Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to discourage a developer from working overtime

[This was originally posted at]

A while back I pondered what it would take to motivate a developer to work overtime. I was thinking about the flipside of that - what would discourage a developer from working overtime?

  • Constantly change the feature on them - This can be like pulling the rug out from under their feet. I saw this all the time in consulting - for some projects, everything was "of absolute importance". People get burnt out and stop being motivated. After all, why waste my evening plowing on a feature, if the whole thing is just going to be scrapped tomorrow at some executive's whim?
  • Assign boring tasks - This speaks for itself.
  • Provide slow hardware - Not having the proper tools to do your job is just demoralizing. Imagine your manager with a slow laptop - would they wait 60 seconds while their machine freezes when they try to send a single email, or wait 10 seconds every time they clicked a new cell in Excel? Of course not, they'd get furious about how such a slow machine prevents them from effectively doing their work. Same thing for developers - every time a laptop freezes when you try compiling, getting source code, or running tests, it just demoralizes and frustrates the developer. Yes, savvy developers can optimize their machine, but at the end of the day, the .Net development environment has certain hardware needs. For example, it's just wasting their time asking a developer to work on a machine with only 1 GB ram, or 5400 rpm hard drive, or a 1 GHz processor. They'll spend idle time throughout the day - constantly losing their rhythm. The manager saves a few hundred bucks, but both demoralizes their developer and diminishes the return of a $100,000 resource (total cost of the developer = salary + benefits + other stuff HR could tell you about). It's an absolutely clueless business model.
  • Never reward positive accomplishments - Management can offer "non-monetary" rewards like verbal affirmation, or allotting schedule time to pursue a promising research project.
  • Waste their time during the normal work day  - If a developer already "wastes" time due to excess meetings, pointless issues, rework from original bad design, or waiting on a slow machine, why would they spend their own evening to "make that time up"  - time that should never have been taken from them in the first place.
  • Assign them to a "sinking ship" project - Some projects are fundamentally screwed - the core architecture is hopelessly lost, or there's already a run-away bug list, or the spec is unstable (or even contradictory). There's little motivation to work on this kind of suicide project.
  • Have them do a task the hard way because the manager won't pay for the proper tools. For example, have a developer spend 100 hours writing an ajax datagrid, when you could just buy third-party controls for much cheaper. Or, have a developer scour through thousands of lines of database plumbing instead of using a code generator or ORM.

The irony of it all is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer - i.e. A good environment will motivate the developers to work overtime (or at least be more productive during the day), hence getting farther ahead. Whereas a bad environment will constantly demoralize, frustrate, and slow down its developers, thus getting farther behind.

This is just a partial list - anything to add? What sort of things discourage you from working overtime?

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