Home Leadership Skills The Proper Care and Feeding of a Software Engineer
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The Proper Care and Feeding of a Software Engineer Print

The difference between a well and poorly motivated team is the difference between success and disaster.

{mosadsense4joomla ad_layout="A"ad_align=""}There is a close correlation between unhappy teams and failed projects. Some of the unhappiness is undoubtably caused by project failure. How much of the project failures are caused by the unhappiness?

In an unhappy team, there is a lot of complaining. Task deadlines are rarely met. Often they are not taken seriously at all. Team members spend most of their time thinking about getting another job. It's neither fun nor productive.

The Project Manager has no magic wand to wave at problems, but can shape the work environment. Personal problems will still trouble some engineers.
What can a project manager do to ensure that the team is happy and healthy?

Keep the Project Positive

No one likes to be associated with failure. Yet, all too often, a negative spin is applied to project setbacks. Its a danger sign if the team starts complaining whenever they hear bad news.

It's important that the Project Manager set a positive tone. Keep reminding your engineers that challenges are part of the engineering process. Assure them that when they respond positively to challenge they guarantee their own success.

If there is an engineer that is consistently negative, take him aside for a talk. Ask why he has such a negative view of the project. Try and address his concerns, and ask him, in return, to project a more positive attitude to the other engineers. After all, talking down the project is damaging to all the engineers on the team.

How Do We Measure Success? Against Requirements!

Engineers are precise people. They don't always respond well to fuzzy management directives. It's up to the project manager to insist that there is always a clear description of the product.

A requirements document is a tremendous project management tool. When used properly it can act as a great interface between management and engineering. The engineers are responsible for producing what the requirements ask for. They must take part in the requirements process to ensure that everything is realistic.

Personal Loyalty to the Team Members

It's a commonplace that good management is built on trust. Without it your engineers will spend more time looking over their shoulders than looking at their code. If you're a good manager you are probably a terrible lier. Always be honest and open with your team.

How do you handle it when someone quit? This is a question every Project Manager should be ready to confront at any time. The proper answer is to congratulate the engineer on his new position and do everything you can to smooth his last few weeks in the company. That engineer might very well be back. Unless the Project Manager acts like a jerk. Nothing you say will keep that person on the team. Make sure that they take away pleasant memories.

Weekly Re-Recruitment

We spend so much time and effort recruiting an engineer, but hardly any re-recruiting. Yet this is essential if you want happy engineers. The Project Manager needs to show them how great their jobs are.

The Project Manager should know what technologies each of his engineers is interested in. It's usually not hard to keep engineers happy. Working with new technologies is universally appealing to them.

When an engineer asks you for something, try and say yes. Be creative about meeting their needs. Keep a fun and friendly attitude.

Present Business Decisions as Engineering Requirements

When the product requirements change at the last minute, engineers can get cranky. Don't try too hard to explain business decisions. Certainly you can't let an argument develop about them.

Engineers respond well to requirements, even when they are changing. Ultimately, the engineers are there to produce a product. And the nature of that product, including the time-to-market, is a business decision. They have to trust the business teams to make the business calls.

Focus on the Near-Term

Engineers need to have a good understanding of the next three weeks of work. They shouldn't be spending a lot of time worrying about what's going to happen next year. Business needs might change dramatically in the medium term. That doesn't mean we don't need long-term planning. It does mean we are not going to get engineers to do it.

Push Training

When was the last time you arranged some training for your team? Make the effort to expose them to new training and they will reward you will increased enthusiasm.

When the head-hunter calls your best programmers to try and steal them, training is something that will weigh heavily in the balance. Make sure they have fresh memories of some interesting training, and are looking forward to more. That'll make it a little harder for that headhunter.

Challenge Them

Each team member needs to feel challenged. Ultimately this is what keeps an engineer working, day after day, year after year. As soon as it gets boring, the engineer starts to look around for other opportunities.

Finding tasks that are challenging but not impossible is the art of Project Management. Do it properly, and your engineers will love you. Do it poorly and they will curse your name. (Really.)


In the old industries, the factory floor was a giant place filled with people. In the new economy, the factory is in the heads of the engineers. An unhappy engineer is a disorganized factory, inefficient and unpredictable. Make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your engineers producing smoothly.

2002 © Ed Hartnett

About the Author:

Ed Hartnett has managed projects on two continents.
He is a consultant in Colorado.
Please see
www.telestoconsulting.com for more information.
He welcomes comments and questions at
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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