Tuesday, February 27, 2024


 I've done it. You've seen me.

You've done it. I watched you do it.

We've probably argued about it.

The Defining Dysfunctions

I published a blog post some time ago on the Industrial Logic website about programming together vs programming under surveillance. It's a relatively simple piece, and it identifies a problem we have in the world when it comes to just about any technique or discipline.

When I suggested that people mistake group programming for working under surveillance, an incredulous reader exclaimed “How could it possibly be anything else!?”

So here's the thing: a person had a bad experience where instead of actually researching what pair programming is and how it works, they just sat down at a keyboard with another person and tried "doing pair programming" without any pre-study or preparation. They ended with one person bored, watching the other program.  

This is a widely-known dysfunction or "failure pattern" known as "Worker/Watcher." It's not how pair programming is done. 

The two people who had this one unpleasant, uninformed, wasteful experience came into it with little more than a sound bite ("two people coding together"), guessed at how it was done ("one person types"), and had a poor experience. 

Since they didn't start with a good definition of pair programming, that experience became the definition of pair programming. 

They had a defining dysfunction. 

Unless something new happens, they will forever see pair programming as wasteful and pointless practice.

Is that the real definition of pair programming? 

Is that what it's about and how it's done? 

Not remotely. but it is the one touch-point they have -- the one experience that they have had of it, and "pair programming" is the name of that experience now.

Do they want to try it again? Clearly not. They know what it is, and it's nonsense. 

They will likely take to social media to decry the BS that is pair programming and save everyone else from this wasteful and unprofitable behavior.

You and I have likely done the same. 

Give those complainers some credit, because at least they tried it (or something that they imagined was it) first.

Some Examples Might Be Useful Here

I ranted against scrum™for years, because I let the dysfunctions I routinely see become the definition of the process for me. If anyone were to actually try doing scrum™it would be a pretty good way of working, but nobody does.

Sadly, a lot of people in that space have adopted the defining dysfunctions. As far as they are concerned the "right way" to do scrum™ is to have a titled person assign individual work tickets to developers, who strive to serve the maximum number of tickets per fortnight to raise the velocity of the team -- striving to do "twice the work in half the time" (a soundbite). This isn't remotely what the defining document of the scrum™ method describes but it is what is often taught as "doing scrum."

Are you an agile hater because it's all Jira tickets, meetings, estimation, and work crammed in to meet artificial deadlines? I'd hate that too. I do hate that. It's just not agile. it's not even scrum™.

Do you hate agile because agile is "no documentation," "no design," and "no estimates"?  Well, that's a worthy distaste. It's also a mischaracterization.

Do you hate TDD because you have to write all the tests first, and you don't even know what shape the answer is going to take, so it's impossible? Well, that's a bad process, and it's not TDD. It's not the definition of TDD, it's just a failure mode.

Why Bother Trying?

Sometimes people don't even have to have a bad experience to adopt a defining dysfunction. They hear a sound bite or title and imagine dysfunctions. They (efficiently) go straight to disdaining the practice based on their imagined defining dysfunctions.

Do you think that Psychological Safety means you can't ever say anything that might possibly upset someone? Does Radical Candor mean that you can say whatever you want without consequence? Wrong, and wrong. Those are defining guesses at dysfunction

If we only guess at a discipline or a philosophy or a behavior and don't actually bother to investigate what it's intended to be, what it really means, and how people actually perform it then we don't have the basis for an honest opinion. If we have only experienced it as a bad attempt at a good idea we haven't formed a valid opinion. 

We're Too Smart For That!

Have you jumped to conclusions based on naive attempts or imagination alone?

I'm betting we both have.  It's a human thing, and we're all human. It doesn't much matter how smart or experienced you are -- you've done this. I might just be projecting, but I've seen too many examples to believe it to be less than universal. Please prove me wrong!

I'm willing to bet that you've done so this week. Let's both look out for these mistakes, because I'm betting that we could be more successful at many things if we took the time to understand them.

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