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Help! My Boss Wants a Mobile App

By Josh Woodard on December 4, 2015


So you work in a development organization, and your boss comes to you and says, “We need an app!” If you’re not quite sure how to respond, don’t fear. This simple guide will take you through the questions you’ll want to ask your boss in order to hopefully come to a happy conclusion.

Step 1: Your first question should be, “Why do we need an app?” If the answer is, “Because everyone else has an app” politely let your boss know that you need a reason to have an app. Don’t let your boss get swept away in the excitement of a mobile app just because others may have been.

  • If you’re lucky, your boss will say, “Thanks for explaining that to me. I’d still like us to have an app, so let’s keep our eyes open for potential reasons.” If that’s the case, bookmark this post for future reference.
  • If you’re unlucky, your boss will say, “I didn’t ask for your opinion, just get me an app.” Skip to step 3 (and potentially start looking for a new job).

Step 2: If they have an actual reason, then ask “Are there any other apps that can already do what you want to do?” 

  • If the answer is, “Why does it matter? Just make me an app!” politely let your boss know that it might not be a good use of resources to recreate what’s already available. There are lots of mobile apps and mobile-based services that already exist that might meet your needs without having to build from scratch. Offer to do some research for them first (see next bullet for more details).
  • If the answer is, “That’s a good question. How do I find out?” offer to help them do some research. Ask others in your organization who work in ICT4D if they know of anything that may meet your needs, check out resources such as GSMA’s Mobile for Development Impact product and services directory and NOMAD’s selection assistant to see what’s out there. If you can’t find anything that meets your needs, check out resources like Integrating Mobiles into Development Projects handbook and Principles for Digital Development to help you determine what you should do next, and remember that the cost of app development is only a portion of the overall costs to consider (see answer in Step 3). Stop here. Good luck!

Step 3: If it turns out that there are other apps out there that can be used or modified to meet your needs but your boss is still insisting on creating a new app, then ask “How are we planning to fund this?”

  • If the answer is, “We have enough money to pay someone to develop it” politely let your boss know that building an app is only one of the costs. You also may need budget for things like market research, user-centered design, testing, refinement, continued maintenance and improvements, hosting, marketing, and training people on how to use it. It will likely be much more cost effective to make use of one of the existing apps you’ve identified that can meet your needs.

Step 4: If you’ve made it this far, your boss will likely have one of three responses:

  • “Stop challenging me. Just do what I say.” – Sorry! You have failed to convince your boss of the errors of their ways. They are hell bent on an app, even if it doesn’t make good sense.
  • “Thanks for pointing all of that out to me, you’re right, maybe we should look to an existing solution.” – Congrats! You’ve directed your boss away from a bad decision.
  • That’s helpful to know, but we still have a compelling reason to build our own app for marketing purposes.” –Hopefully you have unrestricted funds and won’t be wasting donor funds on this.

Step 5: Refer to resources like the mobiles handbook and principles from Step 2 to help you with next steps. There are lots of other good resources out there as well, along with some bad ones, but these will at least give you a start.

Have you encountered a similar situation? If so, how did you resolve it? Share your stories in the comments.

This post was first published on LinkedIn and you can read more of Josh’s posts here.

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Written by
Josh Woodard is the co-founder of Civi, a civictech platform connecting people across the aisle, as well as a senior digital advisor at USAID. You can find more of his writings on his personal site and occasionally via his LinkedIn feed
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One Comment to “Help! My Boss Wants a Mobile App”

  1. We find our clients will do this to us sometimes as well.

    Some well placed qurations often gets people to stop anf think about their request a bit more.

    We usually start with what’s the business purpose of this app? Technology is a multiplier of human effort. So what effort are we trying to multiply?

    How much money and time and resources are you willing and able to invest in this? Because a good app can cost anywhere between $2,000 to $2 million. The cost includes much more than just a technology itself. For example, you also have to do marketing and engagement work. How you going to get people to use your app?

    Which platform should you build your app for? Does need to be a mobile app on both iOS and Android? A web app?

    Who are the target users? How many people do you want to use the app? Does your target audience have decent bandwidth and connectivity and power to use this app? Can they afford the data costs to use it?

    Do you need to have multiple language versions of your app? Does it need to be designed for low literacy?

    What’s the long term budget for your app? The current climate requires multiple iterations and constant improvement which cost a lot of money in maintenance and ongoing development. Even if we decide to build it once and deploy, you still have to pay for hosting, server maintenance, technical support, platform updates and security reviews.

    How long do you want this app to live? If being funded out of project funds, what happens when the project period of performance is over? If being funded from a donor, do they have rules for what can be built and how it should be built? Are there branding or marking requirements?

    Before any code is written, all these questions need to be addressed. And doing the above alone costs money and resources.