A Pairing Session Template
Here’s a template for your next pairing session:
- [ ] Agree on the high-level goal out loud.
- [ ] Break the work into a handful of tasks and prioritize them.
- [ ] Decide your driver/navigator swapping strategy.
- [ ] Configure git to share credit.
- [ ] Eliminate distractions.
- [ ] Work.
- [ ] Analyze the session with a mini retro.
Let’s talk more about each step.
1. Agree on the high-level goal out loud
State out loud what you hope to accomplish at a high level.
You wouldn’t think it’d be possible for two people to start pairing without agreement about where they’re headed, but it’s surprisingly easy.
2. Break the work into a handful of tasks (and prioritize them)
It’s worth trying to break your high-level goal into a handful of smaller steps.
This has a number of benefits:
- It makes the goal less intimidating.
- You’ll spot dead ends and pitfalls more easily.
- You can sort your task list by priority.
- You’re more likely to notice that accomplishing task C would make B easier, and reorder appropriately.
- You can decide on a task based on your current energy levels.
- It gives you a clear place to put new tasks you think of while working.
Some folks like to write each task on its own index card. The stack of them lives in front of the navigator. Each card can be a nice home for notes or ideas to bring up when there is a break in the action.
3. Decide what will trigger a driver/navigator swap
Unless you already know what works best for you, I strongly recommend the Pomodoro Technique:
- Code for 25 minutes.
- Take a 5 minute break.
- Switch drivers.
Other pair programming styles exist if you wish to try them.
4. Configure git to share credit
If two of you work on some code, both your names should appear on the commit.
Here’s a handy guide to configuring git appropriately.
Bonus: GitHub understands this natively and will give you both credit for the commit.
A few tools exist to make this even easier:
5. Eliminate distractions
Show respect for your pair and the work you’re about to do.
- Don’t bring your phone. Silence it if you do.
- Disable notifications on the machine you’re using to pair.
- Close email/Slack/Twitter/IRC. Never keep something distracting on a second monitor.
Do the work!
- When navigating: ask questions rather than making demands.
- When driving: dictate what you’re doing and why.
- Err on the side of over-communication.
- Take lots of breaks.
- Swap roles frequently.
- Do the simplest thing that could possibly work (for now).
- Avoid these pairing antipatterns.
7. Perform a mini retro
Spend a few minutes after your session reflecting on the experience.
First, discuss what went well.
Then, consider what would make the next session 1% better.
Possible areas for improvement:
- Focus: did distractions sneak in?
- Communication: were there long stretches of no talking?
- Pacing: did the session feel like a grind at any point?
- Division of responsibility: did you split the work up well?
- Code quality: was your end-product high-quality?