Imagine that you have an idea of a web app that could disrupt the market and win the hearts of millions of users. In order to find out whether it becomes the next unicorn, however, you need to translate your vision into a working product. Without it, it’s just another idea.
The process of building a proper web application cannot be an afterthought, as it can make or break your project. We’ve prepared this web application development process guide for those of you who want to learn about the best practices of creating web apps. Whether you want to know how to build a web application from scratch or need to optimize the way your team works—this guide will come in handy!
Web apps are basically software created with the help of various web development technologies. A necessary feature of such apps is that users can access them from the browser.
Web applications are often confused with websites, and in theory, they are somehow related to websites, since web app development and web development share many characteristics. However, web apps are run on devices in a completely different mode from that of a traditional website.
Looking for a quick read about websites? Check out: How to describe a website project to your technical partners?
Most popular languages and frameworks used for developing web applications are HTML & CSS, React, and Vue (on the front-end) and Ruby on Rails, Laravel and Django (on the back-end).
Web apps actually have a ton of benefits as compared to other software, so we’ll just leave a list of most important of them:
One of the first things you need to do once you decide to create a web app is to assemble a team. Perhaps you have an in-house team at your company that is capable of delivering this project—if that’s the case for you, you can move on to the next steps of this guide.
What if you don’t have a ready-to-go group of programmers, designers, testers, and product development specialists? Founders often need to choose between building their own development team or partnering up with an external vendor. Let’s explore both of these options and see which one is best for your web application development.
Hiring new team members has a lot of benefits, especially if it’s a long-term strategy: you get to hand-pick people who fit your team’s culture perfectly and share the same values. Having a highly engaged and reliable web app team is the goal of many founders. At the same time, hiring well-skilled people could be a considerable investment, and every mistake will be costly. Finally, as a company founder you often do not have enough technical expertise to hire the right people for a web application development—a tech partner should be able to help with that.
This is an appealing option because partnering up with an external web app development team is much quicker than building your own. The risk you’re facing, however, is that the team you end up choosing turns out not to be the right fit for your needs. Of course, this risk can be mitigated: look for reviews, verify teams’ references, and always have an introductory meeting/call to assess a given team’s fit.
Try to seek companies that treat you as a partner, not just a customer: the best web app development vendors can provide market insights and valuable feedback regarding your product.
Once you have decided whether you want to hire new team members or deliver this project with an outsourced web app development team, it’s time to start shaping your product. The process recommended by us starts with drafting the foundations: determining your business goal and outlining the main deliverables.
This is an opportunity to organize ideas, clarify your web app vision, and do some market research that will allow you to shape your desired web application. The main questions you should be asking here are:
Approaching product development with answers to these questions is very helpful. Even if your initial idea was somewhat vague, for instance, building “the next Uber” or “Tinder for clothes”, now you have more details about your future product.
How can you organize your ideas at this stage of product development? Here at Apptension, when working with clients who try to refine their product vision, we usually rely on mind maps or apps like Milanote.
Before your team starts working on bringing your idea to life, it’s essential to organize a project kick-off meeting. During this meeting (it could be a video call), every team member (not only developers, but designers, QA engineers, project managers, etc.) should get a chance to meet people involved in the project (other team members, stakeholders) and learn about their roles in the web app development project.
It’s essential when working with an external team, but also useful for your in-house web development projects—you’ll make sure everyone is on the same page. The kick-off call is also a chance to get everyone up to speed regarding the tools that will be used throughout the project (our basic stack consists of Slack, Jira, Confluence, Bitbucket, Figma), main communication rules, and the schedule of meetings. E.g., at Apptension we employ the agile process to planning and executing the majority of our projects, and recommend you doing the same.
The kick-off meeting could be followed by a discovery phase—we always recommend it to our clients. The discovery phase is the period during which you and your team can:
A discovery phase helps to reduce many web development-related risks, as you get to try out different scenarios and pick the optimal one. At the end of this period, you should have a full project backlog—a prioritized list of tasks your team will work on during the project lifecycle.
Dedicating some time to get this groundwork done will pay off: working with a defined and tested set of requirements will be more productive and effective.
Product design is a crucial step in the web development process. As a consumer, you often see colorful interfaces that catch your attention, but the most successful designs have very humble beginnings—wireframes.
Starting with low-fidelity wireframes or mockups is an efficient way to verify whether your ideas resonate with the end-users, and make sure the web app is user-friendly and intuitive to use. If you're working with an external team, the wireframing stage is also an opportunity to double-check if their work is aligned with your vision.
Tools that allow for sharing and providing feedback on designs will make the collaboration easier and simplify the programmers’ job later on. Adobe XD and Figma are our apps of choice.
While you develop a web application, your process can be supported by a framework suited to your needs. At Apptension, we follow agile frameworks, which are perfect for building web apps. Recently, we built also a SaaS Boilerplate to develop products faster and cheaper. The development team works in 2-week iterations, during which they deliver a planned increment.
One of the most significant advantages of the agile approach is that you can deliver value continuously and be flexible when it comes to your project’s scope. Change of requirements? No problem, you can accommodate it in the next iteration. On top of that, the whole process is very transparent.
Don’t forget about the following elements of a successful web development process:
Quality Assurance - In order for your web app to be of excellent quality, you should include a QA specialist in your team and test each product increment. Effective quality assurance is not a “testing stage” somewhere at the end of the software development process, but rather a continuous process integrated with the development efforts.
Release preparation - Naturally, you want to launch your product smoothly and plan for a positive reception from the users—an influx of traffic. Before you deploy your web app, you should make sure that the product works as planned and run load tests on the environments to test its reaction to the traffic.
The web development process is not over after the big launch. You need to have your team ready to:
This part of the process can also be done in an agile way.
We hope that this guide helped you to better understand the steps needed to build a web application. Feel free to use our recommendations to build your own web app, and definitely let us know how it turns out. Good luck!
We decided to add the bonus point to this guide and answer the question that seems to matter to many: “How much does it cost to build a web app from scratch?”
Well, the amount of money you’ll put into a web app can vary depending on several factors actually. But it all circles around your idea and the complexity of the solution you’ll need. The more features you want, the more time and resources you’ll spend turning it into reality.
But let’s dive into the sub-factors that can affect the size of your investment so that you’ll know how to save in the future.
Whether you’re working with an in-house team or going to an agency when outsourcing web development, the costs will increase with the number of people involved in the process. However, if you’re working with your employees, it can be way easier to communicate the ideas and control the project flow.
Some of your ideas could require different frameworks from what your web developers are used to working with. In this case, you’re either going to spend on additional research and education for your internal team or need to hire a team extension.
Here everything depends on the accuracy of your planning - both too little and too long time frames will increase the cost spent on your web app. It’s pretty simple to explain - as you take more time, you need more resources, and the project costs rise. On the other hand, planning within a tiny timeframe will definitely be a critical factor in increasing the quote of the hired team.
You must remember that in most cases, your app will need specific regulations compliance. Be it a Fintech, Healthcare, or even a regular app but located in a GDPR-regulated zone - BAM. Additional costs for setting up the compliance-necessary features. And it’s actually the aspect that you cannot resign from or find an alternative to. You just have to take it with dignity.
Innovation always means innovative technologies read - resources. Your web developers may not be experienced enough to produce innovative functions quickly and maintaining high quality. So, if you plan on building something completely unknown to the industry, get ready to spend a lot more on your web application development.