Since the inception of Qumulo, we’ve understood teams are most innovative when they feel psychologically safe. Safe enough to take appropriate risks, to try new things, to learn from them quickly, and to produce a product that is both novel in approach and safe for all of our customers’ data.

Another effect of psychological safety is, frankly, it’s a much nicer and more enjoyable place to work.

When employees feel psychologically safe, they’re not afraid to offer up new ideas for fear of getting shot down. They’re not afraid of being the lone stand-out in the herd.

In fact, they come to see it as vital to have diverse thinking in the room. At Qumulo, it means our employees are just happier and bringing better things to our customers, as we ship our product every two weeks.

Agile Teams Rely on Psychological Safety

Agile teams require psychological safety in order to embody the traits that lead to excellence. The foundational Agile values of commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect are traits of high performing teams. At Qumulo, we strive to make it easy to embody these traits.

When a team is safe to take risks they can be courageous. They make commitments without fear of humiliation or mockery. They can focus on doing the best thing for our customers instead of worrying about blame or politics.

With openness, welcoming the proposal of new ideas and respect means all of these actions are welcomed by your team and supported by the entire organizational culture. At its root, it starts with psychological safety.

Pair Programming Helps Us Achieve Psychological Safety

There are many ways we achieve psychological safety, but one of the best is through pair programming. To put it simply, we have a buddy system. Pair programming is great for new college hires and junior engineers, of course, but it’s also effective for our experienced senior engineers at Qumulo.

If you’ve never paired before, your gut response might be, “Hey, that other dev is looking over my shoulder. Don’t you trust me?” But at Qumulo, our developers find pairing has a multitude of benefits, including: increased discipline; getting stuck less; moving into flow faster and staying in flow despite interruptions; fewer interruptions; better collective code ownership; mentoring; fast feedback on code (no waiting for code reviews) and team cohesion.

A Pair is Stronger and More Efficient, Together

With a driver, who is on the keyboard typing, and a navigator who observes and considers system wide ramifications of changes, a pair is stronger together. They think about code in a multifaceted way and are very efficient by doing so at exactly the same time instead with the lag that Code Reviewing often introduces.

Having a team of people you can pair with means no one is stuck for long and if you want to try something innovative, but potentially risky, your navigator can help you experiment in the safest way possible.

Developers new to pairing, even those in the industry for years, find they can progress more confidently with testing new ideas. When you pair, it’s more than two people sitting down at one computer. It’s a little planning, a little coding — two minds to consider both the local and systemic implications of the code, discussing and always keeping our customers’ needs front and center.

There’s less code to throw away if you start going in a wrong direction or wandering out of alignment with the rest of the project as your partner will bring you back into alignment.

Builds Skills Faster

Our new college hires stretch their skills faster and become strong developers sooner as they feel they have the support they need to not just practice their craft, but stretch their wings and try out new ideas every single day without risking our customer’s data.

Other Agile practices help too, but many report finding pairing to be one of the things that contributes the most to their fast development here. Their new ideas, being tested within a pair, often lead us to innovations and discoveries that they might have been too timid to venture without the support of pairing and a psychologically safe environment.

Michaela Hutfles is a sideways E-shaped person (rather than T) with three major depths: agile software development, earth-building and performing arts of all flavors. For almost a decade she’s coached agile thinking and self-management to software developers and keeps teams focused on continuous improvement, growth mindset, and general meta-cognition. She’s building a tiny house on the Olympic Peninsula using clay, straw, and sand.

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