Productivity through Motivation on a Software Project

Productivity through Motivation

One of the greatest gains you can make on a software project is better productivity through motivation.

The great American Football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said that there are a lot of coaches who can improve the team tactically but that the really successful ones are those that can get “inside those guys’ heads and bring the best out of them”.

I have asked many people who work as developers in the industry how much more productive they could be if they were really motivated. Most of these have many years of experience. The answers they give me are usually in the range of being 50% to 200% more productive. I won’t name them here. When asked what would motivate them to achieve these greater rates of productivity they usually answer that if they were working for themselves they could achieve those levels.

Doubly Productive

It is very interesting to note that your project members could be, on average, doubly productive if truly motivated. Maybe they will never give you the same productivity that they would give themselves. You should be able to unlock some of these productivity gains if you simulate, as far as possible, working for themselves.

Conditions in which they profit (and profit well) from their productivity gains should be created. The model of the City of London traders should be used. They are trained well, given a base salary, motivated by a sharing of rewards, and set free to make money for their companies and for themselves.

Best Developers

By doing something similar, it would be easier to keep your best developers and to stop them going freelance. By giving them a base salary and a pension you give them security. By giving them a chance to earn large bonuses by bringing in projects, and their parts of the project, ahead of budget and schedule, you give them the chance to make money.

With this mixture of security and earning potential, and possibly career progression as well, why would anyone want to leave to become freelance? Why, indeed, would they want take another permanent job with another company which has backward practices, low rewards, and fewer opportunities to achieve and be recognised.

Imagine All Your People

Imagine a company where the people are highly motivated, have security, are well rewarded, and have high self esteem through high (and constantly improving) productivity. This company will retain its best people and their business knowledge. It will produce software of better quality and with better time-to-market than its competitors.

People’s morale will be high. Customers will be highly satisfied. They will gain market share and have high margins. The Finance Director will smile. The shareholders will be rich. They will reward their senior management. This company will be a worldbeater. There’s absolutely no reason why this company could not be yours.

It is not easy. Any change is resisted. To be forewarned, however, is to be forearmed

Keeping Your Best People – The Winter Holocaust

Keeping Your Best People – The Winter Holocaust

Keeping your best people is one of the major factors to success.

At a company where I was Chief Information Officer we used to hold People Satisfaction Surveys based on categories like career prospects, remuneration, management, the working environment etc. We held these every three months, in January, April, July, and October. One thing that we found was that morale was seasonally affected.

Morale was highest in October, dipping in January, hitting its bottom in April after a long hard winter and picking up again in July. We also found that the People Satisfaction Survey was a good leading indicator (by about 2-3 months) for staff attrition. When people are feeling at their lowest, they send out their CVs.

Lower Morale

During the winter people come to work in the dark and leave in the dark. It is not just this factor, though, that causes lower people morale. More projects are implemented in the winter (January 1st being a favourite implementation date). Because of staff holidays fewer projects are implemented in summer.

Therefore, people are working longer and harder in the winter on projects which are probably failing without much thanks or encouragement from management. While people are working, vis inertia kicks in and they don’t find time to compile their CVs. It’s only when they have a few days away like at Christmas, Easter or one of the spring bank holidays that they start to assess whether it is worth it. Many decide it isn’t.

Social Activities

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The dark days of January, February and March are the time when social activities should be organised. At this company, we used to always hold the Software Academy Awards in February. There were various awards like best manager, best developer, best business analyst etc.

Everyone in the IT department voted for these categories. An awards evening was organised, with most of the expense being met by the sports and social club. Senior management were invited. Presentations, in reverse order, were made to the top three in each category. Each of the first three received a certificate.

Winners

The winners received fifty pounds in the serious categories and a bottle of champagne in the joke categories. It was organised by the people for the people. It engendered much interest in the two weeks before and for a few days afterwards The fact that the award was given by their peers, and that the handing over of the award was witnessed by senior management, was important.

