Learning from experience

It is good when we learn from our experiences–much better than when we don’t learn from them. I recently wrote about learning, or failing to learn, from observing others. A recent discussion on the scrumdevelopment yahoogroup got me thinking about another way to learn from experiences, and that’s learning from the experiences of others.

The discussion I mean started in the middle of another thread, when Clay Dreslough asked about Pair Programming.

But I have never had any success with actual Pair Programming.

So … am I missing a key component of XP? Or have other people found the same reticence with adopting Pair Programming?

Are there some valuable gains here that I’m missing? And if so, how would you recommend getting programmers to change their habits?

Very reasonable questions, in my opinion. And so I branched the thread to one about pair programming, stating that I did, indeed, think there were valuable gains that were being missed. But rather than start with discussing the value of the practice (which doesn’t necessarily persuade people to try it) or specific techniques of pair programming, I asked about the context in which it had been tried and the experiences that resulted. Rather than give a sales presentation, I wanted to compare experiences so that we could each learn from the other.

Surprisingly enough, this triggered a response from someone else, ranting about zealotry, one-size-fits-all practices, and people-over-process that caught me totally off-guard. It was as if the very mention of pair programming on a scrum list was forbidden territory. Certainly I had said nothing about the practice being essential. And I’ve found pair programming to be an incredibly people-centric practice that defies attempts to control exactly how the process is followed.

I hope that the discussion will return to pair programming, itself, but the issue about whether it’s permissible to discuss a topic is also an important one. As I said there, talking about experiences, whether successful, unsuccessful, or somewhere in between, can help people learn and choose. Making such discussions forbidden is as much an indication of zealotry as is an insistence that a practice must be followed. Or, perhaps, more so–for a wise person can learn from the one-sided exhortation of a zealot more readily than from the silence of a forbidden topic.

Or, as Robert Frost was recently quoted on the XP list, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”

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