By Keith Shields, CEO at Designli, a digital product studio that helps entrepreneurs and startup-minded enterprises launch transformative apps and web apps.
So you’re all set with a great app idea and funding. Now for the fun part—development. Finally, you’ve reached the moment when the rubber meets the road and ideas become code. You breathe a sigh of relief, thinking the hard part is behind you. But wait; not so fast.
While the app development process can be exciting and full of momentum, even great app ideas get mired in confusion without clear communication. Building an app is a multidisciplinary process that requires insight from many perspectives. That’s where things can get messy. Even the same words can mean different things to different people. Perhaps you’re familiar with the classic example of the “swing hanging from a tree.” If you asked 12 people to draw what they heard, you’d likely end up with 12 different drawings.
Something similar can happen during app development, too, without good communication. For the process to go off without a hitch, everyone needs to read from the same sheet of music. Technical folks, whether they’re developers or subject matter experts, should learn how to explain their technical ideas clearly to “non-techies”—a topic I wrote about previously—and vice-versa. Adopting good communication skills helps create consensus, but building a process that fosters clarity is just as important. One of the best ways to do that is UX scoping. This simple step can save valuable time and spare everyone involved from unnecessary frustration.
Promote great communication.
UX scoping refers to the process of turning business and user objectives into precise functional specifications. It’s defining not only what the user needs to be able to do in the app but also how he or she will accomplish it. Done correctly, the process aligns the efforts of your team before a single line of code is written. Luckily, I’ve found that the recipe for UX scoping success is simple.
Gather important stakeholders together.
The most critical part of a successful UX scoping session is inviting the right people to the conversation. We’ve all been in situations when a group reached a consensus only to be derailed later by a key decision-maker who was left out of the discussion. Before you begin, consider everyone who will have a say in the app’s development. Then, form a squad that’s representative of this group. Note that it might not make sense to include every stakeholder in your conversation. (Too many cooks in the kitchen can impair efficiency.) Still, your UX scoping session should be representative of key groups. For example, not every developer working on the project needs to be present, but at least one person present should be able to speak to and advocate for the development team’s needs.
Appoint a facilitator.
With multiple perspectives in the room (or Zoom), a neutral UX scoping leader comes in handy. This person need not have the final say on development decisions but should act as a guide for the conversation. Often, this person might have the title of project manager or something similar and will be skilled at keeping the group on time and on task. No one wants to waste time going back and forth for hours on whether push notifications or in-app notifications make more sense. A UX scoping leader knows when to move the conversation forward and helps facilitate productive communication along the way.
Get into the nitty gritty.
UX scoping is the perfect time to get into the weeds. At first, broad strokes and big ideas make sense. Now, it’s important to get clear on the details. Your conversation should go beyond basic functionality to specific user interactions. For example, your group should leave a UX scoping session knowing not only that users must create an account but also that they’ll need to input their names and email addresses in free-text fields to do so. Of course, details might change during development, but it’s better to have as many functional details as possible scoped out up front. After all, functionality informs complexity, which informs time and budget. It’s better to have a frank conversation about costs and timelines now than experience disappointment and frustration later.
Summarize along the way.
Instead of assuming everyone is on the same page, speak up and double-check by periodically summarizing your conversation. It can be helpful to use non-threatening phrases like, “What I think I heard you say was…” or “Let me make sure I understood what you meant…” to check in throughout the UX scoping session. Summarizing along the way allows everyone to confirm the group’s decisions and clarify if necessary. You might discover that you didn’t reach a consensus or, hopefully, that everyone is on the same page. Both findings are valuable.
Write it all down.
As you progress through your UX scoping session, make sure that your session facilitator, a technical writer or someone else in the room is taking great notes. Then, after the conversation, circulate a UX scoping document for everyone to read. This can serve as a contract of sorts and confirm that you’re ready to move forward. If there are discrepancies between what different people heard, having something in writing helps to draw those out before you’re deep in the weeds of development.
For a smooth, productive and efficient app development process, communication is key. While simply having good communication skills goes a long way, UX scoping fosters an additional layer of clarity that can save you time, money and frustration later. It can be tempting to dive right in and start building your app, but slowing down and building a clear game plan with a multidisciplinary team can make all the difference. Who knows—you might even uncover a new idea together that makes your app even better than it would have been otherwise.