2010 CRC PhD Student Conference
The effect of Feedback on the Motivation of Software
Supervisors Helen Sharp
Probation viva After
Starting date October 2009
Motivation is reported as having an effect on crucial aspects of software engineering
such as productivity (Procaccino and Verner 2005), software quality (Boehm 1981),
and a project’s overall success (Frangos 1997). Feedback is a key factor in the most
commonly used theory in reports published on the motivation of software engineers
(Hall et al. 2009), and it is important that we gain a greater understanding of the effect
it has on the motivation of software engineers.
My research is grounded in the question “What are the effects of feedback on the
motivation of software engineers?”, and focuses on feedback conveyed in human
interactions. I believe that before I can focus my question further I will need to begin
some preliminary work to identify how feedback occurs, what types of feedback
occur, and the possible impact of this feedback.
Motivation can be understood in different ways. For example, as a manager you might
consider motivation as something you must maintain in your employees to ensure
they complete work for you as quickly as possible. As an employee you might
consider motivation as the drive that keeps you focused on a task, or it might simply
be what pushes you to get up in the morning and go to work.
Herzberg (1987) describes motivation as “a function of growth from getting intrinsic
rewards out of interesting and challenging work”. That’s quite a nice definition; and
according to Herzberg motivation is intrinsic to one’s self. Ryan and Deci (2000)
describe intrinsic motivation as “the doing of activity for its inherent satisfaction
rather than for some separable consequence” (Page 60).
Herzberg (1987) defines extrinsic factors as movement and distinguishes it from
motivation, stating that “Movement is a function of fear of punishment or failure to
get extrinsic rewards”. Ryan and Deci (2000) state that “Extrinsic motivation is a
construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable
There are 8 core motivational theories (Hall et al. 2009) and some of the theories
focus on motivation as a “a sequence or process of related activities” (Hall et al. 2009)
called process theories, while others focus on motivation “at a single point in time”
(Couger and Zawacki 1980) called content theories.
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As reported in a systematic literature review conducted by Beecham et al (2007), and
their published review of the use of theory inside this review in 2009 (Hall et al 2009),
the three most popular theories used in studies of motivation in Software Engineering
were Hackman and Oldman’s Job Characteristics Theory (68%), Herzberg’s
Motivational Hygiene Theory (41%), and Maslow’s Theory of Needs (21%)1.
Hackman and Oldman’s Job Characteristics Theory focuses on the physical job, and
suggests five characteristics (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy,
and feedback) that lead to three psychological states which in turn lead to higher
internal motivation and higher quality work. Herzberg’s Hygiene Theory suggests that
the only true motivation is intrinsic motivation, and this leads to job satisfaction,
where extrinsic factors are only useful in avoiding job dissatisfaction.
One of the five key job characteristics in Hackman and Oldman’s theory is feedback.
Feedback is not explicitly mentioned in Herzberg’s Motivational Hygiene Theory, but
he notes that it is a part of job enrichment, which he states is “key to designing work
that motivates employees” (Herzberg 1987). However this is a managerial view point.
Software Engineers are considered to be current practitioners working on active
software projects within the industry. This includes programmers, analysts, testers,
and designers who actively work and produce software for real projects in the real
From a management perspective, gaining a greater understanding of what motives
employees could prove invaluable in increasing productivity and software quality, and
from an individual perspective the prospect of being given feedback that motivates
you and makes your job more enjoyable and improves the quality of your work
experience could lead to a more successful and enjoyable work life.
My proposed research is divided into stages. In the first stage I plan to conduct
interviews and diary studies to identify the types of feedback in software engineering
and how feedback is experienced by software engineers. I then plan to conduct
additional studies to identify what impact this feedback has on software engineers and
how that impact is evident. Finally, I plan to observe software engineers at work to
see feedback in context, and to compare those observations to the information
gathered during the first two stages.
At the end of my PhD I hope to accomplish research that leads to a greater
understanding of what feedback is inside software engineering and how it is given or
received. Subsequently I wish to gain an understanding of how this feedback alters the
motivation of software engineers and how this manifests as something such as
behaviour, productivity or attitude.
The percentages are a representative of how many of 92 papers the theories were found to be
explicitly used in. There can be multiple theories used in any one paper, and the 92 papers were part of
a systematic literature review conducted by Hall et al (2007) sampling over 500 players.
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2010 CRC PhD Student Conference
B.W. Boehm, Software Engineering Economics, Prentice-Hall, 1981.
COUGER, J. D. AND ZAWACKI, R. A. 1980. Motivating and Managing Computer Personnel.
John Wiley & Sons.
S.A. Frangos, “Motivated Humans for Reliable Software Products,” Microprocessors and
Microsystems, vol. 21, no. 10, 1997, pp. 605–610.
Frederick Herzberg, One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? (Harvard Business
School Press, 1987).
J. Procaccino and J.M. Verner, “What Do Software Practitioners Really Think about Project
Success: An Exploratory Study,” J. Systems and Software, vol. 78, no. 2, 2005, pp. 194–203.
Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions
and New Directions,” Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, no. 1 (January 2000): 54-67.
Tracy Hall et al., “A systematic review of theory use in studies investigating the motivations of
software engineers,” ACM Trans. Softw. Eng. Methodol. 18, no. 3 (2009): 1-29.
Sarah Beecham et al., “Motivation in Software Engineering: A systematic literature review,”
Information and Software Technology 50, no. 9-10 (August 2008): 860-878.
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