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The dirty secret of pair programming

· Agile Zone

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Pair programming is one of the more controversial extreme programming practices. Having two people work on the same piece of code at the same time looks very unpractical and inefficient to someone not familiar with this practice. Pair programming proponents like me are usually quick to point out the benefits like improved quality, less rework, better communication and better knowledge sharing within teams but I think the biggest reason pair programming works is usually kept quiet.

People work harder when there is someone looking over their shoulder.

I'm going to be completely honest with you here. When I work alone I spend a considerable amount of time surfing the web, reading email, twittering (you can follow me at @mendelt) getting coffee and talking to coworkers. This means I'm spending less time working but it also means I'm constantly interrupting myself during the time I am doing work making me even less productive.

Now we don't tell our managers this because it wouldn't do anyone much good, the problem is a bit more complex than just people slacking off. What I've observed is most people have a hard time pacing themselves. We do really focused work for five minutes and then take a break. Unfortunately breaks have a habit of taking more time than they should and productivity goes out the window.

To solve this problem we need a way to maintain a sustainable pace. Pair programming is a way to do just this. Forcing yourself to explain what you do to your pair is a great way to maintain a sustainable pace and work a bit harder.

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