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2012 SBES - Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company

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Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company …

Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company
A. César C. França, David E. S. Carneiro, Fabio Q. B. da Silva

Abstract-—Research on motivation has made important contributions for the software engineering practice, but it has mostly adopted quantitative approaches, towards generalizable statements. However, given the complexity of the human behavior, motivation seems to be affected by diverse environmental conditions, and to be moderated by individual and organizational characteristics. Therefore, contextualized and explanatory theories are needed to account for this diversity. This research presents a grounded theory aimed at describing and explaining the motivation of software engineers in the context of a small private software company, in Recife, Brazil. Semi structured interviews were carried out over four months, and data were analyzed using grounded theory procedures. As a result, we present statements that connect, relate, and make sense of contextual factors, describing the central story of motivation in the company. In this case study, learning and growth needs emerged as the strongest drivers of motivation, which in turn increase the goal commitment of engineers and create the conditions for better job performance.

Paper presented at XXVI Simpósio Brasileiro de Engenharia de Software, Natal, 2012.


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  • 1. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net BY CÉSAR FRANÇA, DAVID CARNEIRO, FABIO Q. B. DA SILVA SBES’2012 Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company
  • 2. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Foreword What is this research about? How the motivation of software engineers in the workplace is affected by contextual and individual factors? Presentation agenda • Background Why is it relevant? What is already known? • Research Design Methods • Results Findings • Conclusions Next ste 2 motivation of software engineersHow
  • 3. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Part I – Relevance Why is it Relevant? 3
  • 4. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Software engineering is a socio-technical activity “in practice, it is difficult to disentangle the way people do things from the methods, techniques, and computing technologies they use” 4 Guinan et al., 1998
  • 5. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Generalized world scarcity of Skilled Professionals “Competition for skilled human resources, Turnover & Knowledge losses” 5 Burn et. al (1991)
  • 6. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Software Engineering is a unique professional field “Information Systems people may be a distinctive group from the average population (…) IS personnel had higher growth need (GNS) and lower social needs (SNS) than the general population” 6 Couger and Zawacki (1980)
  • 7. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Agile Manifesto says: “Build projects around motivated individuals” So, “how to meet software engineers’ motivational needs” ? 7 Beecham et al (2007)
  • 8. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Open Source Initiatives have gained more and more attention What drives those people to spend considerable time and effort in OSS projects “for free” ? 8 Hertel , Niedner, Herrman (2003)
  • 9. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net 9 Current research effort on Motivation in Software Engineering around the Globe DA SILVA; FRANÇA 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012... REHMAN; MAHMOOD, A., 2011; REHMAN et al., 2011 BHATTI et al., 2008 MCHUGH et al., 2011 YU; MING, 2009 BEECHAM et al., 2006, 2007, 2008; HALL et al., 2008, 2009; SACH; PETRE, 2012; SACH et al., 2010; SACH; SHARP; PETRE, 2011a; SHARP; HALL, 2009; SHARP et al., 2009; SHARP, 2007; SHARP et al., 2007 KHALIL, O. E. M. et al., 1997 IFINEDO, 2005 WALLGREN 2008, 2011 WALLGREN; HANSE 2007, 2010, 2011
  • 10. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What is known about the Software Engineer Motivation? Has achieved important results on clarifying some factors that may affect software engineer’s motivation 10 Rewards and incentives Development needs addressed Variety of work Career path Empowerment/responsibility Good management Sense of belonging Work/life balance Working in successful company Employee participation Feedback Recognition Equity Technically challenging work Job security Identify with the task Autonomy Appropriate working conditions Task significance Team quality Creativity/Innovation Fun (playing) Professionalism Good relationship with users/customers Risk Stress Poor communication Lack of promotion Unrealistic goals Problem solving Team working Development practices Change Challenge Science But there still may be a complex interplay among motivational factors at the task, organization, and individual levels Beecham, S., Baddoo, N., Hall, T., Robinson, H., & Sharp, H. (2008). Motivation in Software Engineering: A systematic literature review. Information and Software Technology, 50(9-10), 860–878. doi:10.1016/j.infsof.2007.09.004 França, A. C. C., Gouveia, T. B., Santos, P. C. F., Santana, C., & da Silva, F. Q. B. (2011). Motivation in software engineering: a systematic review update. International Conference on Evaluation & Assessment in Software Engineering (EASE) (pp. 154–163). IET. doi:10.1049/ic.2011.0019
  • 11. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Research Gaps • Motivation is context-dependent • Limited practical applicability • Disconnected and conflicting body of knowledge • The “job” is the main motivator 11 Sharp et. al, 2009 Sach, Sharp, Petre 2011a
  • 12. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Part II – Research Design Research Methods 12
  • 13. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Qualitative Research 13 “the principal advantage of using qualitative methods is that they force the researcher to delve into the complexity of the problem rather than abstract it away” Seaman, 2008, p. 36
  • 14. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Case Study(ies) “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real life context” Yin, 2008 14
