Building the Right Thing – Define Your Product with a Kickoff & RDP Phase


Congratulations. You and/or your company have a great idea for a software product, and you’ve decided to work with Atomic Object to build it.

At the beginning of the process, you’re likely feeling excited about your idea and eager to see things take shape. You may also feel a bit worried or daunted about the process of turning your initial concept into a real, functioning product. Whether it’s an iPhone app, a web-based product, a desktop application, or an embedded device, creating a piece of software is a daunting task that can span months, requiring many hours of labor and thousands of dollars. It’s important to get things started off right.

At Atomic, each project starts with a Project Kickoff session, which leads into a phase of Research, Design, & Planning (RDP). This phase of the project serves as a foundation for everything that happens afterwards. For me, this phase is one of the most interesting and exciting parts of working at Atomic, and in this post I’d like to share a bit more about the process and what to expect.

The Project Kickoff

During kickoff, members of your team and members of the Atomic team meet for a series of work sessions to: 1) uncover the most useful, valuable information about your users, and 2) define your product.

What is a Project Kickoff like?

We tailor each kickoff to fit the client’s needs and product, pulling from an arsenal of tried-and-true exercises designed to draw out information and build consensus about how the software should work and what it should do, while keeping the sessions engaging and useful.

A typical kickoff lasts 2-4 days. During your kickoff session, you and your team might find yourselves:

All of these activities require a lot of engagement and participation from stakeholders. These sessions can be pretty exhausting, so when we adjourn around 5 every evening, get yourself a good dinner and don’t feel bad about crashing on the couch at home or at your hotel for the rest of the evening. :)

Where will the kickoff be held?

We usually host kickoff sessions in our office at Atomic Object, where we have ample whiteboards, supplies, and wall space to create the ideal environment for a lot of generative and collaborative work. We also find that our clients appreciate the chance to get out of the office and into an unfamiliar space — it tends to get people thinking in ways they haven’t before. If it’s not practical for your whole team to travel to our office, we’ll do our best to work with you in your city, perhaps by finding some unique breakout space or co-working facility.

Offsite Project Kickoff

Who participates in a project kickoff?

We’ll work with you to determine who from your organization should participate in your kickoff session. Typically, we see participation from project managers, product managers, domain experts, representative internal users, and anybody else considered a stakeholder. If your group is large, we may plan breakout activities to target specific participants’ interests and knowledge of the problem space.

The Research, Design, & Planning (RDP) Phase

At this point you may be thinking, “Collaborative activities and innovation games sound great, but how does that contribute to actually getting my software built?” Great question.

After the kickoff, your product team will move into a stage of research and synthesis we call RDP (for research, design, and planning). This phase can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the needs and scope of your project. Here are some things we typically do during this stage:

  • Create, refine, and validate context scenarios.
  • Conduct user research to gain a deeper understanding of how people will engage with your product.
  • Create sketches, wireframes, and/or prototypes of key interactions within your product.
  • Create a development task backlog that will guide development of the product.
  • Refine our estimates based on the knowledge gathered.

User Workflow Sketch

During this phase, we’ll communicate with you frequently to gather information, get feedback, ask questions, and share progress. At the end of the process, we’ll be ready to create refined estimates and start building your product.

Creating a software product is an exciting and daunting task, with lots of potential pitfalls along the way: gaps in knowledge and consensus among stakeholders and the development team can derail projects and use up budget. Your product kickoff and RDP phase will mitigate risks and help ensure that the process of growing your software product from an idea into reality is a smooth and enjoyable one.