How to Motivate Your Development Team

Getting the most from your developers is a common management challenge.  Since executive management typically does not come from the development ranks, there is frequently a disconnect between what management thinks should motivate developers and what actually does.  In my experience, a very motivated developer is two to three times more productive than someone just going through the motions, so figuring this out is certainly worth the effort.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Nothing like Sales!! – If it is something you used to motivate your sales guys, don’t even think about trying it with developers!  If it involves clapping, ringing a gong, quotas, team building, or anything  above a 2 or 3 on the “cheese meter”, don’t do it!
  2. Involvement – developers are smart and they like people to tap into their smartness. Many companies use developers just as coders, however, not including them in the prerequisite processes of defining the target market and then figuring out the best product/features to address that market has a three-fold negative effect.  First, you are not leveraging some of the best brains in your organization to figure out what the market and product should be.  Secondly, you rob your developers of the opportunity to truly understand what they are to create and who it is to be created for.  And finally, you relegate your developers to just being coders which will make the great ones go look for a different job.
  3. Environment – development is just as much an art as it is a science.  And just as you can’t put an artist in a cube, in dress code, between the hours of 8 and 5 and tell them to create something brilliant, you can’t do that with developers.  Be flexible with schedule and dress code and get rid of the cubicles if you can.  If a developer works best at 1AM, go with that.  Keep in mind that interruptions significantly reduce productivity so keep non-development people away from them as much as possible and keep the meetings to a minimum.  One idea is to only allow meetings during specific “time windows” so there are large chunks of the day preserved for uninterrupted development.
  4. Contribution & Recognition – developers like to see the work they do make a difference and be recognized for it.  Just look at the open source movement – why would these developers spend so much time contributing to projects they will never make any money from?  Let them know how your product or service will change the world and then show them how what they did contributed to that.  Get quotes from a happy customer about how a new feature made their life easier and share that with the team.  Demo new product features in company meetings and recognize the developer(s) who did it – or better yet, let them demo it.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will give you some motivational insights that you didn’t have before.  The important thing to remember is that developers are motivated differently than anyone else in your company and that if you can do it well, the benefits are tremendous.