The field of extended reality (XR)—the digital combination of real and computer-generated environments—has drawn a lot of excitement. Facebook’s recent name change to Meta Platforms, which is a callout to the metaverse, an immersive virtual world, is a testament to the opportunity that exists in this space.
Without a doubt, there is plenty of business potential. However, that doesn’t mean realizing the potential is easy.
So how do you set yourself up to get the most out of XR?
In this blog post, we’re discussing five ways to maximize your XR initiatives:
Ensure XR is the appropriate solution for your problem.
Have the right people on your team.
Establish internal processes that support XR technologies.
Start small before taking on problems with a larger scope.
Plan what to do in the face of adversity.
1. Ensure XR Is the Appropriate Solution
Before creating an XR solution, it’s important to analyze why XR is necessary in the first place. Ensuring XR is appropriate for the problem you face is the first step to achieving success. Is XR going to introduce an unnecessary amount of risk to your project, or is it what you truly need? At this early stage, you need to evaluate your options and perform risk management.
There are often multiple ways of solving a single problem. You may find that XR is necessary for only some of these possible solutions. While you may ultimately choose to go with XR regardless, it’s good to remain cognizant of the alternatives.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and attempt to place XR where it’s obviously not needed. Let your business requirements dictate how XR is going to be used, not the other way around.
Finally, it may help to ask yourself this simple question: Are you solving the right problem? You may find there is a similar problem you can solve without XR and still accomplish your business objectives and lead to success. For example, a captivating mobile game full of microtransactions may have XR integration as a want rather than a need.
Once these basics are down, it’s time to focus on how to solve the problem. Ensuring you have the right resources is critical.
2. The Right People on Your Team
Most important to your success are the people on your project. Without the right skills, the project will fail to launch. Fostering a collaborative environment where creativity shines is key.
Working with XR requires specific skills—and as such, your choice of developers should be equally specific. Deciding whether your solution is consumer or enterprise centric will help you choose people who will create an exceptional team and create a lasting solution.
You’ll want to organize your team into groups focused discretely on front-end and back-end problems. “Front end” and “back end” are common terms used within the software industry. The front end is the part of a solution your users see and interact with, while the back end is everything else happening behind the scenes. While they are common terms, they have special meanings when used within the XR space.
Critical to the human experience is our interaction with the world around us. As XR aims to expand what we can do in the world, developing an exceptional front end is necessary to achieve success. With a poor front end, the solution will fail at its cornerstone, the extension of reality. Here at the intersection of software engineering and art is technology that interfaces with and even delights our senses—all while digitally expanding our world. Graphics programmers, animators, and 3D artists are people who can provide valuable skills and experience for front-end work.
In addition, back-end XR technology will have to be implemented that takes these sensory interactions from the front end and properly maps and integrates them with the real world. Getting this right is also key, and a polished back end can help elevate your XR solution over a competitor’s through a more captivating and seamless extension of reality. Game developers and people with more conventional theoretical computer science abilities can help with the mathematical problems related to the technological sensory expansion of our world.
In summary, your team should be organized into discrete problem-solving groups centered around people who have specialized skills. Do-it-all, jack of all trades developers from other industries should be avoided when working with XR. These kinds of developers would still need to gain the background knowledge required to work in the XR space, slowing down project execution. They would also likely have limited experience working with XR-related development processes and software tools, leading to a less polished solution.
3. Establish Internal Processes That Support XR Technologies
Even if you managed to assemble the greatest XR team of all time, without the right processes and tools in place, your team would never reach its full potential and return on investment. Before your team even writes a single line of code, you’ll want to start with a generalized problem-solving strategy—the software development life cycle (SDLC) and customize this process to specifically fit your XR needs. SDLCs usually consists of software planning, analysis, design, development, testing, implementation, integration, and finally maintenance.
