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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

What Motivates People


Today I attended a training session where we were learning about motivation. I’ve heard pretty poor opinions about the session before, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t check by myself. And if you need to know these opinions were crap – training was pretty good.

Anyway, we had a very small and very open group which was cool. I think I should thank here those who didn’t show up, since the session was planned for a bigger audience. The best thing about the group was each of us works in different team and we are on different levels in organizational structure. This means our perception of the organization itself and tools we have to motivate ourselves and our people differ vastly.

This is kind of cool because otherwise we would barely have a chance to confront our points of view. And it appeared every single one of us pointed different things as our main motivators. This is basically the lesson I want to share with you. If you want to know what motivates people working for you, move your fat ass from your damn throne and learn what drives every individual in your team, instead of asking for universal recipes.

Yes, you will hear all sorts of answers from “more money” up to “my cellar is cool actually; just don’t interrupt me when I’m in THE flow.” On a side note, money isn’t a tool you can use to motivate people.

Motivation is a very individual thing. I remember sharing a really fat bonus with one of my former PMs after she completed one those hard core projects. Since we were getting on well I asked if that motivated her for further effort. The answer was “no, not at all.” I can’t say I was surprised much, since I’d moved my fat ass from my throne to learn what had driven my team. If you asked me why the fat bonus then, well, she’d still earned that money.

Don’t expect simple answer for a question about motivating people. The subject is just too complex. And if you still believe there is a simple and universal solution for the problem you may want to reconsider predisposition to be a manager.

In case you were curious my biggest motivators are learning opportunities and having things under control.

You may also like other posts on motivation:

in: communication, team management

21 comments… add one

  • Martin Proulx May 31, 2010, 12:58 pm

    If you haven’t had a chance, you may want to read: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594488843?ie=UTF8&tag=humandevel-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1594488843). It is well written and easy to read.

  • Tomek Dabrowski May 31, 2010, 1:03 pm


    I share your point of view around motivation. As you notice, this is indvidual thing and you, as PM/team leader, should try to find out the way of “keeping people happy”. Motivation is especially issue with long-term project (but not only) when your team is doing mostly maintenance work. One tip that I can think of is to empower people – they should feel that they can change the process, that someone is listening their ideas and can help to introduce them. Additionally, PM should make people essential part of project, i.e you can engage them into estimation & planning session, ask for technical advice etc.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 31, 2010, 1:04 pm


    I haven’t yet had a chance to read this one. Thanks for recommendation.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 31, 2010, 1:12 pm


    You’re right – tasks people perform strongly affect people. If you have to focus on mundane goals you are probably hardly motivated by tasks themselves. And yes, wise delegation of decision-making process can be a great motivator in many cases.

    Delegation is also a typical problem of many managers – they just don’t feel comfortable when they aren’t in full control of things.

    Well, I must add that when I say that having things under control motivates me I don’t think about making every single decision by myself, but rather about being able to spread the decision-making power among the team.

  • Geoff Snyder June 1, 2010, 1:12 am

    Hey Pawel,

    Great article! You’re right, it is a complex topic and so much of it get overlooked when trying to collaborate on it. To me, what gets me helps me get motived is: truth. Knowing that what it is that I need be motivated on needs to be honest and truthful. So many times I’ve sat in on a conference (or even a small meeting) only to be razzed up by some ridiculous ‘speech’. If one can keep it simple, keep it real and honest…motivation is sure to follow.


  • Pawel Brodzinski June 1, 2010, 1:21 am


    I always considered transparency as an important thing when leading teams. I agree it is one of important motivation factors in general. I mean people feel when they’re told some bullshit when they expect some hones and straightforward message. And being honest with them is a win-win, not only some of them (most of them?) will be motivated but you also cut a lot of gossips out. After all if something was openly announced it doesn’t work as a news during water cooler chit-chat.

  • Vicky Stamatopoulou June 1, 2010, 3:18 am

    Sure, there is a lot of theory about such things. Internet and wikipedia is full of it… (even through me, I meta blogged on it) but here a direct link to YouTube for a very interesting presentation created by Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce
    called ‘RSA Animate – Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us’

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 1, 2010, 3:59 am

    Well, that’s a part of truth. We do a lot of things because of purpose, not because of money. But many of these things are happening outside our workplaces.

    I mean, if someone asked me to do a coaching session near the place where I live I’d probably willingly do it it for free. At least now when I’m still not a highly over-paid independent consultant.

    But it doesn’t change my situation at work where I expect to earn some cash since I have to pay my mortgage. Pretty much the same model you can map on other people. They do a lot of interesting stuff and no one pays them for it. But at the same time these people can honestly say their main motivator at their workplace is money. If they get more of it they would work longer/harder/smarter.

    Motivation to co-creating Wikipedia is vastly different than motivation to build yet another dull web app for yet another business client. Motivation to clean up the house is completely different than to have another beer.

    What I focused on in the post is motivation in the workplace. And I assume that not everyone in the workplace just loves their job and would work for free if someone else paid their rent, because it is never truth. In every, but tiny, organization there are people who aren’t fully satisfied with what they do and what they get in exchange. And sometimes giving them power to do whatever they want for 24 hours solves the problem but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a handful of bucks can work miracles and sometimes it just boosts frustration.

    After all it is totally individual thing.

  • Vicky Stamatopoulou June 1, 2010, 12:56 pm

    “…Sometimes a handful of bucks can work miracles and sometimes it just boosts frustration.
    After all it is totally individual thing.”
    Absolute true! I now exactly what you are talking about.

  • Ron Rosenhead June 9, 2010, 9:02 am

    Pawel, good reading!

    Some of the people I meet would like the basics; recognition, feedback and a thank you…..

    As I say, the basics and it does not take that much to do…..

