How much functionality to cram into your app

Posted on June 18, 2016

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Sizing your app

One of the perennial questions I get asked is regarding the functional sizing of an app, or set of apps, in particular for staff apps.

By that I mean how much functionality should I put into an app ?

Should you have one big app with everything in it,  or should you break it up into sections/groups of different apps, and how to decide what those sections should be ?

This is not an easy one to answer because there is no one answer,  however there are some guides that we should consider.

Firstly, lets dial it all the way up to one end,  and to have a huge app with everything in it.

Say an app for a seller to build a quote, together with the ability to fill out expenses, book  vacation dayss, make travel arrangements,  and review reporting etc.  Indeed we’ve had a request come in for an app and the specification document,  that the client had spent nearly a year writing and refining was over 600 pages in length.

The best apps are focused around a particular task, and respect the situation the user will be in when using the app.  Clearly it does not make sense to add in functions that are outside of the task at hand. expenses, and searching a catalogue to add entries to a quote are not good bed fellows.

Clearly because these are activities that the user will undertake at different times, and with differing goals.  And the best are designed to be an extension of the user’s thinking.

And here is the first rule,  make the app focus on supporting a particular activity.

Building a quote.  Assessing a customer’s financial position.  Visiting a patient.

These are main activities that a user carries out, and when they are carrying them out they are focused on getting the activity completed.

Have the app mirror that user’s focus.

This may include some pre-planning for the activity, and some wrap up,  for example a seller visiting several customers in a day would like to organise their appointments for the day, and perhaps a set of metrics on how well they are meeting their KPIs etc. These are supporting activities, the shoulders on each side of the main activity.

So I think most people would agree that an app should only focus on a main activity,  and not branch off.

The question is where does the activity start and end,  for example you might think that booking travel should be included with the seller’s app, because the seller needs to travel.

However booking travel (planes, trains and automobiles!) is in and of itself a main activity, with typically lots of details and rules that must be followed.  Therefore it is not a part of this app,  and a good test is that the user will have a different mind set when carrying out the task.

So this should be it’s own app, or other solution,  because, hey, apps aren’t the only way.

This will mean perhaps that data will need to be shared with other apps, and this can be by round tripping to the back end,  or it can be between apps on the device.

In another post we’ll think about a second rule to consider around this movement of data and how that can impact on the placement of functionality.

Ohhh and that 600 page app,  no we didn’t impliment that,  a colleague disuaded the client,  and we built something far better and more focused instead.

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