What is scope and why should you have one?

Phase Scope
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Before I start working on a new app idea, one of the first things I do after answering these 7 prompts is define the scope of version one.

What is scope?

As it relates to the app development process, scope represents the features or characteristics of an app which will be a part of a specific version. For a new app, it would be the features the app should have when it launches.

For example, when Instagram first launched, you could only share square photos. They didn’t have support for other orientations, hashtags, or videos.

They could’ve launched with tons of features, but instead they scoped each release to smaller sets of features, learned more about their users, what they wanted, and then responded accordingly.

Why is it important?

Defining the scope of your app can be beneficial, from version one onwards. It can help you:

  • Save time: Reducing the complexity and number of features necessary for launch will ultimately reduce the time you'll need to finish the app.
  • Save money: If you decide to hire someone to make your app, the less work they’ll have to do and the less money you’ll need to spend.
  • Ease anxiety: Similarly to saving time, reducing the number of features necessary for version one will relieve the stress you might feel about being able to finish.
  • Provide direction: It helps you focus on what's important so you and anyone you're working with will have much needed direction to meet your goals.
  • Iterate faster: Along with saving time and money, it allows you to iterate faster as you’re able to start getting feedback on your idea from real users before wasting time and resources building something they don’t want.

How can you define the scope of your app?

For scoping version one, one simple exercise you can do is make a list of all the anticipated features and then organize them into must-haves and nice-to-haves.

A must-have is a critical feature that directly supports the problem you're solving and a nice-to-have is a supplementary feature that supports the critical features. The scope of version one for your app will be the list of must-haves.

Using Uber an an example:

A must-have feature in the early days of Uber might’ve been the ability to request a ride. It’s a must have because without it, you wouldn’t be able to do the main thing the app was built to solve.

A nice-to-have feature might’ve been the ability to earn rewards. It’s a nice-to-have because although rewards can be a powerful way to engage riders, they’re not fundamental to the app. If they didn’t have rewards, you’d still get the primary value from the app.