5 tips for motivating developers
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Completing a software project successfully can be very tough. It depends on many different factors, but one thing that project managers frequently overlook, at their peril, is developer motivation. If morale takes a nose dive, the project often does, too. Properly motivated, developers will go that extra mile to ensure the software they’re working on surpasses expectations. How do you keep energy levels up and get the best from your team? Here are five broad tips to keep in mind.
A realistic challenge
The majority of software projects fail. It’s surprisingly rare for a software project to come in on time and on budget. That’s largely because of poor planning and business pressures, but regardless of the cause, it can have a seriously negative influence on developer motivation. When you ask developers to complete a task in an unrealistic timeframe, or push them to cut corners, they get frustrated. It can become impossible for them to do a good job when they lack the necessary time and budget.
It’s also important not to go too far the other way. People need to feel challenged to be motivated. The trick is finding a balance where the task may be a big ask, but it is still achievable with the right effort. If you go too far, and repeatedly demand the impossible, it can have a devastating impact on morale that is tough to reverse.
The right tools for the job
You don’t want to spend too much time and money updating your software and hardware, but understand that out-of-date or underpowered tools are going to slow your developers down. There’s a trade-off to calculate here. If you upgrade a machine or get a new software tool in, it may significantly speed up your developers, or reduce the scope of a major task. Offset the time you free up, and the motivation boost, against the expense, before you decide there’s no budget for it.
Developers are generally excited by new tech, and so licensing a new package they want or upgrading that PC can prove to be a big motivating factor. Conversely, it’s horribly frustrating to work with tools that are not really fit for purpose.
Room for growth
No one wants to feel that they’re heading for a dead end. For developers to be truly motivated to improve themselves and work hard, they have to feel that there’s scope for them to learn new skills and potentially move up the ladder. It can be a good idea to devote some resources to training and support developers in improving their skillsets. It’s also important to consider internal candidates for any role that comes up and, at least sometimes, to promote from within.
Listen to feedback
Nothing will turn your developers off faster than feeling ignored. You don’t always have to act on what your developers are telling you, but you should make sure they feel heard. If you have an open policy for feedback, then there’s a better chance you’ll hear grievances and have a chance to act on them. Ignoring complaints and ideas can lead to dissent and even mutiny, but acting on the right things can improve efficiency and boost morale. If people offer feedback and you never act on it, they’ll eventually stop offering it at all and you could be missing out on some great ideas.
Keep the balance
The typical reaction to time and resource constraints is to crack the whip and ask your developers to work harder. Crunch periods are considered a standard part of the software development industry, but you have to be careful about keeping a balance between work and life. When developers work too hard they can get burned out and there’s a point at which the extra mistakes being made outweigh the benefit of overtime.
Sometimes it’s better to send them home, let them get a rest and come back refreshed. Sometimes you have to enforce vacations and take the pressure off. People do their best work when they have the energy and motivation to do a good job.