We’ve put together the following aide-memoire for producing an app development project brief. Not all questions are relevant to all projects but should provide a general framework for all such projects.
By no means does every question need to be answered, but the more questions that are answered, the more accurate a quote can be. If you don’t know the meaning of a question, then we can help with clarifying – but it could well be that it doesn’t apply or is overkill for the app in mind.
Some notes before starting
Apps can be prohibitively expensive to build and scale. Depending on the approach taken, they can require hundreds or thousands of hours of a team of skilled professionals’ time to design, develop, test, finesse, and launch. As a result, it’s important to think about the development of an app as a business, rather than as purely a product that appears on a user’s phone or web browser. Considering resourcing, finance, monetisation, marketing, and scalability is as important as the concept itself.
Unless you have access to private sources of seed funding, it is hard in most cases to find investors to back an app unless it has already been prototyped, can show a strong business plan, has a seasoned leadership team and a route to exit or monetization. But getting this far can be a real challenge:
Many app startups choose to develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to produce the leanest possible version of the app concept which can then be trialled with customers and demonstrated to potential investors. But this is often just the first step in a long process of agile development which could see many iterations, pivots and refinements before seeing a full commercial launch.
Options for non-technical app creators
If you’re lucky enough to have the skills to design and develop an app yourself, then congratulations! Maybe think about joining our team?
For most people, however, learning the broad set of skills needed to produce an app is going to be a big drain on time and means that the window of opportunity to release the product will be more restricted and more competitors may emerge in the interim. There are generally two approaches that non-technical teams can take:
Find a technical co-founder
A technical co-founder is an experienced app developer who will join your fledgling startup in exchange for equity (and often some form of a stipend) and handle product development. In order to win over a technical co-founder, you’re effectively pitching to them for their investment of time and effort into your business, so you need to be sure that your concept is sound, the business model is clear and that there is a route to them making a return on their investment. You’ll also want to appeal to them personally as someone they want to be in business with.
Finding a technical co-founder and convincing them to join you on your mission can be like finding a needle in a haystack, but they do exist. You may be able to find local events where potential startup CTOs are partnered with people with business ideas, or look for startup incubators like Entrepreneurs First which help partner people together and provide seed funding in exchange for equity.
It’s still worth putting an initial app brief together, as a starter for discussion.
Appoint an app development agency
If commissioning an agency to develop an app, project values in the UK generally start in the region of tens of thousands of pounds, and can run in the hundreds of thousands depending on the level of functionality required. It is possible to cut costs by working with teams overseas (Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America all have thriving developer scenes and some great people), although if you’re new to working with developers then cutting down barriers (including location and language) can be vital to feeling like you’re all on the same page.
An agency should be able to give you a fixed price to develop an agreed scope of work for the app, and work to an agreed timeline – which should help reduce the variables in the project. Putting a brief on paper is the best place to start.
What’s the app’s core functionality or purpose?
What’s the customer problem and solution in a nutshell. How does what you do solve their problem?
Are there similar or rival products out there on the market? What differentiates your offering and why would someone use your app over the competition?
What makes you the best person or company to launch this app? Do you have industry knowledge, contacts, investor opportunities or experience that means you have an advantage over a potential competitor?
If the app development brief is to replace an existing app, then consider the following:
Please provide links to any app store listings for the app and URLs for any web equivalents or marketing websites.
How long has the app been in place?
Who designed and built the app? Have they been involved in supporting the app since its launch?
Who’s responsible for managing the app internally?
What technologies are used for the current version of the app? Is it built using native, hybrid or PWA technologies? Are there any integrations with third-party systems via API that we should be aware of?
Do you have any analytics data to suggest the level of traffic the app is receiving? What proportion of users are on Android and iOS?
What’s good about the current app? What’s worked well and should be retained?
What’s bad about the current app? This could include design, performance, security, etc.
Have there been any recorded instances of attempted hacking or exploitation of vulnerabilities (successful or otherwise)?
