Thursday, August 15, 2013

I can go on holiday whenever I like: how pairing with regular swaps make my life easier

I'm extremely keen and enthusiastic. When I'm working, if there is someone who knows more about something than I do then I am compelled to study/play with it until I am up to speed. If there is an area of a system I don't understand I'll study it over lunch - I just like knowing things!

The problem with people who have this characteristic is that they tend to become "the expert" or at least the go-to person for different things and this can cause some problems (or at least I see them as problems):

  • these people get distracted a lot with other people them asking them questions
  • they become a bottleneck because their input is needed to make decisions
  • they eventually become "architects" or "tech leads" and don't get to develop any more - this makes them sad :(
In my current project we are fairly strict about pair swapping: every day after our standup we swap people around. One person always stays on a feature so there is continuity and so everyone typically spends two days on a particular task. It's enough time to get stuck in but not bogged down.

After doing this for a few months I've noticed the following:

  1. We have no code ownership at all, if a single pair stays on a feature or one person is always part of the pair that works in a particular area this tends still to happen. Not so for us and I think that is fantastic
  2. Due to number one, we refactor and delete code without anyone getting offended
  3. People don't get disheartened with boring tasks or features as their time working on them is reasonably short
  4. You constantly get fresh views on how we are doing things. Even if you've been on the feature before having four days off means that you still generally have fresh ideas
  5. We have no fake dependencies between features - if there are free developers then the highest priority item will be worked on. No waiting for someone to finish a different feature. 
After a while I noticed that we would not swap if something was "nearly done". Why? I guess we thought it would be disruptive and the task would take longer. I began not to like this. I brought it up in a retro and we went back to strict swapping. Now I know what you are thinking - processes shouldn't be rigid, relax man!


When a software engineer says something is nearly done alarm bells should go off! A lot of the time it can still take hours or days so a swap is still a good idea. Or let's give software developers some credit - let's say the feature is actually nearly done. I think that is the perfect time to get fresh eyes on the code. Make sure the entire team is happy with how it's been implemented before we call it done! A new set of eyes may see some new edge cases etc too.

So what am I saying? Daily pair swaps means I'm confident the entire team knows our code base and feature set and can answer questions on both - no more "I don't know - let's check with Ted when he gets back from holiday". This means I can go on holiday whenever I like, and I like holidays so this is great! 

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