Motivation in software engineering: a systematic literature review

Beecham, Sarah; Baddoo, Nathan; Hall, Tracy; Robinson, Hugh and Sharp, Helen (2008). Motivation in software engineering: a systematic literature review. Information and Software Technology, 50(9-10) pp. 860–878.



OBJECTIVE - In this paper we present a systematic literature review of motivation in Software Engineering.
The objective of this review is to plot the landscape of current reported knowledge in terms of what motivates
developers, what de-motivates them and how existing models address motivation.

METHOD - We perform a systematic literature review of peer reviewed published studies that focus on motivation in Software Engineering. Systematic reviews are well established in medical research and are used to systematically analyse the literature addressing specific research questions.

RESULTS - We found 92 papers related to motivation in Software Engineering. 56% of the studies reported that
Software Engineers are distinguishable from other occupational groups. Our findings suggest that Software
Engineers are likely to be motivated according to three related factors: their 'characteristics' (for example, their need for variety); internal 'controls' (for example, their personality) and external 'moderators' (for example, their career stage). The literature indicates that de-motivated engineers may leave the organisation or take more sickleave, while motivated engineers will increase their productivity and remain longer in the organisation. Aspects of the job that motivate Software Engineers include problem solving, working to benefit others and technical challenge. Our key finding is that the published models of motivation in Software Engineering are disparate and do not reflect the complex needs of Software Engineers in their career stages, cultural and environmental settings.

CONCLUSIONS – The literature on motivation in Software Engineering presents a conflicting and partial picture of the area. It is clear that motivation is context-dependent and varies from one engineer to another. The most commonly cited motivator is the job itself, yet we found very little work on what it is about that job that Software Engineers find motivating. Furthermore, surveys are often aimed at how Software Engineers feel about 'the organisation', rather than 'the profession'. Although models of motivation in Software Engineering are reported in the literature, they do not account for the changing roles and environment in which Software Engineers operate. Overall, our findings indicate that there is no clear understanding of the Software Engineers' job, what motivates Software Engineers, how they are motivated, or the outcome and benefits of motivating Software Engineers.

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