If the app needs to be able to publish content, consider how the content will be sourced?
Does content need to be pulled from any websites or via API?
Are any right to left languages (Arabic, Urdu, Hebrew, etc.) likely to be required?
Who will be managing the content of the app day-to-day? How often will it be updated and with what type of content?
If moving from an existing app, how much content will be migrating in the same format? Will it be possible to provide a mapping document to detail where the content used to be and where it would live in the new app.
Are you working with any designers (app or otherwise) currently for this or any other project?
Does the app have an existing brand and brand guidelines? If not, does a brand need to be created?
What tone of voice should the design reflect? Formal / relaxed etc.
Is there a look and feel that you have in mind for the app?
Are there any particular style User Interface (i.e. buttons, form elements, etc.) you’ve seen elsewhere that you’d like to replicate?
Who will be signing off creative and what are their personal tastes? Are there apps that they particularly like the style of?
Is there an image bank available? Would you prefer to use stock or custom imagery? Do you prefer if the image style is more abstract or photo-led?
You may be totally in the dark about this section, so don’t worry too much if the terminology is confusing. A good agency should be able to assist with fleshing out this part of a web development brief.
Are there any personal or organisation preferences (or dislikes) for the technology approach for the app e.g. Native, Hybrid, PWA etc?
Do any new domains need to be purchased for the app? If not, who has access to the domain control panel or DNS nameservers
How would you like us to handle the maintenance of the app in the future? Would you be happier with a regular support retainer or pay for ad-hoc support when required?
What is the likely Support Level Agreement response time required for urgent fixes and assistance? Does this need to be available 24/7?
Are you likely to need further design, copy or marketing support as well as technical support?
Project requirements change throughout. How would you like to handle these? Options below:
Don’t deviate from the plan. Stick to the original deliverables and timeframe. Anything else can be deferred to a wishlist for after the initial project.
Where possible stick to budget and timeframe, but give us the option to descope other requests if new priorities arise.
Estimate and document all requests in change controls for approval.
Agile methodology – we’d like to receive a rough timeframe and cost when things change. Every week, we’d like a summarised list of all the new items, total cost, and timeline impact.
Allocate a contingency budget for additional requests.
Who will be involved in the app project from the client-side? Where are they based, what’s their availability like and how do they prefer to communicate? How long is feedback gathering likely to take?
When do you need to have the app launched? Does it need to go live in coordination with any wider product or campaign launch?
Has a budget been assigned for the project, or does a business case need to be made to allocate budget? Is there a budget for ongoing support and maintenance? Has hosting cost been considered and budgeted for? Is there a wider digital marketing budget as well for supporting services (e.g. SEO, CRO)?
Are there any project management systems you prefer to use with suppliers, e.g. Trello, Asana etc.?
Legal and Data Protection
Do you have any legal advisors who would produce or contribute to these documents?
Is the app likely to handle or store personal data? If so, have you considered your organisation’s internal commitment to Data Protection and GDPR regulations?
A core part of an app development brief is explaining how you’d like to be responded to. Don’t make it harder for the agency than it needs to be!
When and how would you like to hear back from the agency/agencies pitching for the work? (Be reasonable, proposals can take several days to think through). Should this be a written formal proposal or is an estimate sufficient? Will there be a pitch stage?
How many agencies will you be approaching?
What are the deadlines and milestones for appointing a supplier and when do you hope to break ground on the project?
Who will be responsible for signing off terms and contracts and what are the usual timeframes for achieving this?
Writing an app development brief is hard!
Plenty to think about! Do let us know below if we can help with developing your app development brief (or even being able to quote for it afterward!).
Get in touch
Either contact us using the details below, or fill out this form to send your message. If you’ve got a brief ready then attach that too. We’ll get back to you as soon as possible. firstname.lastname@example.org+44 (0) 20 3137 5612
86-90 Paul Street,
London EC2A 4NE