Key points in building a mobile app requirements document

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After you decided to create a mobile application and found an engineering team to help you with that, it’s time to write a precise list of specifications, so none of you gets lost. Like a business plan for a start-up, this document is very important for the process of mobile application development. It shows which direction you’re going, highlights all the requirements, both technical and business ones, and makes your app strategy clear for you and your team. So here are the items that have to be included in your mobile app requirements document.

What is the specifications document (spec)?

The spec is a type of document that contains all the requirements for your future mobile app. You can view it as a detailed checklist that you and the software development company you hired to build your mobile app will go through in order to determine whether you are on the right path.

Why do you need to write it?

Writing the requirements document can be painstaking and time-consuming, but it will definitely pay off further in the process of developing your mobile app. A well-written spec is beneficial both for you as a client and for a development company you are working with. In fact, the more detailed and carefully composed your specifications are, the better result you are going to get.

– How does it benefit you?

Mobile app requirements is your go-to document if you want to check whether what you get is what you agreed to have as a final result. You pay developers out of your own pocket, so it’s good to know that having specifications might save your time and money. The final product has to match all the requirements. If it doesn’t, then the developers just did not fulfill their contract. If you decide to include the stages of the mobile app development process, it will be easier to set a timeframe and check what point you are looking at specifications and checking what have been done.

– Why is it beneficial for the company you hired?

Having specific requirements is also very helpful for the development company you are working with to know your expectations. It is a guideline for people building your mobile app, that clarifies what the final product has to be. It can also speed up a testing process.

Mostly, competently composed specifications document will become a bridge between you and your team and noticeably improve your communication.

How to come up with requirements for the particular project?

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Clients are usually concerned that they are not able to write specifications themselves because of the lack of an app development background. Obviously,  the mobile app requirements document might be not an easy task for a business representative who is not aware of the app development process and all the terminology. But, the good thing is that you do not need to know how to make an app, you just need to know what you want your app to do. It will require some research to understand what specifications are. This is where you start.

There are several ways to gather information for your future specifications document. It is recommended to interact with different groups of people in order to understand how your app needs to perform. You can observe people using similar apps and try noticing different features they like, and the ones that need to be fixed or excluded from your product. You can later interview individuals who represent your target audience and see what they have to say. Sometimes, they can provide unexpected answers, point out problems and gaps your app might cover and even give you a new perspective.

Download similar apps, test them and document your own experience. What are the things that you liked the most about them and could incorporate in your product? Are there any no-no’s?

You can also consult with your mobile app development team – coders, designers, testers. They can help you a lot due to their knowledge and experience.

The importance of prioritizing

After you gathered all the necessary information, you will need to make some of the gathered requirements of your top priority, save not urgent ones for a later update and reject the ones you don’t need. Focusing on the needs of the majority of the target audience is a key to success.

It’s another step where your team could help you make a decision. Some of the suggestions from the potential users might seem great at first, but after consulting with mobile app developers and looking closer, it would seem too risky or time-consuming, so at the end of the day, it wouldn’t worth it.

How to write the spec?

After you determined the requirements, it’s time to start writing the specification document itself. There’s a variety of templates one can find online, that can serve as great examples. Some of them are longer than another, but the size of your spec will mostly depend on the size of your project. There are no strict rules about what the mobile app requirements document should contain, however, here is the list of things that are highly recommended to be included in your specifications.

1. Intro

The first item in your mobile app requirements should be the list of all the abbreviations, definitions and acronyms that you’re going to use in this document. It might be easier to do this after you’re done with the main part, so this way you will know what exactly you need to include.

An introductory section is perfect for a summary of the project, its primary purpose, target audience, a list of technologies your team is going to use and the amount of time it has to accomplish the task. Last part can be a bit more specific – it is recommended to describe main stages of the project (from research and prototyping to testing and releasing the mobile app) and add a timeframe for each of them.

You can also include a table of content with a short overview of the specifications document. It is mostly up to you.

