The Role of Productivity and Motivation in Software Development

Amanda Moriuchi
August 18, 2023
team working on software project with stylistic elements

Introduction

When I first started AppIt, I knew I wanted to do two things. The first was to build an amazing technology company with the power to enhance client impact and improve people’s lives. The second was to develop the kind of leadership team I wish I had had when I was starting my own career. As the founder and CEO, I also knew I had not only the opportunity to achieve both, but also the responsibility to our employees to succeed.

Much of my leadership style is around respecting the differences in each of us—how we think, how we solve problems, and how we use creativity and empathy when creating something new. Most of us have heard of The Golden Rule, which advocates for treating others as you would like to be treated. At AppIt, we’ve raised the bar by practicing The Platinum Rule, which calls us to treat others the way they want to be treated. It shifts our natural tendency to project our own thoughts, values, and perspectives onto others, seeking instead to understand how individuals experience the world through their own lenses.

Motivation: More of a Guideline than a Rule

The Golden Rule is pretty direct in its universal implication, a kind of “one size fits all” edict. The Platinum Rule flips this concept on its head, elevating individuals and their needs over our own singular world view. The key word here is “individuals,” and the critical nuance is that different people tend to respond to different things. From the beginning, I have always held the belief that if you hire good people and give them what they need, they will naturally do their best work. And what they need isn’t always money. In fact, a quick search of the Internet on the subject of employee satisfaction will reveal many studies which conclude that money alone is rarely the primary motivator. Respect, recognition, esteem, a sense of belonging, flexibility, meaningful work, safety, and quality relationships show up in this kind of research with great regularity. This is precisely why we have invested in DISC assessments and training, and why we are intentional about getting to know each other as individuals on the team.

Productivity: Making the Most of Our Work

A great deal has been written about the concept of productivity as it relates to business. But it’s important to understand that productivity in itself is not success—it’s a byproduct of success. Busy and productive are two very different things. One can be exceedingly busy doing just about anything, including generating amazing solutions for the wrong problem when the goal isn’t fully understood or the strategy is off target. But when we are successful in achieving our clients’ goals, solving their business problems, and positively impacting people’s lives with precision and efficiency, we can’t help but be productive. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t actively managing for results.

Culturally, we have identified 25 behaviors that we know support productivity and result in success—for individuals, the AppIt team as a whole, and our clients—and we continually monitor and measure against those items. Another way we protect productivity is by standardizing our pay scale to minimize stress around fair pay.

We also take great care to have agendas for every meeting so each attendee knows the purpose, the goal, and the topics ahead of time so they can adequately prepare. And perhaps most importantly, we encourage every team member to know not just what they are doing, but why they are doing it.

Challenges are an inherent part of custom software development, and these processes and positive feedback loops help me keep the team motivated and productive as we collectively navigate these obstacles day in and day out.

Challenges of Maintaining Highly-Productive Teams

As I mentioned before, daily challenges come with the territory. Here are several recurring issues that we work hard to address in the course of doing what we do:

Conflicting Priorities – Conflicts can arise from leadership, teammates, clients, and even ourselves.

A Remote-First Mindset – Decentralized teams demand effective communication to properly solve problems.

Continual Learning – Doing something for the first time on a every project is exciting, but also exhausting.

Staying Fresh – To stay sharp and reduce fatigue, teams need new projects and projects need new teams.

Personal/Professional Equilibrium – Managing the tension between these two aspects is not always easy.

Every business has its version of this list—a list that never gets checked off, by the way. It’s there for us every day to remind us of the things that can threaten our motivation and our productivity. But it’s important, because improving these aspects of our company leads to higher quality outputs for clients and greater job satisfaction and fulfillment for our team. And for us, that’s the real measure of success.

Managing Workloads and Priorities

In our industry, the ability to manage workloads and priorities is essential. Ironically, it is the dynamic, constantly

evolving nature of that work that makes their management uniquely challenging. At AppIt, we’ve developed several strategies and processes to help tame these two custom software tigers.

Effective Workload Distribution and Task Delegation

As part of project requirements, we assign hours based on estimates we receive from developers and have daily

standups to ensure we remain on track. Our team culture is one of total support and interdependence, so if someone falls behind, we are all happy to jump in and help. A mantra I routinely share with my team is, “If you can’t get your job done in 40 hours a week, something is wrong and I want to know about it so I can help.”

By creating a culture of candid feedback, I’m able to uncover issues I might otherwise have been unaware. I once

had a project manager raise a red flag that was overwhelmed and running on empty, but on the surface we couldn’t figure out why. We sat down and made a list of all of his tasks and responsibilities. We then listed the average daily number of hours required for each task, flagged if it was client-facing or not, then ranked those responsibilities in order of importance. When we totaled the time each task took, we realized this person needed at least 60 hours per week to accomplish everything. A survey of other similar roles in the company revealed too much work had been written into that role. This data allowed us to adjust the scope of that position and build out the job description for the supporting role.