Setting yourself up for success with XR means looking at each of these steps and determining their complexity and cost so you can allocate resources correctly. For example, given the rapid technological advances in the XR space, it is likely your project will have a higher long-term maintenance cost than creating a standard website.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with first saying, “The only constant in life is change.” His statement certainly rings true for a software development team working with XR over 2,000 years later! In fact, we are introducing a second statement to this quote for the current era, which is “Growth is change managed correctly.” Thus, it is imperative that your team can successfully manage change.
To manage change within an XR project, it is necessary to use a version control system such as Git. This will allow your team to easily collaborate with each other. While Git is commonly used throughout the software industry, its integration with commonly used XR software tools such as Unity requires a level of expertise that cannot be found in your average do-it-all developer.
As XR is a rapidly changing field, there may be a situation where your otherwise experienced XR developers are required to use a new software tool they haven’t used much in the past. Ensuring the proper training is made available to your team is critical to fully utilize their transferable XR skills, allowing them to ramp up with the new XR technology much faster than a less experienced developer. By incorporating flexibility into your team, you’ll be able to successfully make the changes you need to as you execute your project.
4. Start With Small Problems
What does an oak tree have to do with success in XR? More than you would think. While an oak can be one of the largest and most stately trees around, its life begins as a humble acorn that is grown on another oak tree. Your XR project idea may have similar origins, an outgrowth of someone else’s large and successful enterprise. How can you ensure your acorn grows and grows, and doesn’t become food for a pesky squirrel?
As we have already discussed, ensuring the ideal environment for growth is in place—team and processes included—is necessary. Without it, your acorn will never grow. However, at this stage, you also need to be focused on acorn-sized problems. Implementing a proof-of-concept (PoC) is the first step toward growing the scope of your project successfully.
A PoC can be thought of as a sanity check on the technical and financial feasibility of your project. Indeed, a PoC doesn’t have to be a complete solution. For example, you may want to test out the functionality of the different technical systems you are planning to integrate into your project. You may also want to run a cost-benefit analysis on your project’s scalability. Once you know you are on solid footing, the next step is to create a prototype.
A prototype is like an acorn that has grown into an oak sapling—a tree, but not yet fully grown. It’s an early functional model of your solution that meets the objectives of your project without all of the polish. From here, you can refine your solution into the final product.
Depending on your budget and how fast you want to grow your sapling project, you may opt for custom development or instead go with an out-of-the-box solution. Custom development will take longer and be more expensive but makes sense if you are trying to solve a novel problem. In such a case, you may be able to protect your intellectual property by acquiring patents and gain a competitive advantage for many years. However, if you want to get to market quickly and avoid risk, then a solution based on a preexisting XR framework would be ideal.
Finally, don’t forget to prune your oak tree! Just as it is easier to break a tiny twig than a large branch, solidifying the outward appearance and UX of your project when it is small is much more manageable than when it’s fully grown.
5. Plan How to Overcome Adversity
If success were easy, anyone would be able to achieve it. But most of the time, failure isn’t due to a lack of intelligence, skills, or even resources. Failure is caused by not trying again when you don’t succeed. And when it comes to working with XR, it’s likely there will be seasons without any success at all, seasons where you want to give up. Only then, after throwing in the towel, can it truly be called failure. The great inventor Thomas Edison understood this concept when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Ultimately, setting yourself up for success with XR means planning what to do when success isn’t achieved. This may require reanalyzing your enterprise using the points made above as a guide and making tweaks where necessary. If you realize XR isn’t an appropriate solution for your problem, that’s OK—you will have still gained valuable information and experience that could be used to set yourself up for success in the future. On the other hand, it may simply mean working through your existing challenges with an even greater determination and persistence. Not getting discouraged is key, and it’s important to maintain a growth mindset over a fixed one.
Up Next in XR
In a future blog post, we’ll discuss some of the pitfalls associated with XR work, allowing you to navigate adversity with ease. If you have any questions or would like to have a further discussion about XR, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.