The Soft Side of Peer Reviews
High-quality technical work requires that you get a little help from your friends through peer reviews, but they must be skillfully done.
Peer review is an activity in which people other than the author of a deliverable examine it for defects and improvement opportunities. Peer reviews are a powerful quality aid in any technical discipline, particularly software and hardware engineering. After experiencing the benefits of software peer reviews for decades, I would never work in a team that didn’t perform them.
Many organizations struggle to implement an effective peer review program. The barriers to successful reviews often are social and cultural in nature, not technical. My book Peer Reviews in Software: A Practical Guide describes the nuts and bolts of how to perform reviews. This article explores some of those soft-side aspects of having people look over each other’s work. These suggestions might help your peer review program succeed where others have failed.
Scratch Each Other’s Back
Asking your colleagues to point out errors in your work is a learned — not instinctive — behavior. We all take pride in the work we do and the products we create. We don’t like to admit that we make mistakes, we don’t realize how many we make, and we don’t like other people to find them. Holding successful peer reviews requires each of us to overcome this natural resistance to outside critique of the things we create.
Busy practitioners are sometimes reluctant to spend time examining a colleague’s work. They might be leery of a co-worker who asks for a review of his code. Questions arise: Does he lack confidence? Does he want you to do his thinking for him? “Anyone who needs their code reviewed shouldn’t be getting paid as a software developer,” a developer once told me. These resisters don’t appreciate the value that multiple pairs of eyes can add.
In a healthy software culture, team members engage their peers to improve the quality of their work and increase their productivity. They understand that time spent looking at a colleague’s deliverable isn’t time wasted, especially when other team members reciprocate. I’ve learned something from every review…