a second pair of eyes

I’ve just been working with a team which has a pairing policy: every item of code must have been seen by two pairs of eyes before it can be checked in. It doesn’t work.

The effect of the policy is to replace pair programming – instead developers do a “pair check-in” at the end of each development episode. So a developer will beaver away working on a feature for a day or so, getting it right, making it work, passing all the tests. And then he’ll call over to another team member to request a “pair check-in”. The other team member comes to the developer’s station and is walked through the changes in the version control tool. And then the code is checked in and the two team members part company again.

The problem here is that the process sets the two people up to be in opposition: the developer is effectively asking for approval, instead of asking for help. It’s natural for the developer to feel a sense of ownership, because he’s worked hard to get that code complete and correct. Not many people can graciously accept negative feedback after all that hard work.

It can also be hard for the reviewer – the “second pair of eyes” – to come up to speed quickly enough. The developer knows these changes intimately, but the reviewer is being asked to understand them cold. He has little chance of being effective in that situation.

So this process has all of the demerits of Inspections, with none of the advantages. The team would be more effective adopting true pair programming, I feel.

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One thought on “a second pair of eyes

  1. Agreed. I’ve also worked in teams that used a pair check-in. While the ownership/opposition thing was never a problem, it was certainly very hard to provide a good on-the-spot critique of work you’re unfamiliar with, regardless of how well it’s explained.

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