Luke Melia

software dev

June 27, 2006

The Quiet Bullpen

Time Ottinger writes about The Quiet Bullpen:

There is something innately wrong when the room is quiet and everyone is engaged in solo work.

Software development should be like a jam session, where all the musicians are trying trading between leads and accompaniment and finding spaces to fill in and learning to join in the song without getting in its way.

This rings true for me. We’ve got a newly renovated “war room” (the phone extensions even show up within the company as “Developer War Room 1!”) and it’s easy to get a sense of the health of the current sprint by sitting in the room for an hour. The atmosphere and interactions speak loudly, and nothing speaks more loudly than silent developers looking at separate LCDs.

The more common scenarios, both healthy, are these:

1) Active intra-pair interaction within each pair, but with little inter-pair interaction.

This is indicative of a period in the sprint where the work is well-understood and the pairs are making solid progress on their stories.

2) Lots of inter-pair interaction with frequent interruptions, discussions across the table and sometimes some whiteboarding.

This is indicative of a period of unclear acceptance criteria, a technology learning curve, and/or stories that overlap more than is ideal. You can usually tell which by listening — the latter is the only one to watch out for. As our team grows, one of the challenges is how to carve parallel paths through the project work so that the pairs don’t step all over each other, but still maintain a cohesive goal for the sprint. The parallel paths can be surprisingly close to each other. I’ve been impressed by the effectiveness of frequent checkins, continuous integration and a source control with decent merging and conflict resolution tools.

Anyway, I like Tim’s article. “The Quiet Bullpen” is definitely a “smell” to watch out for!

One Response to “The Quiet Bullpen”

  1. Tim chimed in:


    I also am a big believer in the “boost”. While a pair is a pair and not a quadruple, sometimes the pair needs information from another expert. That expert may be pairing elsewhere or may be “phasing out” or may be under too much demand from various pairs. In a recent project, my colleagues and I decided that we’d call for a “boost”.

    In a boost, an expert comes and advises the pair and may show an example (code, paper, whiteboard) for them to work from. After 5-10 minutes, the boost is over and the pair should be able to work on their own. I find that this works for small stovepipes of expertise and does not prevent the expert from doing other work.


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