  • 15. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Case Study Strategy 15 Motivation is context dependent “qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.” (Merriam, 2009) Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation (2nd Editio., p. 304). Jossey-Bass. (Yin, 2009)
  • 16. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Case Study Strategy 16 Motivation is context dependent “qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.” (Merriam, 2009) Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation (2nd Editio., p. 304). Jossey-Bass. (Yin, 2009) Government Organization Private Not-for-profit Software R&D Institute IT Department of a Public University Small Private Software Company “Maximum Variation Sampling” method (Strauss and Corbin, 2007) Open Source Community
  • 17. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Software Engineer Unit of Analysis Maximum variation sampling: • Age • Background and education • Years of experience • Years of employment • Etc. Data collection strategy 17 Project Managers Software Engineers Directors Semi- structured Interview Semi- structured Interview Semi- structured Interview Diary Studies Documental Analysis
  • 18. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Data collection strategy Semi-Structured Interviews Question Types: • Background • Opinion • Sensory • Experience Diary data 18
  • 19. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Data collection strategy Semi-Structured Interviews Question Types: • Background • Opinion • Sensory • Experience Diary data 19 Valid evidence (Opinion | Sensory) supported by (Experience, Diary or Documents) (Hypothetical) (Factual)
  • 20. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Part III – Results 20
  • 21. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Context Description Small & Young software company • 5 years old • 5 entrepreneurs / Flat structure • 27 [young] people • Agile-like software development Products & Technology • .NET, Java, LUA, … • 1 main Product • Software on-demand Collected Data • 14 people (interviews) / 6 people (diary studies) • 1 month • 8h 57min of interviews • 10 relevant events Core Mission “support the development of people and organizations with software tools, by means of technical excellence and innovation” 21
  • 22. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 22 Task Team Organization
  • 23. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 23 Task Team Organization over half of the participants (08/14) were undergraduate students. Employment time seemed to be a mediator for the relevance of learning experiences
  • 24. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 24 Task Team Organization Accounted to the unexpected requirements changes! Short timeslots provided effective performance feedback.
  • 25. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 25 Task Team Organization
  • 26. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 26 Task Team Organization Learning again!
  • 27. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net What factors affect software engineers’ motivation? 27 Task Team Organization
  • 28. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Signs of motivated behavior June 28, 2013 EASE 201228 How they feel / behave How they contribute to the project success
  • 29. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Part IV – Conclusions 29
  • 30. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Central Story of Motivation “the goal commitment of engineers create the conditions for higher Job Performance” 30
  • 31. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Central Story of Motivation An effective learning job environment benefits the goal commitment of the software engineers. But employment time acted as a barrier for learning experiences, given the low variety of work in latter phases of the projects 31
  • 32. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Central Story of Motivation “A learning environment protects the engineers’ self-efficacy through self-esteem and self-confidence mechanisms of overcoming individual failures.” 32
  • 33. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Central Story of Motivation Team cohesion creates a very reciprocal work environment, filled with mutual help, shared experiences, and self-responsibility. Responsibility is enhanced by the high employee participation, conditioned by the small teams and the direct participation of the high management in the productive teams 33
  • 34. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net The Central Story of Motivation 34 A motivational environment is not enough to prevent the intention to leave, if the growth needs of the software engineers have not been fulfilled (because of external opportunities for career progression.)
  • 35. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Discussion General observations Main contributions 35 • We present a theory that explains the complex interplay among motivational factors at the task, organization, and individual levels • Complement previous descriptive models, such as the MOCC • Multi-case replicable design • While some factors seem to be manageable, others are strongly inherent to the context. • How to apply our findings to improve the motivational aspects of the organization? • Generalization to other contexts should not be carried out directly. However, our findings can be reinterpreted in other contexts, provided factors are carefully translated. Future Work • Cross-case analysis of the 5 case studies • Compare and integrate with other case studies (using meta-ethnography)
  • 36. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net THANK YOU! Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company BY CÉSAR FRANÇA, DAVID CARNEIRO, FABIO Q. B. DA SILVA SBES’2012
  • 37. Illustrations from images.google.com & freedigitalphotos.net Towards an Explanatory Theory of Motivation in Software Engineering: A Qualitative Case Study of a Small Software Company by A. César C. França, David E. S. Carneiro, Fabio Q. B. da Silva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at XXVI Simpósio Brasileiro de Engenharia de Software, Natal, 2012. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.haseresearch.com

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