A Mobile App Technical Design Workshop
Founded in 2003, Freecycle is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.
Freecycle knows a mobile app will increase engagement and utilize the added value of a mobile platform, but they need expertise to organize and help ensure a successful project. I designed and facilitated a 5-day remote Technical Design Workshop to understand end user needs, align stakeholders, define MVP features, and work with a mobile app developer to produce a technical spec ready for project kick-off.
Should a Nonprofit Create a Mobile App?
Environmental and social organizations are investing in building apps to better serve their audiences’ modern, mobile-forward needs and increase engagement with donors, volunteers, and participants of their programs. Recent statistics show:
- Almost 90% of users’ time on a mobile device is spent on apps.
- 70% of all US digital media time comes from mobile apps.
- The average smartphone owner uses 10 apps per day and 30 apps each month.
Mobile apps offer many advantages over traditional websites including communication tools, increased accessibility, image capture and upload, GPS and maps, push notifications, advertising that is harder to block than in a browser, and so much more.
For Freecycle, an environmental nonprofit organization, the Technical Design Workshop was focused on increasing adoption of and participation in its program, and creating added opportunity for revenue streams.
What is a Technical Design Workshop?
Building a mobile app is a project that involves business stakeholders, designers, developers, marketers, and end users. The Technical Design Workshop is intended to align these people in terms of: defining business needs, giving context to end users, and gaining clarity on the product we will bring to market. During the workshop we will chop through the discovery and planning phases of the mobile app project using a step-by-step method. Depending on the complexity of the app, and how much research has been done ahead of the workshop, this could be a one or two week process.
With a focused agenda and a strong facilitator, we achieve:
- Stakeholder alignment – goals for the app are intentionally and clearly defined
- User stories to be included – both from the existing website and optimizing mobile advantages
- Features to be built – provide the most value as quickly as possible
- Marked-up wireframes – clearly define user flow for all major screens of the app
- Technical Spec – understand and document the details of technical implementation
- Project roadmap – budget and timeline to launch
This was my first experience with this type of collaboration. I was very impressed with the team members’ responsiveness, willingness to listen, patience, and quick turnaround.
The Workshop Agenda
- Courtney Tiberio: Workshop Facilitator, Product and UX Designer
- Charles Suggs: Mobile Development Technical Lead
- The Freecycle Team: 7 members including Executive Director & Treasurer, Tech staff, Volunteer Hub Coordinator, and Support Team Coordinator
- Google Meet video conferencing
- Figjam for whiteboarding
- Figma for prototyping
- All-Hands sessions: Monday – Friday, 2-5pm EST, to accommodate multiple US and UK timezones
- Designer and Developer team sessions: Monday – Friday, 9am-1pm EST, to finalize the previous day’s work
A tightly focused agenda is critical for the ambition level and high-value output of this kind of remote workshop. To maximize our time together, I gave us all homework to do ahead of time, and planned a set of goals for each day while keeping some flexibility for organic process.
Freecycle’s homework ahead of the workshop was to gather their goals for the mobile app, define all the user stories in the website (“As a user type I can do what to/for why”), and give some creative thought to features that would be brilliant for the app that are not included in the website. My homework included building out the whiteboard and transferring all the user stories to it in an organized manner.
- Define goals of the mobile app
- Discuss mobile platform advantages
- Whitboard session: App features – sort user stories into MVP, Nice to Haves, and Luxury
Day 2 (focusing on MVP from here):
- Review whiteboard work and discuss pending questions from Day 1
- Start grouping user stories
- Start OOUX (Object Oriented User Experience) session to gain a shared vocabulary, and understand attributes and relationships to be mapped
- Continue user story groupings
- Continue OOUX
- Define main screens for user stories to be wireframed
- Intensive wireframing session (small group) and technical documentation
- Review Day 3 wireframes and technical notes
- Continue wireframing (small group)
- Technical implementation discussion (small group)
- Review final wireframes
- Review technical notes
- List loose ends and unanswered questions from the week
We accomplished what we set out to do in the allotted time. The agenda was clear and realistic. Meeting time management was good. Courtney and Charles did a great job of listening to what we had to say, adjusting the plan or discussion to include new ideas, and recording things that weren’t relevant to the current discussion for a later time.
The Workshop Outcomes
Stakeholders gained an understanding of the possibilities, limitations, requirements, and opportunities of mobile platform.
We developed a shared vocabulary that clarified confusing and conflated terms, so that all team members can effectively convey what they mean and be understood.
Stakeholders and designer came to full agreement on the MVP features that will maximize effectiveness of the mobile app and bring in needed revenue for future development.
Stakeholders developed a sense of ownership of the mobile app product that will be built.
Wireframes and a prototype were produced to illustrate the look, feel, layouts, and user flows of main components of the mobile app.
The week after the workshop the technical spec document was finalized, which contained development choices and implementation detail so that the mobile app project was fully ready for kick-off.
A list of additional feature ideas is available for reference to be built upon in the future.
Thanks again for making what can be a frustrating process both successful and enjoyable.