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Ben Rady and the Powers of Two

Ben Rady wrote a post pondering if there’s special inflection point when you have exactly two developers. I think there is. On the benefit side of the equation there’s a step function when your number of collaborators go from 0 to 1. While more people on a team brings the potential for more benefits there is certainly a diminishing return with each additional person. By contrast, on the cost side, communication paths grow exponentially with team size, and two people is before the exponential factor starts to bite. So far this is just the limit of “smaller teams are more efficient”, yet I think there’s a bit more.

Two developers means we can pair, and that pair is the entire team. Pairing on coding means the entire team has intimate knowledge of every change. Pairing on refactoring means the entire team feels the code is clear. Pairing on deployment and operations means the entire team has masterful knowledge end-to-end. Beyond just collaboration there’s a step change in ownership and alignment here. A two developer team that did not pair would not, in my model, reap the same benefits. And I think there’s more to Ben’s situation.

There is an additional gain when it is not just two developers but the entire team size is two. When your two developers are also doing your business analysis, your product management, they know not just how and what, they fully understand the why of the work. They have a direct connection to the users so they hear every request, every complaint, and every story. There’s something visceral about having intimate knowledge of every single detail and the reason for it. This lack of any filters is, for me, the final element to explain the power you can get from having just two.

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