Clients come to us because they’re looking for a custom app. Sometimes what they’re looking for is for internal purposes, sometimes the app will be public, and sometimes it’s for a partner or client.

Our first step with any client is to evaluate their needs and whether or not there is a simpler solution to their problem than creating a custom app. It’s neither in the client’s interest nor ours to build something that already exists, or, worse, something that doesn’t ultimately fulfill their needs. We always suggest taking a step back and examining the goals that need to be accomplished with a custom app, what requirements are non-negotiable, and what can realistically be done with their budget.

PromptWorks has learned a thing or two about helping our clients make the best tech decisions for their company. Below are three steps we take at the start of any project. And if you have a project that needs to be further flushed out, you can always drop us a line.

1. Winnow down your concept

You have a lot of enthusiasm and a million ideas about what your app could or should do, but that does not always mean a custom app will be successful, or that it is even needed.

What’s the core of your idea without the bells and whistles? Unless you have a truly unlimited budget, you’re going to want to validate your idea before committing a lot of time and money to build out a fully-featured product. Narrow down the concept to an MVP—minimum viable product—that is the smallest thing that someone will pay for, and try to get a handful of paying customers, the revenue from which can finance further development.

If you need help narrowing it down or getting agreement among your stakeholders, engage business analysts at a software consultancy like PromptWorks. They can conduct discovery sessions to focus your idea and get your team on the same page.

2. Find the lowest-cost solution that satisfies

Once you’ve determined your MVP, decide whether your idea needs custom software or if it can be accomplished with existing or low-tech solutions.

Consider using a decision matrix like the one below when deciding whether or not your problem requires a custom solution. Oftentimes, problems can be solved with an existing platform, off-the-shelf software, or a clever combination of back-office tools and connectors like Zapier and IFTTT.

PromptWorks’ Business Problem Decision Matrix
Download our FREE Business Problem Decision Matrix

Evaluate the three types of solutions below, with your problem in mind. Which best apply?

  • Human systems or low-tech hacks
  • Commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS)
  • Custom-built software

Download our Business Problem Decision Matrix for examples of these tools, applications, capabilities, network effects, and costs associated with each solution.

3. Determine what kind of app

If you do find that custom app development is best for your needs, you then need to determine what kind of app—web, mobile web, responsive (a hybrid of web and mobile web), or native mobile—is needed.

While budget may be a limiting factor, the problem dictates the kind of app that needs to be built, and thus determines the cost band. You’ll need to consider whether your features need location awareness or navigational capabilities, offline functionality, real-time communications, notifications, etc. When, where, and how do you expect users will want to access this app? The bells and whistles of a native app are enticing, but supporting multiple platforms comes at a cost, and the app download can be a barrier to user adoption.

PromptWorks’ App Type Decision Matrix
Download our FREE App Type Decision Matrix

Types of apps:

  • Web app An application intended for desktop computer use, such as
  • Mobile web app An application meant to be used from a mobile browser, such as
  • Hybrid web app One app that adapts to display well on web or mobile.
  • Native mobile app An iOS, Android, or Windows mobile app such as Facebook for iPhone.

Download our App Type Decision Matrix to help you decide whether you need a web app, a mobile web app, a native mobile app, or some combination. It’ll help you weigh the capabilities and costs associated with each type of application.

Once you know what kind of app you want to build, you can start thinking more about execution. Read Part 2 of this series examining how best to decide whether or not to hire full-time employees, contractors, or if outsourcing is best for your project.

Jason Garber, Mike Nicholaides, and Greg Sterndale, founders of PromptWorks, playing foosball
Some software development books on the PromptWorks bookshelf
Some PromptWorks employees and a laptop


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