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Crank up their enthusiasm to 11

Josh told me:”I love working on fun side projects. Sooooo much better than client projects. Like the ping-pong scoring app I built, everyone loves it! I wish I could just work on that stuff.”
Generally, when I hear this kind of thing, I think, “Cool, this person is motivated by certain kinds of projects. I need to find ways to give them more of those to keep them motivated.”

That day I paused and decided to tap into my inner curiosity. “Both the ping-pong app and your day-to-day development work are coding work. They both involve turning ideas and requirements into code. I see a lot of similarities, but I’m curious. What makes the ping-pong app more fun for you?”

Josh could have said anything next. There was no wrong answer, and I didn’t judge what he said. I just listened.

When he was finished, I asked, “Wow, that’s great! Josh, how could we make your day-to-day work that much fun?”

Build on what you know

When you learn that someone is enthusiastic about a particular project, it’s easy to think that you should give them more of that kind of project. More video projects, more front-end projects, more API projects. But if you learn WHY they are excited about it, you can talk about how to make all kinds of work exciting for them.

In Josh’s case, he liked getting the immediate feedback from the team about his work. He felt that ping-pong app was important to the team and that his work was appreciated. When I figured that out, I was able to arrange for Josh to interact with real customers of his work. He learned how much they appreciated it, how difficult their jobs were before the software was built, and how painful it was when it had bugs.

Unsurprisingly, this helped Josh to enjoy his day-to-day work a lot more. He brought a new energy and drive to his work, and his enthusiasm went off the charts. Sometimes he even described it as fun.

The lesson

The lesson here is not that every developer should sit with their customers. (That’s a lesson for another day.)

The lesson is that you need to understand not only what kind of projects your developers enjoy, but why. Being curious about why allows you to have deeper, more interesting conversations that can result in happier developers and customers.

How about you?

Do you have developers who love the fun projects, but have lackluster enthusiasm for the day-to-day work?
Do you know why they feel that way about the fun projects?


About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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