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Your First Custom App: Getting Started

September 27, 2016 No Comments

By Ann Monroe, vice president, worldwide marketing, FileMaker

Every day, organizations and individuals are experiencing the power of custom apps to improve productivity, increase efficiency and achieve desired outcomes.

For those uninitiated, getting your first custom app off the ground can be intimidating. However, there are a few concrete steps that you can take to move your idea from imagination to implementation.

These steps and core concepts have been distilled from the best practices of many people – and teams – who have planned their own custom apps and are using them to their advantage. By following these steps, you’ll be harnessing the power of custom apps in no time.

1. Evaluate your goals

This is an essential step to planning and creating your custom app, and it is the very foundation of the process.

Consider some of the basic questions: How do you want your team to work? What does the app need to accomplish for your business? How does your team want to use the app?

Think about what each person on your team needs. Don’t get ahead of yourself by worrying about app features at this point – instead, spend time with each of the team members who will use the app and learn their existing processes.

As you go, you will discover pain points and unmet needs. Rather than getting discouraged by these, use these as an opportunity – a chance to collaborate and turn your ad hoc processes and information silos into custom apps that will make you and your team more productive.

2. Craft your user scenarios

As a team, or through individual interviews, capture the steps that each person on your team goes through. Personally, I use sticky notes and capture one step on each note – and use a different color for each person on my team. This lets me see a “map” of sticky notes that show how a team works together to accomplish a task. Make sure you also capture information about when each of your team members are doing each task, what device they are using, what device they would like to use, and how they use information from other systems to complete their task.



You and your team may find that you have a standard but inefficient process, or you may find that your process varies a lot depending on the people and the situation. The good news is that you can build a custom app to be highly flexible or highly standardized, depending on what is best for your team.

3. The nitty gritty

While conducting your interviews, you may have realized that your team needs data from another system. In that case, you will likely need to work with the administrator of that other data source, to ensure your app is granted access to view, modify or create data within.

Security is another important component of custom apps. This is especially true if your custom app will include employee or customer personal information, private financial data or even future product information. Consider whether you will need to comply with any specific government privacy and/or security regulations. Security must be thought of from the get-go – not as an afterthought.

Another important part of the planning process involves deployment. How will you make your custom app available to your team? Consider who needs access, and from what devices. This also circles back to security – depending on your company’s security measures, you will need to carefully follow certain guidelines to ensure your team has access to the custom app no matter where they are.

4. Prototype

Once you have come up with a clear vision for your app, it’s time to build a prototype. This can be as simple as a set of rough sketches of what users will see when they access the app, with explanations of the actions a user can take and how the app will respond. When you bring this to your team, you will quickly be able to confirm whether all relevant feedback was appropriately captured during step 2.

The best design tends to be iterative. By having your team participate in this part of the process, you’re also helping to ensure they actually will use the custom app once it’s created. You’re getting their buy-in, and this is invaluable.

5. Seek out support for building the custom app

Anyone can learn to build a custom app, thanks to the wealth of technology and platforms available today.That said, building the app isn’t for everyone. For some people, it may make more sense to hire a developer rather than build his or her own. For others, this is an opportunity to build their skill set. Should you choose the DIY route, there are great resources and community discussions that you can turn to along the way.


The amount of time and resources you have is an important factor in determining whether to go it on your own or bring in help. If you’re short of time but have plenty of resources, it may make more sense to outsource the development of your custom app to a professional consultant.

If you decide to try your own hand at it, there’s no reason you can’t bring in a consultant at a later date if you get stuck. Maybe you want to attend a training class or watch an online tutorial, and then bring in a coach to help you tackle more complex steps.

Once you’ve made the decision to use a custom app, the rest of the path is clear. The recommended guidance above comes from much trial-and-error, and represents the best practices of dozens of folks who have gone through the same process. It won’t be long until you’re transforming the way your team gets work done.


About Ann Monroe

Ann Monroe is vice president, worldwide marketing for FileMaker, Inc. and is responsible for marketing the company’s software for creating custom apps for iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac and the web. She holds an MBA degree from Stanford University School of Business and a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from Loyola Marymount University.



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