The power of pair working

Something we advocate for at Emergn is pair working, better known as pair programming in software engineering. Why? Well, two heads are always better than one! Especially when we have work that is complicated (i.e., cause and effect link, but may need expert knowledge or research to understand) and more importantly for complex work (i.e., when cause and effect may never link or be predictable, we need to experiment to understand the best way to solve the problem).

Recently, I was paired with a colleague to build a new learning module for our Product Management education offering. The value of having my colleague pairing with me far outweighed the cost of having two people working on one project thanks to:

  • Time saved: we were able to receive instant feedback from one another, rather than wasting time going in the wrong direction or getting stuck alone.
  • Improved focus: we were able to clarify the content and make it concise.
  • Better quality outcomes: by pairing, you get two different perspectives. This offers insight one person may not be able to provide alone. It also enables you to test biases and assumptions you may have with someone else to broaden your own perspective. This makes it more likely you are creating something a customer – or in our case, the learner – can use to help solve a problem they have (however, testing would be needed with the customer to validate this).
  • Enhanced learning: whilst pairing, I was able to broaden my understanding of the topic we were writing about, as I was able to hear my colleague’s experiences when delivering similar content. This provided me with new insights and helped us create more targeted content based on real customer problems.

Without pairing for this work, I would have spent time creating content, with the need to re-read, add more, and pivot my ideas a few times, all before having a shareable version. Only after all that would I receive feedback and go through the same development cycle. This takes a lot of time. Pairing in any type of complex work can help shorten this timeline and achieve quality faster.

Consider the following needs for pair working (and pair programming):

  • Collaboration tools to visualize the work in your pair, to be able to receive instant feedback (i.e., video call with shared screen, visualization tools such as Mural/Miro or visibility of the codebase, if pair programming).
  • Clear goal or outcome for you to achieve as a pair.
  • Investment and understanding in the value of pair working (i.e., everyone understands this way of working doesn’t take more time for work to get done, it actually reduces the overall time, as instant feedback avoids waste and reduces the risk of the wrong outcome being achieved.)

Next time you are working on a critical project or task, consider who you could pair with to deliver value earlier, optimize the flow of creating the work, and discover quality more quickly through instant feedback.