Random notes on pair-writing

Johanna pointed out on her blog how pair-writing is different from pair-programming. But I suspect the two are similar in many ways, too.

Here’s what stood out for me in my pair-writing with Johanna:

Conflict comes with collaboration. Conflict is part and parcel of any serious collaboration. Any time you put two people together, you’ve got different life experiences and different preferences. Even you share a goal and have substantial overlap in skills and values, conflict is inevitable.

How you manage feelings about conflict (individually) and navigate conflict (as a pair) effects the success of the pairing.

One of the advantages of pairing is that, typically, both people have better focus and remain focused longer. Each reinforces each other to stay with the work. That said, it’s important to take breaks when you come to a logical stopping point… maybe 5 minutes to move around, do some hand exercises, and mentally refresh.

Debrief so you notice what’s working, what isn’t working, and what you’d like to do differently. A five-minute end-of-day debrief really helped us become more effective over the week that we paired. I suspect once a pairing relationship is established, debriefing weekly or when something out-of-the-ordinary occurs would be enough.

Know where you’re headed. The first day, Johanna and I started out with a high-level scenario to guide our work. At any given time, one of us didn’t know where we were headed. (I didn’t really like that feeling.) After the first day, we spent more time discussing the scenario and our goals for the scenario before either of us touched the keyboard. And we were more willing to pause to discuss where to go next.

A good dose of tolerance helps. I have this habit of backing up to fix spelling errors and typos as I go. It nearly drove Johanna crazy. So I tried to reduce the habit and Johanna worked to tolerate it. I think she felt better after a give her permission whack me if I did it again (I did, and she didn’t).

We were both really please with the results… we still have editing work to do, but the product is superior to our previous efforts and merging our individual writing. And we got much more done than we expected to.

So: how is my experience pair-writing similar and different from your experience pair-programming?