How to Write Specifications for a Mobile App Development Project

Last year, Hacker Rank asked app developers to share their biggest pet peeves. The survey united over 70,000 developers with different specializations and levels of professional experience. 

The top five problems that irritate senior developers were spaghetti code (64%), ghost bugs (46%), and badly written documentation (55%). 

But while errors in the code are obvious problems, why does poor documentation irritate experienced developers so much?

When signing up for a project, developers receive app specifications from the client. These specifications should contain a detailed description of the app’s goals and the client’s expectations of the end result. 

Now, we’re saying that specifications should be detailed, but they often aren’t, and that’s what usually causes a lot of project delays, revisions, and frustration, both for a developer and a client. 

So, in order to get the result you want, you need to provide your app development team with a document that will turn a vague idea into a detailed blueprint. 

This is what we’re going to talk about today as we look at how to write app specifications for a mobile app development project. 

1. Present the Idea for an App in the Introduction 

This is a problem with most app specifications – a client has a great app idea but has trouble describing it. As a result, app developers receive a bunch of messages that only give a general idea but don’t tell anything specific. 

If you’re having trouble being straightforward about your app idea, try to put it into one sentence and focus on the app’s core feature. Let’s take a look at this example of an idea for a planning app:

“The Planning Guru app will help freelancers organize their day with weekly and monthly time management plans.”

In this sentence, you can already see the app’s main goal and the target audience for it. For a developer, this is enough to understand in which direction they will be working. 

The introduction to your app specifications should also include a more detailed description of the target audience for an app as well as a brief description of a target market. 

There is no point in providing full market research, competitor analysis, and target audience investigation; app developers have no use for that. But some general audience and market details will help them better understand what you expect an app to be and whom it will serve. 

2. Offer a Navigation Pattern 

Next, think about what you want the app to look like when the end-user gets hold of it. We are speaking about the navigation pattern or the sequence of actions that your target audience will follow when using your app. 

You can offer several navigation patterns if your app is content-heavy. For instance, you can use the tab bar to access the main features and a hamburger menu for other secondary features. 

Uber uses similar navigation patterns – a tab for address input and a hamburger menu for the payment and settings functions. 

Once you’ve decided on the navigation patterns, proceed to describe the step-by-step process of how the application will work: user registration, privacy policy, onboarding, access to the home screen, etc. 

Describing this process in detail will help the developers better understand what the app experience should be like for the end-user. 

3. Provide a Detailed List of Features

In this section, you need to list all the features of your app. However, try to focus mainly on the features that would serve your app’s key goal and skip the unnecessary details like the shapes and colors of design elements. 

To help you be more specific when describing the features of your app, you can break them down into the following categories:

  • must-have features
  • should-have features
  • could-have features
  • won’t-have features

Such categorization will help online developers understand what you would like to see and what you’re opposed to when it comes to the app features and will help avoid unnecessary revisions and project delays. 

4. Include Functional Specifications and Wireframes

Next, provide your app development team with the functionalities that the app should have. These app functionality features can include but are not limited to:

  • data caching
  • usability elements
  • forms
  • navigation
  • integrations
  • product menus
  • push notifications
  • native content
  • app analytics
  • geolocation services

You should also mention which app hosting platforms you want to upload your app to and whether it will be completely free or will include in-app purchases because these functionalities also impact the app’s interface. 

At this point, it would be good to ask app developers to go through this list of functional specifications and take a look at what’s missing and which specifications are necessary to help your app serve its main goal. It will be especially helpful if you don’t have deep knowledge of the app interface.

In this section, you can also provide wireframes for all the app screens. They will serve as visual guides for the app developers. 

There are plenty of tools that can help you create screen wireframes, like Photoshop CC, UXPin, and Microsoft Visio. However, if you have more than four app screens, you should include a screen map – a diagram that will show all the screens, their hierarchy, and interrelations to avoid possible misinterpretations. 

5. Add a Specific Timeline and Budget

If you’re outsourcing app development, including this part in your app specifications is a must. Oftentimes, when a client doesn’t provide proper information on the budget and timeline, it results in high additional costs and project delays. 

When giving a budget outline, provide a resource breakdown that describes the following points:

  • budget for an entire app development project
  • budget breakdown by milestone
  • budget limit for additional expenses

In terms of describing the timeline for the project, it’s better to discuss it with the developers before you decide on the deadlines for each milestone. App developers know better how long each step in the project will take to complete, and it will help you have a clearer picture and expectations. 

At this point, the draft of your app specifications is done. However, make sure you proofread it, which you can easily do with online tools like TrustMyPaper or Grammarly. But don’t skip this step because sometimes grammatical and punctuation errors can significantly distort the meaning of your statements and will result in unnecessary confusion. 

To conclude your app specifications, you should add your contact details, especially if you’re outsourcing the app development project. 

In the contact details, you can mention the following information:

  • the owner of the product, who will coordinate the entire app development project
  • the marketing manager who is responsible for particular product features and in-app content
  • the emergency contact, who can answer urgent questions in case other people on the contact list are not available

You can also finish the app specifications document with the summary that will highlight the main points of the project. 

Final Thoughts

App specifications are crucial for the success of the entire app development project, as they help establish a mutual understanding between the client and the app development team. 

When writing app specifications, remember that the devil is in the detail. The more specific you are about your expectations, the better. 

Be straightforward when presenting the idea for your app. Provide some information on the target market and audience to help the developers understand for whom the app is intended. 

Next, outline navigation patterns, features, and functionality specifications, but make sure they are all focused on your app’s main goal. Finally, if you’re outsourcing the project, add information about the timeline and the budget to avoid confusion and unnecessary expenses. 

These are the five basic elements of the app specification document. However, you can always extend them depending on the goals and the size of the app development project. 

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