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Why pitching "productivity" to developers fails

Charles Atlas

Why pitching development tools as “making you more productive” doesn’t work as well as you’d think.

Developers don’t care about money – in the same way doctor’s don’t care about money. That is, they actually do care about their personal income, but don’t like to admit it, and are not always motivated to think about the company’s income. Business owners and manager care about money. At small companies, they may be the same, but for many shops (at companies and ISV) across the medium and “enterprise” spectrum, they’re not.

This means that discussions about “productivity,” as in saves and/or makes the company more money, are often not useful conversations to have with developers.

The success of Eclipse Mylyn, TaskTop, tools from Atlassian, and Agile are interesting exception here. Each of those may contribute to the overall success of the company employing the developers, but they mostly increase the ease at which developers can do their own job, irrespective of how profitable that ease becomes. Something like Mylyn makes working on a bug or feature less boring and tedious because all of the relevant context is presented to the developers: it also isolates the developer from the “productivity” tools the rest of the company uses (the way TaskTop 2.0 layers on-top of and hides all the ugliness of wonky, never-gonna-be-replace ALM back-ends is a good example here as well). Chances are, whatever project management, issue, and bug tracking systems and process a company is using, developer loath it. They want to stay in their IDE, coding.

Agile is successful, at the developer level, because it seems to empower developers and make their lives easier. It gives them a tool to talk to the rest of the organization through in terms that work, helping developers do expectation management (not overselling their abilities and then suffering when they have to deliver on unrealistic goals). Much of the excitement you see in developers eyes when they’re exposed to dev/ops comes from a similar function: finally, a way to see what their software is doing in production without involving mind-numbing conversations with “IT.” (I like to think of these types of phenomena as The Developer Landgrab.)

Whether using Agile makes a company more or less money is irrelevant to a developer: what matters (as with all “productivity” tools) is if it makes the developer’s life easy and allows them to block out (or, at best “manage”) the non-developers in the rest of the company. Developers don’t want to be made productive, they want to be empowered.

Disclosure: TaskTop is a client.

Categories: Development Tools, Marketing.

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Comment Feed

4 Responses

  1. Do developers really avoid buying productivity, or have they just heard the claim so many times and the promise failed to deliver so they tune it out?

    It's easy enough to see. Read the blogs of working developers and they will often tell you when they find a new tool they love, or hate. Read Jesse Warden's diatribe about Flash Builder for the latter. He wants productivity.



  2. Indeed, there's no doubt that claims of being "a more productive" tool are hard to swallow after so many years of hearing that every tool is so.

  3. Cote, this is a very incisive post. My interpretation (please correct me if I am putting words in your mouth) of your point about Agile – "It gives them a tool to talk to the rest of the organization through in terms that work" – is that you are really talking about a developer finding his/her voice. It is indeed most powerful.

    As ever, pleasure reading your blog!


  4. Israel: yeah, I think that's about it. Good development tools in developer hands are the equivalent of a good PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet in management hands: something you can use to more easily persuade towards the right path of execution.