Task Complexity And Effectiveness Of Pair Programming: An Experimental Study




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Information Systems & Operations Management


Extreme Programming, which is recently gaining popularity as an alternate software development methodology, involves two programmers working collaboratively to develop software. This study examined the efficacy of pair programming by comparing the effectiveness of collaborating pairs with those of programmers working individually. Student subjects participated in a controlled laboratory experiment. Two factors were manipulated in the experiment: programming task complexity (high vs. low) and programmers working individually vs. in pairs. The performance of programmer pairs was compared with those of the best performer and the second best performer from among nominal pairs. An important finding of the study is that programmer pairs outperform second best programmers in nominal groups, but perform at comparable levels as the best programmers in nominal groups. The best programmers among collaborating pairs also develop significantly better understanding of the problem domain, reflected in their task mental model, compared to the second-best individuals working individually in nominal pairs. Their mental models were however comparable to that of the best programmers in the nominal groups. These two relationships were found to be consistent across different levels of task complexity. In terms of perceptual outcomes, the best programmers among the collaborating pairs have comparable levels of overall satisfaction as the best and second-best individuals in the nominal groups, while second-best programmers among collaborating pairs have higher satisfaction than the best and second-best individuals in the nominal pairs. An additional finding was that best programmers among the collaborating pairs have higher confidence in their solution than best programmers in nominal pair when task complexity is low, but not when it is high.