Productivity and pairs; respecting the tomato

How can people be more productive while working on complex tasks?  One approach involves a driver, a navigator, and a pomodoro.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Jim Remsik describes a way that programmers at Hashrocket (a web development company) write software.  (Full article: For Writing Software, A Buddy System.)

Say, Sheila -- are we getting a little off course?The quick summary: two programmers sit side by side.  One (the driver) writes the code.  The other (the navigator) checks, critiques, and offers suggestions.

As the code’s being written.

Remsik says that when senior and junior programmers work together, the junion person might start as the driver, “which may encourage the senior person to become a better teacher.”

Hashmark finds that the driver/navigator system increases productivity.  The collaborators not only switch roles (you don’t drive all the time) but also partners.  The programmers refer to that as “promiscuous pairing.”

As Remsik says, “People have different talents, and this way the expertise is spread around.”

Gotta keep the juices flowing.Working like this can be exhausting, he says.  I think that’d be even more the case if you don’t get along that well with your partner, at least initially.  The fatigue factor is one reason that Hashmark uses the Pomodoro Technique.

Briefly, that involves breaking tasks into small chunks and working steadily for 25 minutes.  After that, you take a break–even if you’re ready to keep going.  At Hashmark, the phrase to encourage  driver and navigator to take that break is, “Respect the tomato.”

(Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato.  Here’s a one-page summary of the technique; you can find out more at Francesco Cirillo’s site, The Pomodoro Technique.)

I spend a lot of time working on my own, and sometimes wish I did have a close collaborator.  I benefit from having someone to consider possibilities with, although I’d hate to debate serial commas or how to phrase feedback, time after time.

The pomodoro notion intrigues me–instead of saying, “I’ve gotta spend a good three hours on this,” which can sound like a sentence, the approach sounds more like “Get Thing A done, take a breath, then move on to Thing B.”

CC-licensed images:
Motorcycle and sidecar by BotheredByBees / Peter Shanks.
Pomodoro juice by Tanzen 80 / Antonio Fucito.