You don’t need that mobile app

Last year I was in a meeting with a client that was pitching us on writing the specs for a mobile app and possibly building it after a bidding process. While everyone in the room furiously pitched grand ideas and starting making lists on the whiteboard, basic questions remained unanswered. I couldn’t let things remain to be unaddressed so I asked the following:

What is the business case for this mobile app? What would it accomplish that you currently don’t (or can’t) offer? What requires it to be a¬†mobile app? Is there a better way to accomplish these things?

To this day those questions are still not¬†answered. Luckily the project didn’t move forward. What was really taking place is some executive said “our competitors made an app and we need one too”. Never mind that it may have been a huge waste of money for the other companies. The client also stated that they didn’t see any value in the competitor’s app. Checkbox envy can be costly.

The web industry can sometimes get a bad wrap for some of the crazy ideas that investors put money into, the outrageous development costs for some government websites (healthcare.gov anyone?) and the the cesspool of people willing to just take your money.

I refuse to take money for projects that I know will fail. Whatever form of karma that I believe in won’t let me do it. I don’t have a formal questionnaire or checklist, but here are some of the questions that I believe should be part of the early project discussion:

  • What business goal(s) are we looking to support with this project?
  • What will make this project a success?
  • What work, time and budget will that require?
  • What assumptions, risks and external factors are we aware of?
  • What platforms can this be made available on (mobile/native, web)?

So I could have pitched whatever version of an app the client wanted and been rewarded monetarily in the short-term, but I’ve instead slept well for the last year knowing that I didn’t just take the money and run. That’s helped me build a portfolio that I’m proud of and promotes the world I want to live in.

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