At Future Mind, we come across poorly written Requests for Proposal and missed mobile app concepts (with no prior market research, user analysis or careful design process) equally often. We also happen to conduct such analyses, mockups and specifications ourselves, on behalf of our clients. That’s precisely why I decided to take a step back and start with a short description of the app concept creation & design processes, before actually proceeding to write a mobile app RFP for a software house.
Let’s start from the beginning. As you might have already guessed, it’s always good to identify your goals first. Without it, you won’t be able to create a proper concept for the app, and it will be difficult for your tech partner to advise you on its actual development.
I’m not talking about “one million downloads in one quarter” kind of goals, though. At this stage, you should be aware of who are the stakeholders that you want to develop the app for - whether it’s your clients, employees, or maybe business partners. It’s also important to know what business indicators you might want to improve. To put it simply: your goals can vary - from reaching a greater number of potential customers, increasing the loyalty of the existing ones and improving retention, to streamlining a specific process or even facilitating cooperation with business partners.
Don’t just choose to develop products meant for your clients. In our portfolio, you can find apps that don’t only improve communication with customers, but also employees and business partners. An app dedicated to insurance agents working for Generali, the third-largest insurance company in the world, serves as a good example. Thanks to this solution, agents no longer have to enter data from the vehicle registration documents into the sales system manually, in order to calculate the insurance premium. Instead, they simply scan the 2DAZTEC code from the registration certificate, and the app sends relevant data to the system.
In any case, “selling” doesn’t have to be the main goal of the app. It’s worth to look at the added value for potential users, especially during the initial phases of the customer journey. An example that can illustrate that is the EasyJet app, which allows its users to upload a photo of an unknown location, and then identifies the place and makes it possible to book a flight to that destination. There are plenty more examples like this one - L'Oréal app that lets the users “test” a makeup, or an insurance app GEICO, which doesn’t only help to manage insurance policies, but also to locate where a car is parked in a big parking lot.
The key is to take advantage of the potential that lies in mobile devices. Don’t treat mobile apps exactly the same as web products. A smartphone is not just a simple computer with a camera - it’s a device that can see the world, and even understand it to some extent thanks to powerful Machine Learning algorithms. And this will only get better, as Apple and Google strive to make it more intelligent. In fact, the growth of Machine Learning frameworks that are dedicated to mobile devices makes it easier to further develop the concept of AI as a Product, in which the competitive edge comes from the use of Artificial Intelligence as the core of the software.
Last, but not least: Don’t just narrow your choices to the tech solutions typical for your industry. Take a closer look at innovations in other sectors - not only developed by mature companies but by startups as well. This way, you can easily get inspired when it comes to the specific features of your app, and the possible ways of user acquisition, engagement, retention, or monetisation.
I have some good news for you: depending on the materials you already have, you can approach a software house like ours at every stage of the mobile app development. No matter how advanced the work on the product is, we can easily guide you through the rest of the process.
In this case, you can simply let the agency know that you want to create added value for your customers, state which business line you’d like to work on and indicate whether your goal is to acquire new clients, increase the loyalty of the existing one, or create an entirely new product that takes advantage of mobile solutions. In any case, the chosen agency should perform the market analysis, user research, and workshops based on Design Thinking methodology.
To design an app, the agency offering UX/UI design needs the above-mentioned high-level concept, along with specific goals and problem description, user characteristics, benchmarks that inspired you, as well as the summary of features - in the form of “job to be done” or user stories.
A document with detailed requirements of the products (on the basis of which the tech team is able to plan the whole project and proceed to the development phase) should be called a “specification” rather than a brief. It actually builds a fundament for a successful product - since it outlines business assumptions, contains mockups illustrating the app’s features, and specifies the technical requirements. Basically, such a specification helps the development team transform the initial project into a fully-functioning app.
What should the specification contain, exactly?
The concept. To present the team your vision and the right context, the specification should include the concept description - specific goals and business problems, potential user characteristics, benchmarks, as well as the overview of the app features with priorities, for example in the shape of MoSCoW matrix (Must vs. Should vs. Could vs. Won’t).
Mockups. A visual representation of app functionalities on every possible screen. Each screen should be well described, along with specific elements and a few details on how the users can interact with them. To make the mockups resemble the final product even more, they can be combined to create a clickable prototype (thanks to tools such as InVision). Essentially, mockups help to test the information architecture, navigation, and app features before the app development phase. Their advantage is that they can be easily understood by both business people and developers.
The scope of the project. At this point, you need to indicate what products do you need exactly. Write down the platforms that interest you - be it iOS, Android, or both. If you want to have access to the admin panel and manage content, developing a proper CMS (Content Management System) will also be necessary.
You should also specify how the app will download the data. What systems should it connect with? Is there any API and its specification? Mention any external integrations that should be involved in the creation of the product - a payment module, for example. Don’t forget to write down whether you need push notifications or app analytics (which you probably need anyway!).
Timeframe. Time plays an important role - it helps to define priorities and resources that should be used. Therefore, you have to ask yourself two crucial questions: Do you have a specific launch date for your product, that can’t be exceeded? When can the actual work on the app start?
The budget. If you state the available resources, the software house will be able to offer solutions tailored to your budget. That’s quite obvious since you probably want to approach selected software houses to know the development cost above all. Still, you probably know what the budgetary frameworks that you have to stick are. Sharing those will allow the software houses to recommend better solutions to you. If adding all app features exceeds the budget, there’s some prioritisation needed - which means that the most important parts will be developed during the first phase of the process.
The description of the current state of the project. At this stage, it’s significant to describe existing system components and technologies that have already been used. When you have a list of specific technologies, you can easily “reject” the agencies that don’t specialise in working with them.
If there’s already a version of your app - name the limitations that its users are experiencing. Also, try to specify your expectations towards the product development strategy. Because of that, it will be easier for the chosen software house to advise you on what solutions to use so that you don’t have to worry about reliability and scalability of your app in the future.
Project members. Start with naming your Product Owner - the most important person in the project that is responsible for its success. Basically, a Product Owner outlines the vision, business goals stemming from the product and specific requirements. Not to mention that he or she also set the priorities and becomes a point of contact to all stakeholders with the actual project team.
Do you already have a Project Manager and a dedicated development team? It’s essential since the chosen software house has to know whether they should support the development team led by your Project Manager, or appoint a Project Manager on their side, who will be responsible for planning tasks, monitoring progress, and communicating with you.
If there’s an additional subcontractor hired, you should mention that as well. It’s actually the software agency that should help you establish effective collaboration and communication between everyone involved.
A careful analysis and proper app design, which should result in a well-written RFP for mobile app development, are key to creating a successful product. In order to proceed to the development phase seamlessly, make sure you specified business and technical requirements, as well as explained all assumptions, dependencies, and limitations to the chosen software development company.
From our experience - designing an app and creating a brief with a tech partner, especially in the case of your first mobile product, is much better. This way, you will not only avoid mistakes stemming from the lack of expertise in mobile development, but also estimate costs more accurately, and eventually build a more valuable product.