2. Business part

This part represents criteria required to meet organizational objectives and should include the overall description of your app, its primary purpose, identification of the gap it’s going to fill and problems it will solve. This part is crucial not only for the requirements document but also in the process of creating a mobile app. When you think about the vision of your application more specifically, it will help you understand better what niche you’re going to occupy.

Not every app is built from scratch. If yours is going to be based on the existing code, there should be a note about it in the requirements document. All the parts that have to be modified and added need to be marked.

Describe what functionality you expect your app to have. Make sure to include all the desired features and characteristics.

Most of people who wonder how to build a mobile app are also concerned about ways of making it profitable. Consult with professionals, do you own research and for sure include the monetization plan into your mobile app requirements document. Specify, whether your app will be free to download and offer in-app purchases or not. This way you and your team will know what to keep in mind to create a mobile application that will bring income.

Another important part is budgeting. Write down what’s the exact amount you’re able and willing to spend on the each stage of the development process, also reserve some money for any additional expenses that may occur in the future. If there’s any work that will be outsourced, specify it in the document.

If your business has its own brand book, specify what design guidelines need to be taken into consideration.

3. Technical Specifications

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This part of the mobile app requirements document should include all the technical details, so if you’re concerned about not knowing all the specifics, you can always consult with the team of developers, ask their opinion on what will work best for this particular app. Make sure to discuss mobile platforms and devices it is going to operate on, technologies your developers will be using. Is it going to be built exclusively for iOS / Android or do you want to build a hybrid app for both operating systems?

Other specifications that need to be included in the document are:

  • how the app-server interaction will work;
  • whether you need databases or not;
  • what kind of data it will collect from users;
  • whether or not your app is going to work offline;
  • what the social media integration plan is;
  • usability of your app;
  • push notifications;
  • maintenance plan after the development process is over;
  • any additional functionality and features of your app.

After you made your choices, include all the technical specifications in the requirements document.

4. Dependencies and limitations

It’s better to write down all the aspects your app will rely on. The list includes API documentation, the information about third-party software the app might use, credentials of the platform and any other additional information. Another important subject to include is security. In order to keep your app safe from hacker attacks, place security requirements on the document. Even though, it’s impossible to predict all the issues, having this part in the mobile app requirements document will prevent at least some of them.

5. App Store / Google Play submission

Identifying demand your app should match before the submission facilitates an expediting process in the future. Make sure your app has a name and description, icon, contact and copyright information, SKU, privacy policy, category, keywords, screenshots, contact email, etc. Another part you can include here is an app store promotion and optimization plan.

6. Any additional information

You can list some similar apps or any other examples you think might be helpful for the engineering team to understand your idea better. Another thing you may describe here is a communication process and your overall expectations.

How and when to use the mobile app requirements document?

After specifications are written, this document is going to become a guidebook both for you and your team to monitor the development process. Here are some of the ways you will be using it.

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  1. Validate you specifications

After you gathered information from your target audience, it’s important to come back and ask them for any clarifications. It is possible that after seeing their requests and suggestions written down, some of them will want to make changes or add a few things. Notice what the majority of people needs and adjust your requirements accordingly.

  1. Use it in the development process

It is possible that miscommunication and divergence will occur during the mobile app development process. Using specifications might help to identify the point when things went the wrong way. However, it does not mean that you can’t add minor changes to the requirements document if, let’s say, your team found a much better solution for your app, as long as it doesn’t have a negative impact.

  1. Facilitate testing

Mobile app requirements document works well when there’s a need to identify what your app should and shouldn’t do. If you have a line that clearly states that app has to work on a particular version of an operating system, but testing shows that it doesn’t, this needs to be fixed before the release. Also, check for the features that were and weren’t supposed to be in your app.

  1. Come back to it after release

If your app becomes successful, the is a high chance later on you’d like to release an update. Coming back to your spec will help you to keep track of what your app already has and what things need to be added in the new version.

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Writing the mobile app requirements document is time-consuming, but is an absolute must. It will guide your team throughout the development process and make it easier for you to see the actual results. Make sure it’s as clear, specific and consistent as possible, avoid ambiguous and generic statements, but at the same time leave a room for some flexibility, so you can end up with a great product.

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