, we get our clients to fill in an onboarding questionnaire. This features all the expected questions – their name, their contact details, etc – but it also covers important business points and questions which are always worth asking, including:
- What is your current job/occupation?
- Sometimes, people dream up ideas connected to their everyday life. As such, the app they want to produce might be aimed at helping them improve their work, or it could just be something connected to an action they do on a regular basis. This is why we always ask what our clients do daily, as it gives us a clear perspective on the market we are going to target,
- Why do you want to pursue this particular project?
- The answers to this question usually follow common themes; to make money, to solve an issue or problem the client faces, or to deal with an issue faced by others. The answer given helps us understand how to optimize the flow within the project itself. In particular, it helps us pick the correct monetization strategy (if applicable).
- What do you consider the most important feature of this project?
- The majority of apps contain many different features. However, 90% of users focus on just one. As such, it’s vitally important for us to grasp which feature is most significant for your users.
- What do you do in your free time?
- This relates the first question we looked at before – we love learning about our clients’ daily lives and interests, as this gives us a deeper insight into the thinking behind the app.
The second part of the onboarding process involves us preparing all the tools we need for the job, and onboarding the client to them. Every project requires different tools, but there are three key ones which get used every time:
Google Drive is something we simply cannot do without. Before anything else, we set up new folders for every project, complete with sub-folders for development, design, and spring. Openness and communication is key, so all files are synced and shared between team members.
Slack is our comms tool. When working with clients, we set up a separate channel for discussing the project, keeping things streamlined and communication as open as possible.
For task management, we use Pivotal Tracker. Alongside the app automation tool Zapier, we can connect together Pivotal Tracker and Slack (as well as other systems) to automate our processes, and save time as much as possible.
Now you’ve seen behind the curtain (so to speak), let’s dive right in and look at our first sprint!
Sprint Day 1 (Monday): Getting to Grips With The Business Model
It’s always important to bear in mind that building an app is essentially starting your own business. As such, before we get into the hard work of designing and developing, we need to ensure it passes the ‘business stress test’. In order to do this, we use our App Business Canvas. This is essentially a modified version of a popular Business Model Canvas, and it’s at heart a 1-page template for getting a business started.
Questions to be answered before a new app or product is made:
- Target Audience: Who is the app aimed at, and what type of users will most benefit from it?
- Value Proposition: How exactly does your app benefit its users?
- Platforms: Which platforms is the app going to work on? Are you going to make an accompanying web version?
- Customer Connections: How are users going to get in contact with you? How can you prevent negative reviews on the App Store?
- Making Money: What is your monetization process? Is it free to download? Will it feature ads?
- Significant Resources: What will you need to keep the app functioning after it’s completed? For example, does you app need a minimum of 10 drivers in every city in order for it to provide a workable ride-sharing service?
- Important Activities: What do you need to do to make sure the app functions well? To use the same example, will you ban drivers with poor ratings? Or check their driving history?
- Key Integrations: Do you need third party work, and if so, what will it be? Do you need to access maps or databases?
- Structure of Costs: Who is going to design, develop, and wireframe your app, and how much will their services cost?
By answering these questions carefully and thoroughly, you’ll be able to work out some of the issues which may lay in waiting while you develop your app. Every Monday, one of our team project managers dedicates two hours to complete these questions, which will then be forwarded to the client for feedback and further thoughts.
Sprint Day 2 (Tuesday): Coming Up With a User Story Diagram
The second day is all about preparing the architecture of the app itself. This is done by creating a block diagram, which features all main user journeys and stories. We focus absolutely on the main user screens during day two, and leave any work related to secondary screens for the next day.
Want to create a good block diagram for the main user stories? Follow these simple steps for success.
- Focus on the main goal of the user. Why did they choose and download your app in the first place?
- Attempt to make the user get to what they want as quickly and efficiently as possible. Remember, you don’t want to sacrifice quality, but you want to clean up any unnecessary barriers of entry. To use our ridesharing app example again, you want the app to default to one choice of car (no matter how many cars you have on the app) in order to stop forcing the user to click and select an option every time they use it. This default option saves the user from clicking, thus making it faster to achieve their desired aim.
- Feel free to include secondary features, but don’t include secondary screens. Remember: there’s a big difference between the two! Secondary screens include things like login and registration – both of which aren’t always needed by users. They exist to enable certain experiences, but they don’t actually add any value of their own. Secondary features, on the other hand, definitely do provide value. They are there to enable some of the experiences but they don’t bring value on their own. Secondary features, however, do. Be aware of the difference, and use it to organise your time and priorities more effectively.
