Me and my colleagues had all jumped in the XP-water. Iterations, planning game, TDD and more. Things was running along quite nicely and I realized I had been pair-infected. Just like you can get test-infected, meaning you testdrive all your code. I had been pair-infected.

I wanted to develop all my code in a pair.

Pairing made me more focused, made me learn at a totally different pace. And it was much more fun too.

I was bitten, I wanted more but my situation changed and that made pairing a bit more complicated. I found myself in a new setup where there was no pairing culture. We didn’t have paring stations. Only solo desks. We didn’t share rooms. Even though we sat only 5-10 meters apart it felt like we were in different timezones. A few months into this I started slipping back into not pairing again.

Physical Setup

It wasn’t just that there was no pairing culture. I came to realize that how you sit matters a lot too. How easy it is to just sit there and solo. Not move your chair a few meters and start pairing. How the room and desk is organized meant a whole lot more than I first imagined.

Rules

Since we didn’t sit right next to each other, me and my co-workers tried scheduling paring sessions. That didn’t work out too well. We tried agreements like, ‘Whenever we work on xxx, we must pair’ and ‘In the afternoon, we always pair’. That didn’t work either.

Excuses

There’s always an excuse NOT to pair. There are always circumstances that make pairing harder. And if one part resists ever so slightly, I’ve found that any excuse will pass. If it’s tried. I came to the conclusion that the physical setup is one very important aspect of pairing. It should be really really easy to engage in pairing.

2 on 1

One year became two years and I didn’t pair as much as I used to. I tried, my colleagues tried occasionally with no lasting result. What had been so natural in my previous project maybe wasn’t very natural at all. I began to wonder.

In my previous project we deliberately had put roughly half the number of workstations as were programmers. Pairing came, more or less natural. Once you have your own computer it’s so much easier to let the hours become days, months and even years without pairing. Even if you really enjoy it.

Half the amount of developers workstations made all the difference. When we removed the option to sit alone and develop, we were forced to a change by removing the old ‘status quo’. We couldn’t fall back to soloing. We had to find another way. Pairing came ‘naturally’. Because we were developers and we wanted to develop.

There was no other way than to pair.

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About Ola Ellnestam

Agile Coach, Systems developer, Agile Practitioner and father of three.

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