The central enemy of reliability is complexity.
― Geer et al., 2003
This is the second part of this Tutorial series. The first article can be found here: How to build a WebApp: Strategic Planning
If you are familiar with agile methodologies you may want to avoid a lot of documentation. In general I think this is a good approach. But it does not mean, that you should never ever create any documentation. This first step aims at structuring your ideas and make you think about the product.
It is very important that you have a precise picture of you application before you start to design the models for it and implement it. Why is that true?
You may start with the implementation right from the beginning. You probably have an idea what the app will do in general. But if you did this before you might be aware that you did have to change your implementation often. Maybe you ended up with confusing code, unused classes and a lot of restructuring. This stuff is very time consuming and error prone. We want to prevent this as much as possible.
That’s why we have this initial phase: We want to be sure that we implement the right thing. This will save time and reduce frustration.
In the first place you should formulate a vision for your app. This is to document the key idea of you app. Like many other things I am suggesting in this series, this help you to keep focused. Whenever you are going to evaluate a new thing you could put in your app, ask if it serves to deliver or improve your vision. The vision should be as short as one or two sentences. Google for example follows this vision:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Of course google is a huge thing with a very broad approach and your vision could be much more specific. Your vision may change if you pivot with your app idea but it is supposed to serve as a constant guideline for you. Do not skip or rush this step.
Concentrate on the key features of you app. You do not have to consider everything right now. Just think about the most important things which are needed to get a product useful for the users. This is called a minimum viable product (MVP).
I am a big fan of the lean approach when developing web applications. The most important thing here is to get your product exposed to users as soon as possible. Then you iterate through your development process by getting feedback from the users and implementing it. The idea is to really get the product your customers want to use instead of an application of which you guessed they would use it.
The key features for a MVP of the Pomodoro App I am working on are the following: * User can start a 25min timer * Timer does make a ticking noise * Timer makes an alarm noise when time is up.
I already have a lot of other features in mind. But these things have to wait till I am able to get feedback from the users about them. Maybe they dont need the stuff or they would want to use it in another way that I am thinking of right now. Every feature you add has to be a step towards the vision you did formulate earlier.
(You may ask why I did include the ticking noise. I consider this feedback from the timer as a very important part of the Pomodoro Technique. That’s why I want to include it form the beginning on.)
We are going to document the features we want to have. In agile methodologies a thing called ‘user stories’ is widely used. To create a user story you write down the requested feature with a predefined formatting:
, I want <goal/desire> so that .
Of course you should put something useful in the placeholder.
Before it gets to abstract and confusing let me show you an example for a user story:
As an user, I want to subscribe to a newsletter, so that I always get the latest news.
Often a short version of that is used. In such a case, the
As a user, I want to subscribe to a newsletter.
Why should you use this? Because it puts an emphasis on things your users need. Formulating the features like this will help you to keep focus on delivering value to your users. Ideally a user story is written by the user or customer himself.
You should put these user stories in an issue tracker. This is a software where you keep track of all that have to be implemented. There are many tools out there to help you with that. If you are using github, you get an issue tracker with your repository. It’s not very feature rich but it is a good point to start and might be enough for smaller projects.
After putting your user stories into the issue tracker you have a very nice collection of things your users are going to do with the app. These are the things you should focus on during the implementation.
My vision for the pomodoro app is the following:
Get the pomodoro technique done online as close to the original approach as possible.
And here are the user stories for the pomodoro app MVP I am going to build throughout this article series:
For this app I dont need more stories than these to get a MVP. However for another app you may end up with more stories.