18 Tips for Motivating Software Developers to High Performance

by | Leaders Lunch, Software Development

On October 3, 2018, ProFocus invited Portland-based software development managers to join us for the latest in our Leaders Lunch series. These roundtable discussions are a great opportunity for software development and engineering leaders to share best practices and resources on a variety of topics (see takeaways from past discussions here and here).

Moderated by John Boone, President of ProFocus Technology, the one-hour discussion was packed with great insights on how to best motivate software developers to high performance.

Here are some of the key ideas, best practices, and resources discussed: 

Best Practices for Motivating Software Developers

If you want a high-performance team, keeping your software developers motivated, engaged and productive is essential. These are the best practices shared by the software development leaders at the Leaders Lunch.

1. Ensure employees are always heard.

Religiously hold your one on ones with no time limit. Make sure issues bugging your team get addressed, and problems get solved. Listen well in these meetings and take down actionable items — then follow up to make sure those items are resolved.

2. Establish clear delegation.

For example, make sure that the architect is in charge and has a sense of ownership. Don’t allow developers to end run to higher levels of management.

3. Share the big picture.

Make sure developers understand how the software they’re creating is used by customers. Share the user stories and the finished product with them. Knowing the bigger picture will help keep them motivated. 

4. Encourage leadership.

Assure developers that anybody can lead. Create a culture where people feel comfortable speaking up when they have a good idea, and that those who share ideas don’t get knocked down by others.

5. Trust but verify.

You should have a team that you can trust, but as the proverb says, you should also verify that your team has what they need to get the job done. Verify that the person is OK, that they have the right direction, and that they are not stuck.

6. Find the roadblocks.

When you find that someone is stuck, find their roadblocks and help them get over them. Remember that you may have to dig deep to find the roadblocks, as employees may want to hide them.

7. Plan Demo Days.

Invite your developers to share demos of their ideas with the team. It’s motivating for the entire team to see cool demos, and share their own.

8. Offer choices.

If there is flexibility in the release schedule, allow developers to choose the project they are working on.  Knowing they have some choice (at least some of the time) is always appreciated!

9. Democratize project management. 

While delegation is important, everyone should be able to access and contribute to Jira (or your preferred issue tracking and project management platform). Encourage collaboration by allowing developers to add suggested features directly to your Jira system.

10. Learn and innovate.

Just like Google’s famous “innovation day,” your team too should make time to innovate. Consider dedicating the last day of a two week sprint to innovation. You can also set aside back to back Learning Days and Innovation Days.  Have a day of learning, then a day of innovation. Present the best ideas that come from the Innovation Day to executive management.

11. Offer mentorship opportunities.

Give developers opportunities to mentor other people outside of the development team. For example, connect a developer with someone on the support team — both employees will benefit and gain insight into other teams.

12. Send developers to conferences.

They will bring energy back. Check out this list of the best tech conferences in 2018-2019.

13. Gamify your scrum.

Find ways to make your scrum more fun, such as by making a game out of your sprints. One example shared by our experts was making your scrum a bracket-style contest. 

14. Make leads feel like leads.

Give your leads the autonomy, trust, and authority. Don’t let people bypass the lead.

15. Autonomy, Mastery, Sense of Purpose.

Developers need autonomy and a sense of purpose to do their best work, as well as mastery of the skills required to get it done. If a developer is unhappy, you can probably find the underlying cause in one of these factors.

16. Keep a management issues backlog.

Keep a management issues backlog and manage it with Kanban and Scrum. The entire team can get involved in the role of product owner of the backlog. If some of the backlog items are not being worked on, it’s helpful to tell your team. People appreciate knowing what the priorities are.

17. Be cautious with big changes.

One example of a change our experts discussed was that of remodeling the office. The consensus was that this can be a big danger for motivation, especially if people liked the old configuration. Uprooting and moving can be difficult, and can even lead people to feel that management is out to get them.

One way to mitigate the problem is by giving them some choice, for example, letting them choose their desks, etc. However, be very careful about taking their input about the move and not acting on it as this can also cause resentment.

18. Ease inconveniences if possible.

Our experts shared that inconveniences at work can sap motivation. For example, when developers are paying for their own parking or cannot find the parking they need, it can bother them quite a bit.

For example, offering Commuter Benefits, or factoring parking in when searching for a new office space might just make a big difference in your team’s happiness and motivation. (Parking is, of course, just one example. Your team might have a different issue you should look to mitigate.)

Recommended Resources

Ready to learn more? Here are some of the resources our attendees recommended for further reading:

  • Re:work — Google research on motivation in the workplace.
  • First Break All the Rules — A must read on how to manage people the way they should be managed. This book details the findings of a Gallup study on 80,000 leaders and managers.
  • Multipliers — Bestselling book on how the best leaders amplify their teams’ capability and intelligence to produce better results.

Further Reading

While these resources were not discussed in our meeting, they are also relevant to the discussion:

If you are a leader in Software Development and Engineering, and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to [email protected] with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches. 

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