Entrepreneurs, designers, and developers all share the same exciting energy at the start of a software development project. They’ve been briefed and think the idea is excellent. They want to get stuck in and start building this thing! The details will probably sort themselves out along the way, right?
Wrong. Planning the project is arguably the most important and hardest to execute. This step is so difficult because the project team doesn’t have all the information yet. There are ways around this, and in this short guide, we’ll detail a no-fluff breakdown of how to plan for an application development project.
Steps to plan application development project
These are the general steps to planning your application development project. You can apply these steps with the same success to a complex website development project.
- Define your goal
- Build your requirements
- Create the project plan
- Set up your tools and processes
1. Define your goal
Building an application isn’t a goal. It’s a vehicle that will enable you and your team to achieve a bigger purpose. Making money isn’t a great goal either. You could argue this point, but money-making is more of an outcome of the application achieving its goal.
A better goal is something like fixing a problem that you’ve noticed a lot of people have. For example, a lot of people struggle with procrastination. Your application’s goal could be to create an application that prevents procrastination on the internet.
If you’re not familiar with the theory behind goals, a million articles are written around creating practical goals. They all mention the SMART principle: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Keeping this in mind, we would better present our example goal like this: Our application’s goal is to reduce the number of times users procrastinate on the internet by 50% after a single session of using the application. This is a specific goal that we can measure through user surveys; it’s not so optimistic that it’s unattainable. It is relevant to most internet users and bound by the number of times the user interacts with the application.
2. Build your requirements
Defining requirements is critical to ensuring your designers and developers end up building the right thing. To use a house-building analogy, without a good blueprint, there’s a chance the single-story home could end up as a double-story duplex.
Writing requirements in a way that’s easy for developers to read and understand can be difficult. The goal is to be succinct while providing enough detail that the requirement can only be interpreted the intended way.
Epics and user stories can help with this approach. Epics are big groups of requirements that are broken down into small functional requirements called user stories. Stories are written from a user’s perspective and are technology agnostic, meaning they shouldn’t mention any technology that needs to be used to achieve the requirement.
A typical user story looks like this: “As a logged-in user, I want to be able to turn on the application and have it prevent me from accessing cute dog pictures, so I can focus on doing my work.”
Breaking your requirements down to this level of granularity and using language that is easy to understand goes a long way to having your team move in the same direction once the project commences.
3. Create the project plan
There are plenty of super detailed, content-heavy project plans out there you could copy. We wouldn’t recommend doing that. Simply filling in the blanks of a project plan template is the wrong way to approach this step. The idea behind creating your project plan is to think backward from achieving your goal. As best you can, document every single activity and detail that will be required to get you from point A to point B.
Here’s a high-level breakdown with the procrastination application example we listed earlier:
- Goal: Reduce the number of times users procrastinate on the internet by 50%
- How will we get there: By creating a web-based application
- How will we build the application: We’ll hire a development team to design and develop the application based on our requirements document.
The example above is clearly a poor project plan. There are a million follow-up questions and no clear structure. But the point is that the best project plan is one where you sit down and think of every possible question that could derail your project and plan a solution.
4. Set up your tools
Spreadsheets in project planning and management are a relic of the past. These days teams turn to platforms like Asana, Trello, Jira, or a thousand alternatives to plan out the steps required to keep their project on track. These platforms help you assign tasks to team members, keep on top of deadlines, and ensure essential jobs don’t get overlooked.
If you’re entirely outsourcing your project, it’s still important to set up your digital toolset with communication platforms like Slack and Zoom so you can keep in touch with your contractors.
If you only take one thing away from this article, it’s that you should sit down and think through every little detail of your upcoming project before starting. The more planning and research you do, the better equipped you’ll be when things go sideways. Good luck!