Making a user story diagram creates a skeleton for your future project to be built upon. As you go through the process of designing and prototyping, you’ll find yourself coming back to it again and again, just to make sure you’re covering all the right bases.
By the time Tuesday draws to a close, we’ll have a full diagram of the key user stories, as well as the client feedback, on our business canvas. Once that canvas is finished and finalised, we’ll send over the diagrams for the client to review, and listen to their comments and thoughts.
Sprint Day 3 (Wednesday): Create the other necessary pages or screens
The third day of the week is focused on creating the necessary secondary screens, and taking Tuesday’s client feedback into account. Those secondary screens need to be in accordance with the block diagram – we have a golden rule, however, that if there is a button on the app, there has to be a screen that it opens!
It’s important to include the following secondary screens in your block diagram, to make sure you aren’t missing anything key:
- Login screens: Think about the kind of login screen you need. A simple email and password combo? A face scan or TouchID? Can people register if they don’t have an account?
- Password reset: Forgetting a password is very, very common. Make sure it’s easy for users to get back into their account!
- Registration: You might not need a registration screen if your users sign up via Facebook etc. However, if you need additional info, make sure your registration screens feature all the necessary questions.
- Settings: This is going to be a secondary screen which is entirely dependent on the nature of the app you’re creating. Make sure your user can edit and change the app to their liking, within the correct parameters that keep the app functional and secure.
- Notifications: Working with app notifications requires you to walk a fine balance. On the one hand, you want notifications to be regular enough to engage and re-engage your audience. On the other, you don’t want them to become irritating. Make sure your notification settings allow them to customise how often they hear from you, so the app works best for them and doesn’t become a nuisance.
- Empty state screens: All too many app developers forget about empty state screens. However, they’re important. Take an app like Instagram, for example – what do you see if you aren’t following any of your friends – a Call to Action, or just an empty screen saying ‘please move on, nothing to see here’…? Make sure you’re thinking about empty state screens, and how they can help optimise usability.
- Profiles: Whether it’s the profile of the primary user, or a profile of a friend they’re following, remember you need to be able to see users’ profiles clearly.
- Contact us screen: Very important. Users might be confused, may be having issues with your app, or want to suggest improvements. Not having a ‘contact us’ page quickly leads to negative reviews!
- Success/system popups/screens: Don’t forget any of these popups and screens – it’s those little details that make all the difference!
Once Wednesday’s done and dusted, we have our main user stories completed with the client feedback applied, and the secondary screens will have had their first draft treatment, too. Now, it’s time to contact the client, get their approval, and get ready for Thursday.
Sprint Day 4 (Thursday): Prepping for Design Stage
Thursday will see us ready with all the previous days’ work completed, and set up for the final stages. Should the client have come back with other feedback, then this is the day to apply that feedback to the main and secondary user stories, and submitting it to be approved. Once the app canvas and user stories are finalized and polished, we can move into the preparation stages for the design phase.
When it comes to design prep, our goal is always to find the design style which best suits the app users. This is key – one of the most common errors made is when people go about designing for themselves, and forgetting to keep their users in mind. This leads to typical mistakes, like using dark colours for dating apps (and remember, dating apps should be light, full of joy, hope, and happiness!), or other similar errors of judgement. Remember to always keep the user experience at the centre of the design, and you should be on to a winner.
When prepping the design, we sent out a questionnaire to our clients. This features a load of questions, but the most important ones relate to the preferences of the target audience, such as:
- What is the age range of your audience?
- What brands do your target audience prefer?
- Provide 3 adjectives to describe your app’s audience.
- Which feelings and emotions should the app evoke in your audience?
- Using the color philosophy wheel, which color represents those emotions best?
- Do you feel this is an ideal choice for the main color of the app?
- Which other color would work as a principle color?
- Thinking of your target audience, what tone would best suit the copy?
- Please post as many links as you please to apps, websites, and designs which you particularly like.
See how all the questions are focused on the target audience, especially when thinking about style and color? That’s because it’s your users who will drive and dictate the success of your product.
Sprint Day 5 (Friday): Finishing Uncompleted Work
You know the key to not falling behind? It’s all about planning for falling behind. Giving yourself buffer time to catch up is key to providing a timely service, and that’s what the fifth day of our sprint is all about.
It could be that the client was late in providing feedback. Perhaps you got stuck under a mountain of other work, which made you miss out on building your block diagram. Whatever the reason, use Friday to catch up, and ensure that everything is completed, polished, and done to satisfaction by the time Friday comes to a close.
There you have it: five days in which the business is brainstormed, the competitive edge is figured out, the architecture of the product is created, and the actual design is prepped and ready to go. By doing this, your product is in a winning position to get started, and everything is set for the execution of the project to begin.