How To Motivate Developers Without Micro-Managing

As former Intel CEO Andy Grove said in his seminal book High Output Management, a team will perform only if peak performance is elicited from the individuals in it.

But if you lead a team of developers, how can you make sure you’re leveraging their output without having to micromanage story points, bug fixes and lines of code?


As a product manager, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to motivate my team and help increase the value of the people I’m responsible for.

One word I keep coming back to is belief.

For a team to feel motivated, it needs to believe in what it’s doing. That goes for every team in your organisation, not just engineering or product development.

Without belief, you run the risk of building a feature factory where developers clock in and crank through code for seven hours without really thinking about it.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get the velocity you need. But you’ll never build a product that can change the world.

So how do you get your developers to believe in what they’re doing? By involving them right from the start when you’re figuring out the vision and strategy for your product.

If your developers understand why you’re building a product and they understand how it’s being delivered, they’ll be more likely to take ownership of what they need to do to make it happen.

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action has received more than 31 million views. And for good reason. The Golden Circle is the perfect model for getting buy-in for your vision, not just from your external customers but also from the people inside your organisation.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

And that includes your developers. They won’t always buy into the user stories you’ve just assigned to them in Jira, but they will buy into the differences the features they’re building are going to make for your product’s users.

Make sure everyone on your team understands the vision of your product. And don’t wait until you’ve got a fully-formed strategy and roadmap before you ask your developers to join the discussion.

Identify your product’s jobs to be done as early as you can and get your team to come up with the answers.

If your developers are using their own creativity to solve your users’ problems, then it’s almost guaranteed they’ll be motivated when it comes to delivering their solution.

Use frameworks like Objectives & Key Results to drive organisational growth and performance and try to maintain the right balance between shipping product and measuring results.

To refer back to Andy Grove, training and motivation are the only real ways to leverage the performance of a team.

If you want to motivate effectively, don’t tell your team members what to do; show them where you need to go and give them room to work out how to get there. You’ll be amazed by the results.

#prodmgmt #essays