Four Tips For Planning Your First Custom App

By Ann Monroe

What if there were a clear set of instructions to help you bring your best ideas to life as a custom app? Just like any other new skill, you could take that great idea and follow concrete steps to plan a custom app that will transform your business.

This information has been distilled from the best practices of many people who have planned their own custom apps. It provides you an essential road map for getting your ideas into the world.

#1 Evaluate goals

We’ve seen custom apps created by farmers, airline pilots and construction project planners; by doctors, specialty retailers and highway maintenance managers. What do they all have in common? They all have people who are passionate about what they do and the desire to transform the way their teams work.

How do you want you team to work? What does the app need to accomplish for your business? How does your team want to use the app?

When you first start, focus on what each person on your team needs. Don’t worry about app features yet. Simply spend time with them and learn their existing processes.

You’ll discover pain points and unmet needs. But don’t be discouraged! This is wonderful opportunity to have great collaboration and to turn those ad hoc processes and information silos into apps that will make your team more productive.

#2 Write your user scenarios

As a team, or through individual interviews, capture the steps that each person on your team goes through. I like to use post-it notes and I capture one step on each post-it note. If you designate one color for each person on your team, you’ll be able to see a map of post-it notes that show how your team works together to accomplish a task.

While you are doing this, be sure to capture information about when your team members are doing each task, what device they are using (and what device would they like to use) and how they use information from other systems to complete their task.

You and your team may find that you have a standard but inefficient process. Or you may find that your process varies a lot depending on the people and the situation. The good news is that you can build a custom app to be highly flexible or highly standardized, depending on what is best for your team. And remember, you and your team know what will be best for you!

#3 Integration, security and deployment

As you’ve done your interviews, you may have determined that your team needs data from another system. If so, you’ll need to work with the administrator of the other data source so that your app is granted access to view, modify or create data in the other data source. It’s worth making the effort to work with the administrator if having this information is going to make your team more productive.

Every custom app needs security. Will your custom app include employee or customer personal information? What about trade secrets or future product information? And don’t forget credit card numbers or other financial data. Or do you need to comply with government privacy and security regulations? When in doubt, err towards implementing through security from data encryption to role-based access privileges to external authentication.

Deployment refers to how you will make your custom app available to your team. This is when you think about who needs access and from what devices. And if your company has security measures, you’ll need to follow their guidelines to ensure that your team has access to their custom app no matter where they are.

#4 Prototype and test

Now that you have a clear vision, it’s time to build a prototype. The simplest prototype is to provide your team with rough sketches of what they will see and with call-outs for actions a user can take and how the app will respond. This is a great way to confirm that you’ve captured the feedback from your team.

Great design is often iterative. By having your team participate at this step, you’re also helping to ensure that they will use the custom app. When you co-create with your team members, they will feel committed to the idea. Now it’s not just your idea. It’s your team’s idea. It is ‘our’ custom app.

Ready to get started? Follow these steps and you’ll begin to see obstacles as opportunities, unsolved problems as just unimagined custom apps. Ultimately, you will transform how your team gets work done.

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