The Hot Potato Process

A better way for designers and developers to truly work together.

Published on

Around 2 minutes to read

The big misconception I’ve seen designers and developers often fall victim to is believing that handoff goes one way. Designers hand off comps to developers and think their work is done. That puts a lot of pressure on the designer to get everything perfect in one pass.

Instead, great collaboration follows what Brad Frost and I call “The Hot Potato Process,” where ideas are passed quickly back and forth from designer to developer and back to designer then back to developer for the entirety of a product creation cycle. This is exactly what we’re demonstrating in our designer + developer collaboration recording and what we teach in our collaboration workshops.

Waterfall vs. Hot Potato

Sit together #

It seems overly simplistic, but the best way for designers and developers to start trying The Hot Potato Process is to sit together. We’ve seen many a designer + developer pair who have worked together for years become enlightened as to how the other works within the first few minutes of sitting together.

Distributed teams #

The first piece of pushback we often get about The Hot Potato Process is that it seems ideal only for co-located teams. But, as increasingly more people are working remotely, good processes should adapt to all the different ways that people work; the Hot Potato Process is no exception to that.

If you can’t sit together in person, use video chat and other real-time synchronous tools to simulate working together in a co-located way. My teams will often leave a Zoom chat open for a few hours as a proxy for being in the same office together, even if we’re not talking to each other the whole time.

For more great tips on remote working, see Mandy Brown’s excellent article, “Making remote teams work.”

Use recordings to bridge time zone gaps #

If you can’t work at the same time due to time zones not lining up, you can record yourself working and send it to your collaborator. Your collaborator can then work alongside your recording while making their own recording. Then continue to pass recordings back and forth. Tools like Voxer, Marco Polo, and other walkie-talkie- and intercom-like apps help to make asynchronous collaboration feel a bit closer to synchronous collaboration.

Working together means working together #

If you can’t sit together in person or trade recordings or approximate these kinds of approaches, you might have to come to terms with the fact that you’re not truly working together.

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