Pair Programming Lessons from Improv

Thanks to Tim Ottinger for reminding me of Arlo Belshee’s post, “Is Pair Programming for Me?” Go read Arlo’s post, as it’s insightful and has more useful content than most articles on pairing. I’m just going to springboard off of one skill that Arlo mentioned being important to learn.

How to avoid “paragraphing” when talking. Learning to speak in half-sentences, leaving room for the other to take the idea in an unexpected direction.

A few years back, I took a course in “Beginning Improv Acting.” (Continued)

Sad Statements

I hope this will be done by then.

These are sad and scary words to me.  When I hear them in the context of a software development project, I associate them with a project unlikely to meet expectations.  Further, it’s likely that there is no good indicator of what can be delivered when.  With no hard evidence to tell them what’s possible, and to judge the effects of changes they try, people fall back on a strategy of hope. They no longer feel in control of the situation.

We’ve done our part.

This signals the underlying hopelessness. When you can’t make things come out the way you want, when you can’t even predict how they will come out, one natural response is to give up. Often the cultural expectations don’t allow saying “this project is in trouble.” The person who does so is the person who will attract all the scrutiny. Without the clear data to back up the perception of trouble, why stick your neck out? Others should be noticing the same thing; let them call attention to it. And when things don’t work out as “hoped,” if weve “done our part,” then someone else will get the blame.

You can’t solve a problem that no one wants to see. Instead, we’ve found an acceptable way to fail.