Strategies for Setting Realistic Project Deadlines

In the selling stage, we follow a detailed quoting process for each of our projects. This helps our clients get a good sense of the total level of effort, which in turn helps set initial project timelines and budgets. After requirements are completed and the project is underway, we work closely with our development team to map out the most efficient order in which to develop the features, breaking them into sprints. We set the project schedule based on the hours estimate for each user story (which is why a solid requirements phase is critical to the success of any project). We also include a timeline buffer to allow for scope changes or unforeseen development blockers. Including contingency time ensures our developers’ stress levels remain low and their creativity and productivity stay high.

The Importance of Work-Life Balance for Sustained Productivity

At AppIt, we understand that no matter how hard you might try to maintain separation, your work affects your

personal life and your personal life affects your work. The first step to finding harmony between the two is to

recognize that who you are at home and who you are at work are fluid. Taking time to “sharpen the saw” away from work is critical, which is why we stress how important it is to complete assignments in a reasonable amount of time. Furthermore, we believe setting boundaries between work time and home time and honoring those agreements is essential maintaining productivity and long-term job satisfaction.

Fostering a Positive Work Culture

Again, much has been written about the topic of culture in the workplace as a competitive advantage...and with good reason. While it can sometimes be hard to measure (kind of like quality—you know it when you see it) the impact of a healthy, thriving culture on a company’s success is invaluable.

Creating a Supportive and Inclusive Work Environment

At AppIt, we first start with the belief that diverse teams yield the best products. Everything we do as leaders stems from that core belief. From there, we make a commitment to learn some important facts about every teammate—from how they like to communicate and the way they make decisions to what things make them feel rewarded and supported. After that, we set clear expectations for what each individual needs and what success looks like.

Next, we give all of our team mates a DISC assessment and then train all new team members to understand not only their profile, but those of their coworkers. This helps our entire team to communicate with one another in an efficient, effective, and respectful manner. As a team, we have a core belief that the Platinum Rule—treating others the way they want to be treated—is the best way to accomplish the best outcomes.

Recognizing and Rewarding Team Achievements

Not everyone wants to be recognized the same way. One person may want to receive an award on stage in front of hundreds of people, while that same experience might literally be another person’s worst nightmare. We recognize and reward team achievements based on the very personalized, individual way someone feels most appreciated.

Encouraging Continuous Learning and Professional Growth

Each member of our executive team has regular one-on-one meetings with our development team members. In

those meetings, we ask each person what they are excited about from a tech perspective and what they are

interested in learning next. We routinely ask about career goals, and we often talk about “finding bullets”

(opportunities and accomplishments) to add to their resume. Much of this stems from recognizing that top talent demands career progression and learning, and it is our duty as leaders to create an environment that encourages both. Our leadership team has a mindset of abundance, believing that top talent is easy to retain so long as you hire good people, treat them professionally with respect, and help them grow in their career. Even when individuals choose to move on to a new project or a new job, our team and our company continue to grow based on our reputation, positive referrals, and word of mouth.

Providing Opportunities for Skills Development

As I mentioned before, money is important...but not always MOST important when it comes to job satisfaction. Opportunities to hone one’s skills and learn new things are powerful motivators.

Identifying Individual Strengths and Interests

By combining insights from our comprehensive interview process, learnings from DISC assessments and training, a culture of openness and honesty, and our one-on-one meetings, we are able to truly get to know each team member on an individual basis. This allows us best serve each person by building on their unique strengths and supporting them in exploring their particular interests.

Offering Training and Learning Resources

Many people I know credit their success to their natural curiosity and love of learning. In fact, I’m one of them. To

that end, we have infused these qualities into our entire organization, which helps us continue to grow both

personally and collectively as a team.

Organizing Workshops and Hackathons for Skill Enhancement

Workshops and hackathons are incredible opportunities for our developers to get together as a group and brainstorm new concepts, exchange ideas, and mess around with new tech. Besides the camaraderie these gatherings produce, one of my favorite parts of a hackathon is observing how different developers solve problems differently. It’s energizing to watch teammates learn from each other and then take that positive energy into their own projects. Most days, our developers are heads down working on client work, so finding ways to cross pollinate ideas and be together as a team provides a beneficial boost of inspiration.

Summary

Productivity and employee motivation are two important measures of success, but they do not constitute success in and of themselves. That distinction is bestowed on us by our clients as they impact and improve people’s lives through the technology solutions we provide. Motivation and productivity are valuable levers that we can and should control to help bring about true success—for clients, their customers, and our own software development businesses.

At AppIt Ventures, we believe so strongly in technology’s potential to enhance client impact and improve people’s lives that we are willing to share in the up-front risks of development. That alone should prove motivating and productive.

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