App Development Series: On the Same Page


Imagine yourself as a customer visiting a restaurant. You’re hungry for a meal. The waiter asks you what you’d like. You tell him simply, “Just bring me a meal, please.” He nods and heads to the back. After some time, he comes back with a plate of salmon. You bristle and tell the waiter, “What is this?! I hate fish.” He coolly replies, “You told us you wanted a meal. This is a meal.”

You might be asking what this weird anecdote even has to do with app development. This is what happens when there’s miscommunication between any company and their clients. Both parties are responsible for the outcome because they both fail to properly communicate. Here, the customer failed to state the kind of meal he wanted, and wrongly assumed that the waiter would just somehow know what he’d actually like. Conversely, the waiter didn’t bother to ask the customer what kind of food he wanted, and wrongly assumed that he would be ok with whatever he got.

This mutual misunderstanding results in nobody getting what they want, and everyone ends up angry. So, the big question is: what can you do to prevent this happening between you and your app developer?

After you’ve found a developer and they’ve agreed to build your app, one of the very first things you need to do is make sure that you both decide how often and through what channels you’ll communicate with each other. Whether it’s email, Skype, texting or whatever, your avenue of communication should be reliable enough to allow you both to use it at least several times a week.

Communication, and socialization, also requires you to write things down. Explain EXACTLY what you want from this app to your developer. Generally, an effective description abides by the following:

  • For starters, write it down. Use words that your audience will understand.
  • Use whatever language you need to convey the importance of each aspect of this app (what it needs to have, what it ought to have, what it might have, what it may have, what it can have, etc.)
  • Draw pictures of your envisioned app and its screens/page. While the app is being constructed, take actual screenshots of it as well. This will give your developer a visual point of reference and provide an effective medium of communications.
  • Make sure you and your developer have a way of tracking the various versions of these documents, as you’ll probably make TONS of revisions along the way. Keep these documents with the different versions of your app description separate.
  • There are lots of tools to help you with this: Google Docs, Office Online, Confluence, etc.
  • Agree with your developer that changes to the app specs must be acknowledged and agreed to in order to have different things done.

“Just because you’ve read something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.”

Once you’ve explained, you should then ask them to describe your envisioned app, in their own words. Asking them to paraphrase you will reveal whether or not they’ve comprehended your proposal. If their paraphrasing’s grossly inaccurate, then you need to repeat your proposal to them, update your documentation and ask them to paraphrase it again.

Do this as many times are necessary until their paraphrase is a perfect translation of the proposal, from your “language” to theirs. Once you tell them, “yes, this is exactly what I want,” then you’re both officially in a deal, so it’s imperative to make sure everyone’s always on the same page. It’s ok to change your plans along the way, just make sure that you and your developer have an agreed-upon method to make changes to the plan. As the earlier story proves, if there’s any miscommunication, it’s everyone’s fault.

Now let’s say your developer comes up with an idea for an addition to the app. Is the idea just a cosmetic thing, or does it actually change the way the app runs? This is something that you need to clarify with your developer before giving them your approval to implement it. You’re the one who has the most at stake in this app’s success, so you need to make sure that all of its features comply with your vision of what you, not the developer, want this app to be.

When you both communicate well, and often, you’ll be on the same wavelength about your new baby. And you’ll be ready for the long haul.

Next time: The Building Process

Written by
Jay is a social media coordinator, website traffic specialist, and product tester at the Majordomo.