At Atomic Object, we typically begin each project with a Research, Design, & Planning (RDP) Phase. The RDP phase is custom-shaped for each project and can be a couple of weeks to a few months long depending on the project’s needs. The focus areas of the RDP phase can vary too.
Some clients come to Atomic with a very defined product vision but need to de-risk aggressive or innovative technical plans. Other clients come to us with a good business case for their custom software product but need help fleshing out the detailed user experience. These clients need to ensure that the user experience connects with its customers. They can then shape that into a concrete, prioritized plan that developers can build. Fortunately, Atomic is well-positioned to help in either of these cases or both at once!
Here are the key benefits our clients experience when engaging in the RDP process with us:
1. Alignment Within and Between the Atomic Team and Stakeholder Team
One of our values at Atomic Object is “Own it,” and Atoms approach each new software project as if it were their own product. They seek to deeply understand our clients’ business goals, subject matter domain, and end-user needs, behaviors, and desires. This information is critical for the team to move swiftly and make decisions in real-time as we build the product. And, it allows the product team to spend the client’s budget as efficiently as possible while creating a high-quality piece of software.
Stakeholder participation in the project kickoff and RDP phase is vital for helping Atoms understand stakeholder goals, vision, and priorities. It’s also vital for stakeholders to understand one another’s goals, vision, and priorities! For many of our clients, participating in the RDP phase is the first time (or the first time in a while) they’ve been able to take a step back, zoom out, and articulate their own priorities. This leads to important discoveries about where client goals or priorities are misaligned or even competing. It also creates the opportunity to resolve and clarify things within the stakeholder team, before real challenges occur.
2. Product Validation
A typical RDP phase will involve some level of user experience design and prototyping. This can start with sketches and progress to wireframes. It often also involves creating nonfunctional, clickable prototypes (we like to use tools like InVision, Figma, and Axure). These allow stakeholders and designers to explore and develop a shared point of view on workflows in a detailed way. Design artifacts from sketches to prototypes are key for user testing. User testing provides validation at different levels. It validates that the software’s value proposition connects with users, and it also validates that the workflows themselves allow users to meet their goals easily. User testing also often reveals new business opportunities and ideas or “wish list items” generated by the users themselves.
3. Technical Validation
For some software, the innovation is in the product or idea itself. Teams can achieve these with the straightforward use of known tools, techniques, and platforms. In this case, little to no technical validation is needed, and an RDP might include a lightweight technical architecture plan and technology selection.
For projects that include something that is technically risky or innovative, the RDP phase will be used to validate that the proposed solution is viable. It will also validate that the project is feasible to complete within a given timeline or budget. Often, these projects involve custom hardware (like IoT devices). Or, they may depend on integrations with external systems (which may lack documentation), or use existing technology in an innovative way.
Technical prototypes or experiments called spikes are used to prove the solution and provide confidence in estimates.
4. Phased Implementation Plan
Good custom software is never done, and product ideas almost always outpace budget or time constraints. A key part of the RDP phase is defining the goals and highest priorities for the first release. This phase also involves creating a plan to execute those goals so the team can move forward with confidence.
The RDP Phase: A Critical Investment
With any custom software project, it’s tempting to hit the ground running and try to figure things out along the way. This is especially true when revenue is at stake, speed-to-market is a concern, or business opportunities are waiting. However, the Research, Design, & Planning phase is a critical investment in time and energy that enables Atomic’s clients and teams to work quickly, have confidence, and ensure things go smoothly throughout the project.