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Why pair programming should be your default way of working

Although pair programming is not a new (software development) practice, I don't see it used that often at my clients. I think that the main reason for this is that because not that many developers tried it and therefore never experienced the benefits of pair programming.

Unknown is unloved.

But I experienced first handed that once you get comfortable with pair programming, you don’t want to go back. Most teams I worked with that started using it continued with the practice; sometimes partially sometimes full time.


Benefits of pair programming

Pair programming has several key benefits and purposes, which can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of development teams.

The Power of Two Minds: 1+1 > 2

One of the primary benefits of pair programming is the enhanced knowledge sharing that occurs when two developers collaborate closely. This collaboration helps in various ways:

  • Knowledge Sharing: Both programmers continuously learn from each other, sharing tips, tricks, and best practices.
  • Getting Unstuck: When one programmer encounters a roadblock, the other can often help find a solution, reducing downtime.
  • Onboarding: New team members can quickly get up to speed with the help of experienced colleagues.
  • Combining Tactical and Strategic Thinking: Pairing allows one programmer to focus on the immediate coding tasks (tactical) while the other considers the broader design and architectural implications (strategic).

Maintaining Flow

Flow is crucial in programming, and pair programming helps in maintaining it by:

  • Keeping Each Other Focused: The presence of a partner helps maintain concentration and reduce distractions.
  • Keeping Team’s Work-In-Process (WIP) Low: By working together, pairs can efficiently complete tasks, preventing the build-up of unfinished work.

Avoiding Waste

Pairing can mitigate several of the "7 wastes of software development" as described by Mary and Tom Poppendieck:

  • Partially Done Work: Ensuring tasks are completed efficiently and effectively.
  • Extra Features: Avoiding the implementation of unnecessary features by maintaining focus on current requirements.
  • Relearning: Reducing the need to revisit and relearn parts of the code due to continuous knowledge transfer.
  • Handoffs: Minimizing delays caused by transferring tasks between team members.
  • Delays: Accelerating the development process through real-time collaboration.
  • Task Switching: Maintaining focus on the current task, reducing the inefficiencies caused by switching between tasks.
  • Defects: Early detection and correction of errors through continuous review and feedback.

Enabling Continuous Integration

Pair programming supports continuous integration by:

  • Code Review On-the-Go: Continuous peer review ensures code quality and facilitates just-in-time integration. No need to use pull requests and long review cycles to get feedback.
  • Fostering Collective Code Ownership: Everyone understands the codebase, leading to better collaboration and fewer silos.
  • Frequent Integration Practices: Enables practices like trunk-based development, where developers integrate their work multiple times a day.

Implement pair programming in your team

Transitioning to pair programming requires a cultural shift and a commitment to the practice. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Start small: Introduce pair programming gradually. Begin with critical projects or complex tasks where the benefits are most evident.
  • Pair rotation: Rotate pairs regularly to ensure knowledge sharing across the entire team and to prevent burnout.
  • Provide training: Offer training sessions to help team members get comfortable with pair programming techniques and tools.
  • Create a supportive environment: Encourage a culture of mutual respect and continuous learning. Ensure that all team members understand the value of pair programming and are willing to embrace it.

More information

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