Extreme Programming: Collective Ownership

Team

As professional developers it is likely we have to work in a team with other developers. Even if it might happen that each team member has its speciality, it is important to share the knowledge using collective ownership.

Using this practice, every member of the team is encouraged to contribute to all parts of the project, each developer is responsible for the entire product and not only a part of it.

Collective code ownership

Each programmer can modify every line of the code base in order to fix a bug or to refactor in order to make the code cleaner.

Changes do not have to be done by a senior developer, a team leader or an architect, there is no bottleneck when an update is needed. Yet, this not mean that the younger developers should not ask for advises before making the change.

If everybody can change the code, how to prevent introduction of new bugs or regression? This is a commendable concern and it should concern you, short answer: tests!

Extreme Programming (XP) promotes the creation of acceptance tests, and also Test Driven Development (TDD), then it is likely that you have an entire test suit to help you avoiding mistake when changing code.

Pair programming sessions are also very helpful to discover how the system behave in its different modules, the knowledge of the application code base is shared.

Toward a self-organized team

When the code base is shared so is the responsibility for the well-being of the project. Every developer has the ability to improve the modules composing the application, to fix the bugs, to improve the overall quality of the project. The whole team is responsible for the success of the project.

In a team with only specialists, developers only responsible for their scope, you might have an organization like the one below.

hierarchy

Each team member has its speciality and keep it for himself and does not interfere in the speciality of his teammates, only the lead developer might have a vision of every aspect of the projet.

Now imagine that one of the specialist leaves. Do you ask the lead to take his place since he is the only one who know what this member was working on? You can hire a new specialist to take his place but this person will to be ready for the job right away.

By practicing collective ownership, you can end up with an organization like the following.

share-knowledge

The knowledge is shared among all team members and everyone is able to work on each speciality. If one of the developer leaves the project, the rest of the team is able to take care of its work while training the newcomer.

“But as a specialist, I am essential to the team and I will not be fired. In a collective ownership team I am expendable”. Well if you live in the fear of being fired and then you try to protect your scope as much as possible, you might ending up protecting you too much and falling into a blame culture environment. And I think that nobody is irreplaceable, sure your team will struggle to replace your skills but they will with time.

On the other hand, in a team where knowledge is shared, the developers works closely to each other and they build trust. In my opinion it is more likely that this team will become more and more efficient over time. And it will be silly to break this harmony by firing someone.

These two team organizations remember me of the “Notes to a software team leader” book. One looks more of a command & control type of environment and the other one more of a self-organized team environment.

Collective ownership helps a team to share knowledge, both technical and functional, between the developers. Every member is able to impact each module of the project for bug fixing, refactoring and improving the product. The team becomes a whole and is no longer a collection of individuals.

In order to practice collective code ownership it is important to also share other practices such as TDD, acceptance testing and especially pair-programming.

See you next time!

One thought on “Extreme Programming: Collective Ownership

  1. It is often said that in order to achieve higher earnings in your career you need to specialise. I don’t disagree that specialists tend to earn higher salaries, I have always resisted becoming very specialised. This because of the points you make in this article: companies that are full of specialists tend to have much more frequent communication problems than companies that believe in collective ownership.

    In fact I would go as far as to say that companies who are heavily dependent on specialists resemble a house of cards. Whenever one specialist is off sick, the rest of the team does not no what to do!

    I wonder if there have been any serious scientific studies into whether collective ownership results in better productivity?

    Liked by 1 person

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