This one event won’t sustain morale throughout the whole winter but it will contribute to it. I’ve often thought of having another awards night with the awards being decided by management. This, however, is fraught with danger. As it is outside work hours, will people turn up to see what may be perceived as ‘management lackeys’ receive their awards?

Pay Rises

This time of the year is probably a good time of the year to give out pay rises and promotions. At the very least it will narrow the differential between what you are paying and what they could receive in the marketplace. Once the CVs are sent out you are probably too late. When the staff agencies are sweet talking your people, and other companies are keen to have them, the grass seems an awful lot greener on the other side.

It’s counterproductive to try to keep them once they’ve resigned. They usually refuse but tell the rest of your people that you’ve made the offer. It becomes the perceived wisdom among the remaining people that the only way to get ahead in the company is to resign. This is not good for morale.

When people do resign, companies usually either try to make them work their full notice period (being crucial to the project) or they have them out the door that day (sometimes supervised by the security guard and marched out the door). The first is not clever. People who are going are not motivated to work. They usually spend the time de-motivating other people. It is usually people who are close to them who are next to leave the company.

Too Harsh

The second way is too harsh. They have friends and colleagues who remain at the company. People will not appreciate one of their members who have given good service to the company being ceremoniously or unceremoniously ejected. They will feel that the company does not appreciate good service.

It is better, and gentler, to give them a couple of days to pass their work over to someone else. You are going to lose them anyway. You might as well get used to it. A couple of days is also not enough for them to seriously disaffect the other members of staff. They are usually in the first flush after their resignation and feeling kindly towards their old company. Thank them, at their leaving speech, for all the good work they’ve done for the company and wish them well in their new job. This is relatively painless and everyone is reasonably happy.

Learning from Mistakes

Learning from Mistakes

One of the axe-sharpening activities for which there is seldom time is the activity concerned with understanding why mistakes were made and crushing them out of the process so that they do not occur again. One of the reasons why these activities are not usually allowed is that the time they take is not usually in the schedule and because many of the benefits are for future projects.

This can be cured in several ways. In the beginning do not attempt too much. Preventing defects, like politics is the art of the possible. Prevention of Defect meetings should happen, during projects, only when sub-systems are delivered into test, not when individual programmes are delivered. They should only analyse higher category defects. At one organisation, they had nine categories of defects of which they analysed only the top five categories.

The Lesson Learning meetings should last only an hour. There are two purposes for the meetings. The first is to ensure that the person who created the defects understands why they happened. If they take time out to understand why they created the defects they are less likely to create them again. This activity happens in other professions.

Football Clubs

At football clubs they use video evidence on a Monday morning to analyse the problems that occurred in the match at the weekend. The players are then able to analyse and visualise what they should have done. It breeds good habits. When Liverpool were the top team in the country, whenever a player was transferred from them to another club, the manager of the new club would always try to find out from the player what the Liverpool secret was.

But there was no secret. As Bill Shankly said, they hired the best people and did the simple things. They didn’t do things like pass the ball across their own area. They had cut out all the mistakes which had caused them problems in the past. This was good people with good processes.

Mistake Analysis

The second purpose is to allow the analysis of these mistakes so that the process can be changed to prevent the mistakes happening again. In the past I have found that many of these problems occur because of misunderstandings at various stages. Very often this analysis leads to elements of Rapid Application Development (RAD), especially Joint Application Development (JAD) being taken into the process and the use of developers rather than analysts, designers and programmers. The fewer handovers, the fewer misunderstandings there are.

Standard Practice

Fortune magazine once analysed the software practices of the top 500 companies in the USA. They found that there were four main practices which separated the best performing software departments from the worst. These were:-

o             Standardisation – of platforms, methods, models etc.

o             Joint Application Development (JAD)

o             Timeboxing

o             Prototyping

You may short circuit many of your defects by implementing these best practices.

You should analyse your mistakes so that you are constantly learning from this mistakes and getting better and more productive as an organisation.