Learn why the scoping process is the only way to accurately predict your app's cost and timeline.
The power of the scope
Most software development projects fail to hit their promised budgets and deadlines. This is a well-known fact, yet it can have dire consequences when it happens to you. Customers and investors are disappointed, launch parties canceled, and your efforts run the risk of stalling permanently.
Developers often receive the brunt of the blame for these failures, either for their incompetence or dishonesty (or both). But more often than not, the failure stems from poor up-front planning and communication rather than poor execution. The project was doomed to fail from the beginning.
The “scoping” process for a new application — that is, the translation of your idea into a set of clear written requirements that others can understand — is the only way to accurately predict your cost and timeline.
At AirDev, this translation is typically done over a 30-minute call between our client and a product designer from our team. We often refer to this call as our “secret sauce” because it is where we can add the most value in quickly understanding where our client is trying to go, and prioritizing the most important questions and suggestions to define the shape of the app.
Following a call, we write out a bulleted list of actions your users should be able to take in your app. In agile software development, these statements are called “user stories”, and they typically take the following form:
As a __________, I want __________ so that __________.
In each case, we define a type of person, what they want to be able to do, and why. With these bullets written out, we can calculate the effort (and therefore price) required to build the app, based on several key dimensions:
- What user types are there? Uber has drivers & riders; Facebook has people
- What ‘things’ can they interact with? Airbnb has properties & reservations; Kickstarter has campaigns & pledges
- What different kinds of actions can users take? Creating, buying & selling, applying, approving, friending, messaging, posting, liking, etc.
- What third-party service integrations are needed? Facebook for logins, Stripe for payments, Google for maps, etc.
- What additional bells & whistles are added? Site blog, mailing list subscriptions, user help chat, etc.
- What page layouts are required? Search results, news feeds, personal portals, profile pages, signup forms, etc.
Do it yourself
While these one-on-one scoping calls with clients are invaluable, they are also very labor-intensive, and depend on specialized knowledge our product designers have developed by scoping numerous apps before. With only so many hours in the day, we set out to institutionalize our approach and provide access to a much broader audience with great ideas to scope and price.
The result is a self-service scoping tool we call UserStory.co (found here).
UserStory.co provides real-time price estimates and sample pages for any web or mobile app, as you build a shareable scope doc outlining the features of your product
UserStory.co guides you through the exact methodology our team uses during live scoping calls: identifying the people who will use your app, and the list of actions they can take. The entire process is guided, with smart options to choose from at each step, so you aren’t stuck writing your own user stories from scratch.
For example, if I were working on ScareBnB, I would define an action for a buyer that they can “search and browse” haunted houses. UserStory.co will then ask me a few simple follow-up questions like whether I want to see my results as a list or a map, and how many criteria I should be able to filter on.
This process repeats until I have listed all the actions each of my users can take. At this point, UserStory.co generates suggested page layouts based on the features you have added, as well as a scope document that you can easily share with your team, investors, or developers.
The key insight into UserStory.co’s range and power is that, while there are an infinite number of custom app ideas out there, each is simply a different arrangement of commonly used features found in modern applications. Once broken down into these root components, UserStory.co can assess the effort and price to assemble each piece, and simply add them up.
Using the “mad lib” approach to choose from a virtual buffet of actions and features, you can scope an app that is truly custom, without having any prior experience with agile development. The resulting doc is the key to translating your vision into a format others can understand, so your team has a shared understanding of what you are building together. From this foundation, logistics like timeline, cost, and milestones are grounded and more stable, and your project can stay on track for your launch party.
For more insights from the AirDev team, check out our blog. AirDev’s mission is to make custom software accessible to everyone. We offer fixed prices & timelines, money-back guarantees, and unparalleled speed and flexibility — all with the aim of bringing great ideas to life.