No Handoff: bridging design and code

Project handoff can get messy

Ahh… Project handoff. That universally hated period of inefficiency and frustration.

It is often compared to throwing your work over the fence, and hoping there is a team on the other side to catch it. While development frameworks like agile have broken down barriers between development and the end user, in practice the divisions between internal disciplines still persist. Handoff between them is the norm, and baked into most processes.

The no-handoff method addresses the issue of project handoff between product and engineering. It builds on the patterns of XP, Lean UX, Dual Track Agile, MVP, Rapid Prototyping, and more. The no-handoff method is the next logical step in shaping our teams to the needs of today’s digital products.

Project handoff is inefficient, risky, and unnecessary. As Adam Brock says, “I believe that the distance between design and production should be zero.”

The problem to be solved:

Cross-discipline communication in UX has mainly focused on two areas:

Both approaches offer valuable improvements, but don’t address the underlying problem: product and engineering are siloed. Across that gap handoff becomes inevitable and iterative workflows often end up looking, as Marty Cagan puts it, “like a series of mini waterfalls” rather than a truly collaborative process.

No Handoff addresses the root issue and offers a framework for integrating design and development.

What does No Handoff bring?

two cats on either side of a window, just like UX teams boxed into their roles
User experience isn’t out there, someone else’s problem. It’s inside the house!

Collaboration is the biggest challenge for any project. We have deeply entrenched ideas about disciplines, roles, and hierarchies to overcome. The steps above, simple but not easy, leapfrog some of these challenges and mitigate others. It is the next logical step to close the gap between product and engineering with no false handoff requirements.

In No Handoff, UX is the foundation. UX is a shared toolkit of understanding rather than just a siloed team, task, or function. Most importantly UX is not someone else’s problem. It is a shared goal that the entire team strives for together.

The purpose of UX is to support successful user behaviors. Everyone’s contributions influence the end user behavior and that makes UX everyone’s goal. To achieve this shift and promote team integration, No Handoff takes these three simple steps:

1) Shared vocabulary

The user experience forms the basis of our shared vocabulary. One important step is to throw out the word “design” from your project vocabulary. Ironically banishing the word “design” leads to better design. Team members must find more accurate ways to describe their thinking and intentions based around user experience. When all team members, from designers to developers, can explain their work based on its user experience implications then the team will be speaking a shared language.

2) Shared goals

Shared goals, framed in terms of measurable user experience, resonates with and motivates all disciplines on a team. Deciding what user experience to cultivate and how you will measure success are both equally important, and may change as you test and receive more feedback throughout the project.

3) Shared deliverable

The last—and most impactful—step is a shared deliverable in the form of a functional prototype. From the earliest days of the project, ideas and goals should be sketched out and shared in code.

Prototypes are the true shared language of the team. All stakeholders can understand them intuitively, so you leapfrog right over many potential communication issues. And most important of all, a prototype, however rough, can be tested with users right away. No Handoff leverages the power of prototypes as a shared team deliverable that everyone contributes to iteratively.