Tips for building a web platform or mobile app

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Curious about how to get your web platform or mobile app developed?  There's a lot to figure out and sometimes it helps to get a few pointers on what to look out for.  So, in order to get you going in the right direction, I wanted to share with you some tips to help you successfully complete your app-building project and to set yourself up for running an app business.

Building products and businesses are complex at the best of times – there are lots of moving parts, so you want to arm yourself with as much information as you can. These tips will give you a glimpse into the kinds of things that you’ll have to think about to get your app built and launched.

Here are my 10 tips for building a web or mobile app:
  1. Validate, validate, validate:  How you do you know if your idea is “great”? Is this the idea that you should be building? You can save yourself lots of time and money by evaluating your idea and deciding whether it should be built in the first place.  See last's week's article on ways you can start to validate your idea.
  2. Learn how software development works: If creating a web or mobile app is new for you, then you need to learn more about how they get built. There’s actually a process for doing this - called the software development lifecycle. You should find out, at a high- level, what activities and outputs are involved in this process. This will make it easier to communicate with your developers and you’ll know what you need to do and what happens next.
  3. Start small: Think of the most bare bones version of your product and build that first. You want to make sure that your product really solves your customer’s needs, wants or goals. Starting small means that you don’t spend lots of money when you don’t need to. You can get something tangible built in a shorter amount of time. You may not be able to launch this product, but it will give you something to build upon. It’s always easier to build on something that has already been built than trying to build everything upfront.
  4. Define your product in a way that a developer can understand: You may think your developer knows what you want them to build – think again. The brain of a developer is wired differently from yours – it’s what enables them to do what they do! Unfortunately, this means that you might end up with a product that doesn’t do what you want it to. Developers expect their instructions to come is a certain way, so you need to learn the best way to define your product.
  5. Focus on “what” you want to do rather than “how”: “What” describes the activities and features that your product will provide; the “how” is the design and technical solution that will deliver what you want your product to do. If you provide a “how” to your developer – that is what they will build – even though it may not be the best approach for your product. Once the “what” is nailed down, you can work with your developer to decide on “how”.
  6. Prioritise what you want to build: It can be easy to make everything a high priority – a “must have” for your big launch. The reality is that if you build everything you want, you’ll never launch. You should prioritise based on how much something helps you to achieve your goals and those of your customers and users.
  7. Find a great developer: This is one of the most important factors for a successful project. If you don’t find the right developer for your project, you face an uphill struggle to build your product. You need to find a developer that has as much interest in your product as you do. Check references and find opportunities to “test” them before you hire them. Building trust and a strong relationship with your developer is paramount.
  8. Carefully manage the scope of your project: Scope creep occurs when the size of a project increases after it has started due to improper management of changes for what you want to build. This causes the cost and schedule of your project to blow out. Track any changes that you want to make to the product and have a process in place to evaluate whether it’s really needed.    
  9. Be structured in your testing: Testing is about making sure that your product works as you expected. It’s pretty much guaranteed that it won’t – even with the best developer in the world. A new product is a complex thing and it will have problems. This means that you need to have a structured approach when you test your product.
  10. Plan for what happens after your initial product has been built: Before your product is launched, there are several things that you need to plan for including; getting a copy of your code, defining how changes to the “live” product are managed, backing up and recovering your product if something goes wrong, getting access to any admin passwords and setting up a process for managing issues. Building your product is just the beginning – there'll be lots to do on an ongoing basis.
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Any tips to share?

There you have it. My ten tips for building a web or mobile app. Of course there are many more, but these should get you going if you’re starting from scratch. If you’ve done this before and you've got other tips that you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments below.

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