Working with people closely on a day-to-day basis creates a safe environment, ideal to learning more about the current culture of the team including the norms, habits, style and general approaches to way things are done.
Image taken from ImproveIT’s flickr stream under the Creative Commons Licence.
How Did We Execute It?
On this particular project, programmers pair programmed most of the time. As a technical lead, I wanted to make sure people were comfortable working with each other so I encouraged a bit more of a pragmatic pairing approach and asked the team to take on the responsibility of ensuring enough pairing was going on.
I highlighted the benefits of what we were trying to achieve with pairing (knowledge transfer, style nuances, spreading different problem solving approaches, review of code) and asked new people to be comfortable raising flags when they were getting uncomfortable. Interestingly I think on this particular project we still ended up with a very high percentage of time spent pair programming and noticed that people also appreciated having a little bit more freedom if they wanted to investigate something.
Why Is It Important?
Working closely with someone (that you are bound to do with pair programming) gives a great insight into the working culture of the team that you happen to join. It’s easier to incidentally pick up the certain style that the team has towards different items though can be sometimes very frustrating depending on the people working on that team. I think that pair programming helps with the onboarding process, but it alone is not enough. I personally think that this technique is best combined with the Big Vision Business Problem, the Visible Architecture, and the Transparent Technical Debt strategies.
What I Might Try Next Time
I find pair rotation an interesting experiment. I’d like to try doing a day pair rotation with new people so that they more rapidly get a feel for the way individuals work and contrast their different experiences. Talking over their experiences and finding out what they discovered themselves or see what important lessons they found could be very powerful. I’d be quite concerned about over-doing it though.