    Ron Rosenhead

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 9, 2010, 10:05 am


    People often laugh at infamous “handshake with CEO” but these things work as long as they are genuine and not just another trick to avoid paying people more money.

    Recently I’ve been told that even a perspective of working with someone you respect may be a reason to stay for someone who actively seeks the job since she’s frustrated.

    Basics do the job.

  • Lglass June 9, 2010, 12:54 pm

    Great post. Since “Drive” was mentioned I’d like to offer up another point of view on motivation, from a true scientific perspective. http://aubreydanielsblog.com/2010/01/26/drive-me-crazy/

  • Kathleen Lisson June 10, 2010, 1:22 pm

    I would also add that the things that motivated an employee in the past may not still motivate them today. All the more reason to continually get off the throne and talk to the team.

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 10, 2010, 1:33 pm

    Yes, you got the point Kathleen. We change over time. Things which drive us do too. Our managers can’t base on good old recipes which worked when we were fresh graduates.

    Besides that there are also temporary factors which affects our motivation strongly. I may need more money at the moment or my spouse can by pretty pissed off with my long working hours. As long as no one talks with me, they can’t know how my typical motivation drivers are affected at the moment.

  • Jeff Edwards June 13, 2010, 7:51 pm

    I love the “get of your throne” comment. I am going to have to use that one.

    I couldn’t agree more. I have long wondered why many managers don’t take the time to get to know their staff. Are they too busy creating schedules, monitoring progress, or eliminating risks? Motivating staff is a big part of a manager’s job, but it is sometimes little-discussed and often ignored.

    I have found that most of my managers have not heard of Frederick Herzberg (see http://www.netmba.com/mgmt/ob/motivation/herzberg/). He found some elements of work keep a person from being dissatisfied, while others satisfy or motivate. Some managers adjust those components that keep a person from being dissatisfied and expect motivation to increase. There are many other theories of motivation, of course.

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 14, 2010, 12:56 am


    We just aren’t taught what this all management thing is all about. As IT industry is fairly young and its growth was very rapid we just lack good manager on all levels of the hierarchy. And if you, as a line worker, have a manager who believes the only motivator is money, after promotion you’d likely believe in the same pattern.

    Besides it’s easier for a manager to run their knowledge workers as they were a herd of hogs. Oh, they will leave eventually, but so what? Others will come to fill the places.

    The funny thing is, unlike many other changes in organizations, changing people management patterns works almost exclusively when it is top-down and not bottom-up process.

  • TSK. Raman January 11, 2011, 8:17 am

    Pawel Brodzinski ,
    This is a pretty old topic, am respoding because I felt I should even if it so late. It’s never a dead issue anyway..

    Money isn’t the biggest motivating factor
    Sometimes I think we make things more complex than we have to. Definitely, though in an indirect way money may be the biggest motivator in that it leads to being able to provide for yourself and your family. If it were not for money, we would not be able to pay for the basics of life, it isn’t the top motivator all the time. Peoplecan have different motivations at different times in their life, money isn’t the common factor in most cases. It may just be an important piece in the big jig-saw puzzle of life.
    Let me repeat, money is not the only motivator, in fact, it’s not even the best one, it may be at the top of other factors like recognization to a good work, getting a continous feed back for a good job done, or helping to learn or to get guidance on a path. There are many people are motivated by competition. Pride in their work, a feeling that what you have contributed by way of your work has added value and has made a huge contribution to the place where you work or your contribution to society in a meaningful way, supporting team members (or not wanting to let them down), helping people, receiving a genuine gratitude and praise, all of these would be intrinsic motivators that can trump monetary rewards.

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 11, 2011, 2:57 pm

    Well, I agree with what you have to say about the role of money. The only difference is I don’t call it motivation. Yes, we work (among others) for money. Yes, there are industries where people work for money in the first place as it’s hard to make ends meet. But IT isn’t one of them.

    But then it is still about some minimal acceptable level of salary which in IT is bigger only because, well, in IT we’re paid just better.

    The more we get, the more we want, right?

  • TSK. Raman January 12, 2011, 2:33 am

    I agree with you entirely, that money makes people to go to work to make them meet ends and to make a living, especially the workers in industries. To motivate workers you have to know what they want. They also might get some fringe benefits therefore money isn’t the only thing that motivates them. Businesses need to have a well motivated workforce or otherwise they will not function properly and to their full potential. Well motivated workers, work harder, are happier, produce more, help a business improve the quality of its products, make your company remain competitive and can mean bigger profits and keep costs down. So it is very important to motivate workers.
    Henry Thoreau who said “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
    Whether or not money is a motivator, depends where on falls in Maslow’s hierarchy.
    1) Physiological Needs: – Money is massive motivator
    2) Safety & Security: Money may be a solid motivator
    3) Belonginess and Love: Money to some extent is a motivator
    4) Esteem Need : Money might play a small part as a motivator
    5) Cognitive: Money is less and less of a motivator
    6) Aesthetic Needs: Money is not at all a motivation
    7) Self-actualization: Money most likely not a motivator at all
    8) Transcendence: Money is not a motivator at all.

  • Pawel Brodzinski January 14, 2011, 5:08 pm

    We think about the same things, we just call them a bit differently. Lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid (and some parts of higher levels as well) fall are those which are covered with some expected minimum salary. I know I simplify here, but I don’t try to make it about theories: Hertzberg, Maslow, whoever you choose.

    By the way the interesting thing is all those theories have a common point, which we can apply to the situation in IT industry and it would always end the same: “money doesn’t motivate.” Yet it is still treated as the main and the only motivator managers have.

  • james idylford September 25, 2011, 10:24 pm

    But people always after the money not the work itself. They just want to earn money as much as they wanted to have with.

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