By the Book: Motivating Programmers

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams

January 28, 2013 —  (Page 1 of 10)
This is an excerpt from the book, "Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams." Learn more at

Being able to actually motivate programmers to accomplish great feats and deliver difficult projects is so important to managing effectively that this chapter is devoted to this single topic. You can be good at this and passable at most of the rest of the topics in this book and still be a great software manager. If, however, you are not good at motivating your staff, you will not likely succeed as a software manager.

Motivational Theories
Several motivational theories emerged during the twentieth century that have helped shape the thinking of businesses regarding motivation. Though a bit theoretical for this book, it is important to be aware of these theories since they periodically but inevitably come up during management discussions. Having a basic knowledge of these theories will help you speak more authoritatively regarding your motivational efforts and gain management support for them.

Though the literature is now rife with motivational theories, there are three primary ones we suggest you become familiar with:
• Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
• McGregor’s X-Y Theory
• Herzberg’s Motivation and Hygiene Factors

Of these three, we adapted Herz­berg’s Motivation and Hygiene Factors to be more directly applicable to programmers.  Here is a brief review of Herzberg’s work before discussing our adaptation of it.
Herzberg’s Motivation and Hygiene Factors
Frederick Herzberg, clinical psychologist and pioneer of “job enrichment,” is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. His book “The Motivation to Work,” written in 1959, first established his theories about motivation in the workplace. Herzberg expanded his motivation-hygiene theory in his subsequent books, and the absence of any serious challenge to Herzberg’s theory continues to effectively validate it.

Herzberg was the first to show that satisfaction and dissatisfaction at work nearly always arise from different factors and are not simply opposing reactions to the same factors, as had always previously been believed (and still is by the unenlightened). Figure 7.3 illustrates how Herzberg’s research showed that one set of factors truly motivate (“Motivators”), whereas it’s a different set (“Hygiene Factors”) that lead to dissatisfaction.

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