Sunday, 10 June 2012

Pairing is Wearing

In this post back in August 2011 I was talking about the many benefits of Pair Programming. Having now been full-time pair programming for almost an entire year, I wanted to mention one of the downsides that I have discovered.

A Holiday

I've just finished my holiday. It wasn't the best one ever, mainly due to camping in the UK in June: which meant heavy rain and strong winds. Still, we had a good time and it was very relaxing.

As the week progressed and I had a chance to relax, unwind and get some lie-ins I started to discover that my mind was starting to become more alert. I was feeling less tired. Great ideas were starting to flow again. It was at this point I realised just how weary I had been at the start of the holiday. I had known I was feeling pretty knackered, just not quite how much.

This then got me thinking as the the possible cause of this tiredness and how it could gradually build up over time without me being fully aware of it. I looked back at what I've been doing for the past year...

  • I've been travelling a lot to get to/from work - but less than my previous job.
  • I've been learning lots of new stuff - but I'm a compulsive learner, so nothing new here.
  • We've put at least 3 major releases live - but I've put plenty of software live before.
  • We've been pairing full time - this is new!

Is Pairing More Tiring?

The conclusions that I have had to draw is that working in a paired environment is more mentally tiring that working alone or individually within a team. There's more of a requirement to stay focused when working as a pair - it's particularly noticable when one member of the pair is feeling unwell or tired. Also while pairing you are multitasking more - writing code, thinking about solutions but also communicating your thoughts and maintaining a running dialogue. All of this extra work requires extra mental energy and thus increases fatigue.

So, how can we pair over a period of time without burning out? Here's some thoughts that I hope to experiment with over the coming months:

  • Take more frequent and longer breaks than you would do while working individually. The productivity gain of working in pairs easily allows this to be supported
  • Do a lot more walking at lunchtime!
  • Try to provide team members regular tasks that they can undertake outside of a pair to give their mental energy drain a rest. Stuff that doesn't require extensive multitasking.

Anyone else got any thoughts or ideas?

1 comment:

  1. In this google talk, Jeff Sutherland gives an example of a US company where working fewer hours did the trick:

    One of the examples he gives is of a guy working a 16 hour week - in a team that paired full time and had strong engineering practices they found they got more done in 16 hours than when working a full week and felt better for it.

    Wonder if it'll catch on...?