Pair programming can bring many benefits to IT teams, as we already stated in our previous article. But what can you do to make this method useful and satisfying for both developers and their managers? We have listed ten valuable and helpful practices and tips for team leaders.

1. Don’t jump in the deep end

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 1. Don't jump in the deep end

If you are thinking about implementing pair programming, don’t start with a complete revolution in developers’ work. At the beginning, set a few hours aside to try out this method and see if it works for you. If it turns out to be working, make attempts to increase its scale gradually. 

Another solution is implementing this method “on a trial basis” during one sprint. Afterwards, during the next retrospective, discuss and let the team members share their experiences. Maybe together, you will find the golden mean that will allow you to achieve the best and most effective work method.

2. Set rules

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 2. Set rules

Even before implementing pair programming, you should clearly define the rules you will follow and then present them to the whole team. It would be best if you defined, among other things:

  • How long are you planning to use this method?
  • How to organise the pairs?
  • How often will there be a switch between drivers and navigators?
  • How will the effects of this work be measured?
  • When to switch between the driver and the navigator? 

Despite the organisational issues, you should inform your employees that they should feel free to take breaks and ask questions when something isn’t clear. While this is quite natural for older and more experienced employees, it’s especially important that newcomers know that they can always rely on their colleagues.

Remember: If your company has flexible work hours, take into account that employees don’t need to start work simultaneously. Similarly, in the case of an international team, when employees live in different time zones. It is worth defining some rules here and, for example, setting only a few “core hours”, during which programmers will work in pairs.

3. Keep your employees’ well-being in mind

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 3. Keep your employees' well-being in mind

Pair programming is a method that some love and others hate. The second group mostly includes people who appreciate peace, quiet and working alone. They are most comfortable when they can learn from their own mistakes. 

That is why you should try to make sure that no one on the team feels forced to work in pairs. If an employee feels uncomfortable while coding with another software developer, you shouldn’t force them to do so. You won’t achieve increased efficiency if your team members hate their work method.

4. Analyse how to best pair your team members.

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 4. How to best pair team members

If you want pair programming to bring a lot of benefits to both the programmers and the company, you should carefully consider each pair’s composition. Consider which pair will complement each other, as well as who can learn the most from whom.

Also, do not ignore the relationships within the team. Pairing two programmers who do not like each other will only make things difficult and less efficient.

5. Change pair compositions

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 5. Change pair compositions

When two programmers work together for too long, there is a risk of conflicts between them. To avoid it, you should change pairs regularly. It helps maintain a good atmosphere and increases the exchange of knowledge and skills between employees.

6.  Plan pair programming before the sprint starts

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 6. Plan pair programming

The best way to effectively organise pair programming is to carefully plan both staff compositions and responsibilities when planning a new sprint. After analysing the status of individual tasks, it is the best time to determine who will work with whom, what the pairs should do, as well as who will be the driver and who will be the navigator, and how long will it last.

7. Make frequent switches between the driver and the navigator

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 7. Make frequent switches

To ensure that both programmers working in a pair are equally engaged and effective, you should remember to switch roles between the driver and the navigator frequently and regularly. Otherwise, the navigator may quickly get bored and stop concentrating on his task, while the driver will be at risk of tiring himself.

Moreover, frequent role switching also makes both software developers feel equally responsible for the quality of the code they create together.

8. Consider when you really need pair programming

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 8. When you really need pair programming

Pair programming is an excellent and effective method, but it is usually used in specific cases, e.g. when one:

  • wants to create the highest quality code with the smallest number of errors possible;
  • wants to make an introduction for a new employee;
  • recruits new people and wants to verify their skills; 
  • is working on a complex task, where the knowledge of two developers with different and complementary skill sets will be useful.

Of course, each case is different and should be analysed individually, but before you decide to use pair programming, consider whether there is a need for this method in your team and project. Maybe it will work only in programming a few essential elements, and when it comes to rest – it is worth staying with the standard single coding.

9. Do you work remotely? Implement pair programming online

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 9. Pair programming online

Pair programming doesn’t have to involve two developers physically being in front of the same computer. Nowadays, online pair programming is becoming more and more popular. All you need for this is a simple tool such as:

10. Gather team feedback regularly

10 good practices of using pair programming in IT projects - 10. Feedback

Something that seemed like a good idea a few months ago doesn’t mean it’s still the best solution. Therefore, regularly collect feedback from team members on how they find working in pairs. Common discussions and conclusions allow you to find the best solutions tailored to the company’s current needs and employees’ preferences.

Pair programming is a method that certainly works well in many teams and IT projects. However, for it to be fully effective and bring the most benefits, it should be well planned and discussed with the whole team. We hope that our tips were helpful to you. Good luck!