Thursday, November 08, 2007

Paired Programming

I posted this internally at Guidewire today in response to a "meta-analysis of empirical studies done on analyzing the effectiveness of Pair Programming." shared by colleague. Then I thought this is actually a pretty good short summary of my point on Paired Programming nowadays:

As useful as they are, my problem with these analysis is that they are trying to isolate the behaviors that work best when applied together. This applies to TDD, team development, short iteration, continuous integration, etc.

Unlike engineering, software development is actually a discovery process, during which most of the value comes when discoveries are put together. For example, when two heads get together, the value is not only about performing complex programming tasks correctly, sometimes it is actually more about realizing that there are other parts in the system that can help with the current task, or even not to attempt because someone has already tried.

On the other hand, programming is a highly concentrated task. Once interrupted, it always takes a while to get back to the mode, and we all know how frequent interruption is during a normal work day. With paired programming, you can actually keep the flow even when one person is interrupted for a short period of time. There are practices that you need to do to make sure that this is really the case. For example, it it turns that the the person is going to help another pair for a long period of time, the right thing to do is to switch the pair, etc.

Also the practices of XP work the best when they are working together. For example, rotating your pair routinely help the effectiveness of the paired programming. If you do TDD during the paired programming, it will help the two people to focus and lower the overhead of communication.

One last thing that I have found out about paired programming is that it helps the team communication. Paired programming forces the two people to talk constantly, which creates the "omni-communication". I know some people find it annoying. But I have sit in such environment on many occasions and once you get used to it, the kind of information you can pick up without any effort is very surprising. Many project managers I talked to also reported that because of the "omni-communication" they pretty much eliminated the "status meeting" and replaced it with "issue resolving meeting".
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