So, you have decided to create your first custom app? Congratulations! There are many decisions ahead of you, and you probably wish you had a step-by-step list to help move you and your team from imagination to implementation. Well, below you will find that list, gathered from the best practices of many people who have gone before you to create custom apps that have transformed their businesses.
1. Find the Pain Points
History shows that just about anyone can create a custom app: doctors, specialty retailers, highway maintenance managers, farmers, airline pilots and construction project planners. What do they all have in common? They are all people who are passionate about what they do and the desire to transform the way their teams work.
So, the first questions to ask in this process are: How do you want your team to work? What does the app need in order to accomplish 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.
In this way, you will uncover their needs and the things that cause daily frustration. This is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate and to turn those ad hoc processes and information silos into apps that will make your team happier and more productive.
2. Determine User Scenarios
Next, determine each team member’s work process, either by interviewing each member or talking as a team. You can use sticky notes and capture one step on each sticky note. If you designate one color for each person on your team, you’ll be able to see a map of sticky notes that shows how your team works together to accomplish a task.
During this phase, make sure you gather 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. You and your team know what will be best for you.
3. Sort Out the Back End
During the interview process, it may have become clear 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.
Security is a major consideration for your custom app. Will yours 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. Do you need to comply with government privacy and security regulations? When in doubt, err towards implementing thorough security from data encryption to role-based access privileges to external authentication.
How will you make your custom app available to your team? This is the deployment piece of the puzzle, 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. Create Your Prototype and Test It Out
Once you’ve lined up all the particular needs, functions and back-end requirements, 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.
It often takes multiple iterations to arrive at a great design. Getting your team to this step ensures that they will use the custom app, because they feel a sense of ownership. 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.
5. Go It Alone or Work with a Developer
One of the best and yet often most surprising things about custom apps is that anybody can learn to build one. Whether you decide to build your app yourself or hire a developer will depend on your interest in learning a new skill. As with any new skill, there is a learning curve. The good news is that there are great resources and community discussions that you can turn to along the way.
Another factor in deciding whether to try it yourself or work with a developer is how much time and how many resources you have. If you’re short on time but have a lot of resources, you may want to outsource the development of your custom app to a professional consultant.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this doesn’t have to be an either/or process; consultants can be brought in at any time. You may want to start building your custom app on your own, attend a training class or watch an online tutorial, and then bring in a “coach” to help you tackle more complex jobs.
A Roadmap to Productivity
Creating your own custom app to suit the specific needs of your business requires many steps and may be challenging if you don’t have a roadmap. The five steps above simplify the process by providing a step-by-step plan. Use it to overcome questions, fears and challenges along the way, and soon your team will be enjoying new levels of productivity and satisfaction.
About the Author
Ann Monroe is vice president, worldwide marketing for FileMaker, Inc. and is responsible for marketing the company’s software for creating custom apps for iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac and the Web. She holds an MBA degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from Loyola Marymount University.
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