Not to be too much of a downer here, but you aren’t psychic.

Since you are not psychic, you will have to communicate your app idea to others using words and pictures. You are going to need an App Map.

Your App Map is a way for you to visualize the different features and how they connect.  It shows others what you want your app to do and why.

There are a lot of different ways to plan your app: App Map is ours.

Step 1: Problems and Solutions

Too many apps are a solution without a problem or have a solution that doesn’t match the problem.  Having a clear vision of the why and what of your app prevents this.

Get some stickies and/or some 3 x 5 note cards and painters tape.  This allows you to have a way of re-arranging ideas quickly.

Get a nice big patch of empty wall or window that you can use as your workspace.  It helps if you have a space that isn’t on the same wall as doors that open to the outside or are in rooms that lots of people travel through.  You don’t want things flying off the walls and getting rearranged unintentionally.

To begin, write on a large piece of paper the problem your app is trying to solve and tape that high on the wall.  Next to that write how your app will solve it.   Write big enough that you will be able to read it both from a distance and in a picture later.

For example, if you were making a traffic navigation app, your problem might be: There are no navigation apps that show how to get to places using only even numbered streets.   Your solution would be: app will display directions between locations using only even numbered streets.

Do you see what we did there?

There is a clear problem statement. 

The solution solves the problem.  

The solution is directly related to the problem.

Next, you are going to write out the main things that the app will do in a row. Below each of those things a lot of additional things need to happen.  For our pretend map app, which we’ve decided to call Even Streets, it might look like this:

    • Identify even numbered streets on a map
    • Give directions list
    • Show map of directions
    • Audio cues for directions
    • Show traffic jams and accident

Below each of those things a lot of additional things need to happen.

Identify even numbered streets on a map

    • Have a map
    • Highlight even numbered streets in green
    • Show all other streets as grey lines

Give directions list

    • Show every turn on route
    • Show every street on route
    • Show distances traveled on each street
    • Show the name of each street
    • Be able to slide between list and map picture

Show map of directions

    • show map with route highlighted in blue
    • Have arrows pointing in which direction the person should go
    • Map can be made larger or smaller by pinching screen
    • Be able to slide between list and map picture

Audio cues for directions

    • A bell tone will sound when a person gets within 100 feet of a turn
    • A voice will read directions when a person gets 90 feet from a turn
    • Voice will state what next turn or direction is after a turn has been made
    • Voice will report if there is an accident or traffic jam
    • An alarm tone will sound when the app picks up the signal of a traffic jam or accident report
    • Voice will announce re routing when it occurs

Show traffic jams and accidents

    • Traffic jams and accidents will be shown in red

Re route when a wrong turn is taken

    • Show a new route when a wrong turn is taken to get back to even numbered streets as quickly as possible.
    • Show new route on both map and directions list.

 

Well…

    • How much map should be shown on the screen as a default map size?
    • What is the maximum and minimum map size?
    • Is it a male or female voice?
    • What kind of tone?
    • Can you select the tone type?
    • Can you silence the tone and keep the voice?
    • Can you silence the voice and keep the tone?
    • Can you mute both the voice and the tone?
    • What constitutes a traffic jam?
    • How much slower than traffic usually goes does it need to be for a jam?
    • Where are you getting the traffic and accident data from?

See how this can get complicated?  How will each item work?  And then what?  Ask, “And then what?” until you’ve got no more what.

Step 2:  User Stories

Next, we are going to make “user stories.”  User stories are a way to explain in a single sentence the relevance and need for each feature.  If a feature is not relevant or needed, cut it.   This is really hard when there are things that are super cool but serve no purpose.  Even if you waaaaaant it, how much money are you willing to pay for something that doesn’t really do anything?

To come up with the stories you are going to play a game of Let’s Pretend.  You are going to pretend to be:

    • An app User
    • A Developer
    • An Administrator/Business Owner

You are going to create user stories for each role, with at least one user story on each feature.  You are going to come up with statements that follow this formula:

As a ________, I want  ____________, so that I can ____________.

As a User, I want the app to alert me with a tone prior to a turn so that I can be prepared to make it by being in the correct lane.

As a Developer, I want to know the parameters for a traffic jam so that I can set them.

As an Administrator… wait a minute, what if there isn’t anything on the map that an administrator would want? Maybe you should think about that. What would you want/need to know as the app Administrator?  What functions would help you measure and improve performance?  What do you need to be able to bill/make money off of the app?

Step 3: Narrowing it Down to MVP

Now that you’ve played this game of Let’s Pretend and gotten your user stories up, your App Map should look pretty full.  You’ve probably had to move and expand it a couple of times.

Take enough pictures to clearly show each of the parts of the app so that you could clearly read what is written on each post it/card.

What you’ve got on your wall is a fantasy.  It’s what you would do if you had unlimited funds to spend on getting your app made.  You aren’t going to get the fantasy.  Or, as one of our clients once said, “I feel like you’re telling me I’m not going to marry a supermodel.” Guess what, you’re not.  But that’s ok.

Every single post-it/note card on that wall represents money.  Money gets wasted when features (that’s the stuff on the post its/note cards) turn out to not be the ones the app needs to be successful.

How can you possibly know which ones will be successful?  You don’t.  You’re going to want to test it out a little bit at a time.  You’re going to start your app with the smallest possible piece of it that you can make.  The most bare bones skeleton of an app.

What is the one thing that if your app doesn’t have this, it can’t exist?

What is the feature that best solves that problem?

Once you’ve identified the core functions-your first release- of the app, pull those to the far right or left of your wall.  Put a piece of tape between it and the rest of the feature sets.  Take a picture.  It is your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Let’s say that by some miracle the first release of your app was profitable.  You would use the money you made in your initial release to fund a second round of features and improvements.  The money you made in your second release then will fund the third, and so on.  What would your first release be?   Group those portions of your App Map and take pictures of them.

Really Do It

There is no App Fairy.  Your app will not magically come together just because you clap your hands and believe.  The more you’ve thought your app through before you go to a developer, the clearer you can communicate that process, the better your chances are of actually getting the product you both want and need.

This seems very simple, but like most simple things, it is crushingly hard.  Don’t give up, do it anyway.