Project idea and functional outline (project brief)

When you’ve found a vendor you think you might be able to work with, you’ll need to discuss your project idea with them. It’s important to communicate it as clearly as possible so that they can effectively estimate how much work will be required to create the product. Make sure you’re ready for this stage before it arrives! Creating a functional outline of your project idea (also called a “project brief”), is the first thing you need to do once you’ve had an idea which you want to develop.

It shouldn’t take a long time, assuming you have a clear mental picture of the app you want to develop. Even if you’re not totally sure about the details, the process of writing the brief will help you to develop your idea more fully.

Explain the app’s purpose

First off when making your functional outline, you need to write down the main purpose of your app. This is the big idea that you have in mind for your project. What role it will play in the life of it’s users. If you struggle to explain this succinctly in one or two sentences, this is often a good sign that the idea is not quite ready to be taken to a developer.

Describe key features

Next up, outline a few of the big, key features of the app. These are the features without which it won’t be possible to achieve that overall purpose. ‘Task creation’ in an organiser app, ‘track selection’ in a music player app, ‘browse items by category’ in a shopping app and so on. Don’t just write the name of the feature – explain what it does and how it contributes to the overall aim of the app.

Sometimes, that’s the full extent of the project brief clients come to us with. Just a general concept and a couple of key features. And that’s enough to get the conversation going. However, if we were to give you an estimate, we’d need to get a bit more detailed description.

The more detail the better when making a functional outline

Essentially, your task is to break your vision down into lots of little pieces so that you can show a developer exactly what you want them to make. The more detail you go into, the better they’ll understand and the more accurately they’ll be able to estimate the cost. They might well end up advising you to leave some non-essential features on hold until after the initial release, especially in the case of a startup. That’s ok, (they’re using lean development principles and focussing on getting an MVP on the market as quickly as possible), don’t let that stop you from including as much detail as possible in the original brief though.

That means thinking about details like whether your app requires account creation, login and password use, online sales, user history and any other details you can think of.

Using mock ups

It’s not essential to make some basic mock-ups (and I’ll go into more detail about making mock-ups in another article), but if you can, they make a great visual tool for understanding the brief you’ve made. You might even find it helpful yourself. Making mock-ups during the brief creation process can help you visualise what features need to be present on each page of the app. Even a ‘back of a napkin’ scrawl can help provide some visual clarity about your idea.

This process is all about allowing you to think deeply about what the app will actually do and how it will function. The resulting document is then also helpful for getting other people to understand how it will work. Now that you’ve made it, it’s time to talk with someone else about your idea and show them your project brief.

The app development process

If you want to read more about the app development process, check out my last article on how to choose the right vendor or my intro. to the topic of developing apps which contains a list of the topics I’ve written on and links to the relevant articles.