We’ve all heard much discussion and general chatter about the value of pair programming. Amongst other benefits, it focuses the mind, speeds knowledge transfer, and builds in code review.

What’s not talked about so often is the value of pairing on non-coding tasks. Does it add the same level of value? Many of us would naturally pair up on demanding tasks, when we are doing things that require the input of several people, or when we’re unsure about how to proceed. What happens if we make it an explicit part of our day to day work? What benefits would we see?

I’ve been trying where possible to pair explicitly on tasks at Eden in the last few weeks and to encourage others to do the same. We’ve found the following so far:

Pairing works on UX and Design. Spencer is currently teaching User Experience (UX) and Design skills to a number of people internally. Pairing on UX and design work really helps people to pick up skills in a particular tool such as Photoshop, but also drives discussion about design and flow which wouldn’t normally have arisen. We’ve found the result to be better output, and an increased confidence in the person who’s less experienced.

Pairing works on Sales and Business Development. Last week I paired up with Richard, one of the guys I’m mentoring at the moment, to send some sales emails to three or four potential clients. One of these was to a potential new customer who I knew was interested in speaking to us, but whom I’d not emailled before. In explaining my reasoning for the words I was writing, he was able to learn about how to structure emails such as this, and I got valuable insight into how I should approach the task from someone with a different point of view.

Pairing even works on VAT returns! When you’re doing necessary and repetitive tasks such as the preparing the quarterly VAT return, it really helps to have someone beside you spurring you on. Last month I had to prepare one of these returns, and half-jokingly asked whether anyone was interested in helping me out. Thankfully, Elliot stepped up to the challenge. He started learning which expenses fall into the four or five VAT categories that exist, and how to prepare and submit a return online. Just by explaining the vagaries of EU, exempt, zero-rated, and outside-scope expenses to someone else, the job went much quicker, all the figures were double-checked, and it was simply much more fun.

Clearly pairing isn’t going to work all the time. People often need space from others to think, to avoid distraction, and to recharge. Rather than being dogmatic, what I’m asking is this: at the moment non-pairing in our work is the default, and pairing is the exception. What if this was reversed? What difference would this make to our teams?

Next time you approach a non-coding task at work, perhaps have a think about whether a pair would be beneficial, or what someone might learn through working with you. I could well be wrong, but I’ve yet to find a task where pairing doesn’t add some benefit. Can anyone think of one?