Novices have a hard time developing good habits on their own, so... Keep an expert within their hearing distance.
- Novices are not learning good techniques and habits very well.
- Working on the same project, your experts have private offices and your novices use a shared workspace.
- Regulations prevent putting expert and novices in a shared workspace.
- The expert has poor communication skills or work habits you don't want replicated!
- The expert spends most of her or his time in activities that would disturb the work of any novices within earshot, such as talking on the phone about other matters.
- You need everyone to get work done, both expert and novices.
- You want the novices to learn, and the expert has good habits worth learning.
- You can afford for the expert to be disturbed a bit more if it means the novices will learn some good habits.
- You don't want to turn the expert into a full-time teacher.
- People hesitate to disturb the boss or expert with a phone call or knock on the door,
- Put the expert or leader in the same workspace as the more novice workers, so that the novices can learn by watching and listening, while the expert does his or her usual work.
- Novices will pick up expertise and (hopefully good) habits from the expert.
- Your expert will be disturbed more often, so you or he or she will have to set up ways or conventions to create personal quiet time. You and the expert will have to watch that the novices do not simply delegate their problems to the expert. You will have more people in the room.
- Too many questions will lower the expert's productivity too much. Too many people in the same room will create too many conversations, making it hard to concentrate.
- "Training: Day-Care"  talks about the dangers of having the expert try to teach while designing. In Expert In Earshot, the expert is not responsible for teaching the novices. The situation is only set up so that the novices can see and hear how the expert works, in accordance with the principles.
- "Pair Programming"  is a non-conflicting possible partner pattern. It can be used to bring an expert within earshot of one person (the other person in the pair), or of many people - all the rest of the people in the workspace.
- Lave and Wenger (see reading) investigated several apprenticeship-based professions, and found that critical for the transfer of learning from master to junior was that the Novices have eye- and ear-exposure to the work of the more advanced people. This finding matches anecdotal evidence related to basic cognitive and learning mechanisms, that we constantly pick up both good and bad habits from the people around us (hence, be careful if the expert has habits you do not want copied!).
- When Thomas J. Watson, Jr., ex-CEO of IBM, went from being an aviator and playboy to a serious businessman, his father, then CEO of IBM, assigned him to sit at the corner of the senior-VP's desk for six months. For those six months, he was to do nothing but watch and listen to how this successful executive ordered his days and handled people. This is an unusual but very clear example of Expert in Earshot.
- A team leader given four junior designers to design a graphics workstation, was also given a private office. After a few weeks, he felt uncomfortable with the communication distance to his team, and moved his desk out to the floor with all the other designers. Although the distractions were great and his main focus was not teaching the other designers, he was able to discuss with them on a minute-by-minute and casual basis. They became more capable, eventually reducing the time he had to spend with them and giving them skills for their next project.
- On another project, the lead programmer worked in a room with six novice programmers. He had two bad habits: he scoffed at the idea of doing design in an orderly way, and then instead of talking to the other programmers about how to make a good design or program, he would change their code in the middle of the night. They never knew in the morning if their program was the same as when they left it. After several months, the novices both produced bad designs and refused to design carefully. His heroic attitude had become their ideal. ... When he left the project, another consultant took his place, also sharing the room. He deliberately discussed designs from his desk, so the others could overhear. After a few months, three of the novices started talking and drawing designs, and soon became skilled in designing as well as programming.
- Lave, Wenger, "Situated Learning: LegitimatePeripheralParticipation", Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1991. This book talks about apprenticeships in several industries, such as tailoring, signaling, and butchery. It highlights the need for apprenticeships to have line-of-sight or line-of-ear access to experts, illustrating what happens when that is missing.
 Training: Day Care. "Your experts are spending all their time mentoring novices, so ... Put one expert in charge of all the novices; let the others develop the system." Cockburn, A., Surviving OO Projects, Addison-Wesley, 1997, pp.232-235.
 Pair Programming. "Have two programmers work together at the same workstation, so all product lines of code are seen by two sets of eyes right from the beginning."
I experienced the third example / anti-pattern from beneath. At the end of the project, the heroic attitude was still not my ideal, but the situation meant that there was little point in looking ahead as the ground was always changing mysteriously beneath one. When we got a new project lead who could be bothered to plan, things improved greatly -- after a certain amount of readjustment.
I also used to be a musician, and my playing improved greatly when I changed to a teacher who used to begin every lesson with a few simple duets. Just trying to blend with that sound once a week did wonders for me.
This may be an instance of a higher-level FocusYourEffort?
pattern, a la PeterDrucker
. Another example of this higher-level pattern would be regular progress meetings (especially with scheduling reuse), where the expert would essentially show people how to solve problems in real-time. I think that this higher-level pattern may be a way to unify ExpertInEarshot
with the "Training: Day Care"  and "Pair Programming"  patterns. -- David Seibert, email@example.com
I think that study groups employ ExpertInEarshot
, though the focus is different. Less experienced people in a study group often learn quite a bit from simply listening to the more experienced people in a dialogue. This kind of learning can be very effective and just doesn't happen in a classroom or by oneself. --JoshuaKerievsky
The pattern is written from the standpoint of team organization, but can also be used by a novice who wants to gain expertise. If you want to improve your skills and knowledge, find the experts and try to work with them and hang out with them as much as possible. Don't be shy--most experts like to have admirers--but try not to interrupt their work or annoy them unless it is clear that they have accepted you as a peer.
When the expert is reluctant to teach, because he may be replaced by the rookies, remind him that he can take care of more interesting things because the rookies are taking care of the less interesting things.