Individual and Group Software Developer Personalities Considerations for Resourcing Ryan Collingwood - @ryancollingwood – www.executivecodemonkey.com
Introduction Software permeates every aspect of modern life. Unlike the material intensive manufacturing or construction projects, endeavours in IT are almost entirely a matter of human capital. There is a consensus that the capabilities of those involved in the creation of software, is the primary determinant of the quality of the finished product (Clark et al. 2003). Thus the sourcing and identification of talent for Software Development projects is a determinant of success. What sort of person is drawn to Software Development? Is there a specific type of person better suited to certain roles? What are their motivations? In exploring these questions we can better understand how to retain and confidently invest in these individuals. Additional considerations must be given to team composition, as it is rare that Software Development is a solo endeavour. There is a distinct project approach to Software Development, placing a greater emphasis on efficient collaboration with a shared vision. How do we create high functioning project teams? Should we be mindful of the distribution of personality types in our team composition? These questions should be of significant interest those tasked with directing and leading software development endeavours.
Who Are Software Developers? Several preconceptions about Software Developers have emerged over the years. Stereotypes such as software professionals being specialist introverted loners who avoid personal contact at all costs. Yet the expanding diversity of professions within the realm of software development, challenges this perceived personality profile (Capretz 2003). Increasingly adopted software development methodologies encourage versatility within the team environment giving rise to “generalizing specialists”- able to act as analyst, designer, and coder (Balijepally et al. 2006). With the shift from specialist to generalist, Software Developers are encouraged to interact with their customers and all levels of business. As Information Technology projects should be seen as Business Projects with an IT component. Highlighting the need for those involved in such project to be able to communicate effectively with all levels of their organisation and stakeholders. Further complicating the identity of “Software Developer” is that it is poorly defined in both practise and the academic studies (Wynekoop, Walz 2000). This lack of clarity is indicative of the need to establish distinct personality profiles for the variety of roles that have evolved to support the process of Software Development (Capretz et al 2010).
Can Personality be a Predictor of Individual Performance? Performance can be described as a combination of capacity, willingness and opportunity. Capacity refers to the skills, education, physical well being and ability to perform the task. Willingness represents the attitudinal factors such as motivation, job satisfaction and perceptions. Opportunity details the tools, environment, leadership and time allocations (Feldt et al. 2010).
In this description of performance, personality is but one of the factors in the willingness dimension. Willingness, in comparison to capacity and opportunity it represents a fair amount of uncertainty in its evaluation. When sourcing talent for projects, capacity can be discerned by a number of established norms (education and previous work) and opportunity lies within the scope of influence of the Project Manager. Willingness comprises of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, as such we can infer that management has diminished ability to affect this factor. Hannay et al. (2010) concluded that personality could possibly be a predictor of long-term team performance; it was not as significant as other factors such as expertise or task complexity. This finding is found in earlier literature such as Rasch and Tsoi (1992) who described performance “as a function of an individual’s effort-level, ability and role perceptions”, concluding that individual ability had the greatest effect on perceived performance. Clark et al. (2003) noted that cognitive ability is related to extrinsic success (salary and job status), but were unable to find support in their research for a link between cognitive ability and personality with regard to career success. Capretz (2010) further stated that personality measurements cannot predict success in a career field. But it can be utilised to identify occupational preferences. While there may be a less than enthusiastic view as to the relevance of personality as a predictor of performance, it is important to appreciate the power of perception. People will act upon their perceptions, regardless of the accuracy of them. In turn these perceptions dictate their behaviours (Linberg 1999). For this reason, the way individuals perceive themselves and their role in the group dynamic will affect their behaviours and in turn their performance. Albeit not to the extent that ability does. If personality is thought be stable over time, resources spent on employee development would be best spent on skills and education. As attempting to align individual personalities to meet organisational requirements will have limited success. It would be more efficient to hire for personality and develop the skills if required (Clark et al. 2003). Hannay et al. (2010) agree that while personality had modest effect on job performance, it may have more substantial effect via social factors that relate to team settings. Proposing personality has a greater effect on collaborative performance, compared to individual performance. Given the collaborative nature of projects, there is merit in evaluation of individual software developer’s personalities.
Methods of Personality Classification Personality tests are increasingly used by organisations as a means of determining “fit” between an individual personality and the organisational personality. The majority of these tests have origins in psychological research however they are generally not subject to scientific control. The “Forer Effect” questions the results of these “uncontrolled” tests. This effect states that vague or general descriptions could evoke feelings of recognition of a classification, regardless of actual personality (Hannay et al. 2010). As such, these tests should not be the make or break decision when evaluating team members. In the literature reviewed there are two personality models that are predominantly utilised: Five Factor Model of Personality (FFM), and the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
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MBTI – Myer-Briggs Type Indicator Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was developed by Myers et al. (1998). Personality types are denoted by the preferred factor in each of the four orientations (eg. ISTJ) to describe 16 possible personality types based on the interplay between the stated preferences. Developers of the MBTI note that all eight preferences are utilised by individuals, but what is significant is the preference of a factor over another. That no factor preference is superior to another and that no type of factors is superior to another (Capretz 2003). Extroversion and Introversion (E and I): The preference for an orientation for breadth of knowledge and quick action, or depth of knowledge and reflection. Sensing and Intuition (S and N): Relates to the style of information gathering a person is attuned to. Practical, hands on with a common-sense view of events. In contrast to analysing complex interactions and the theoretical. Thinking and Feeling (T and F): Factors that have the greater significance in judgements and decisions. Objective, analytical and dispassionately versus personal conviction and awareness of social context. Judgement and Perception (J and P): How decisions are made and the flexibility thereof. Upon collecting enough validation or data to make a judgement, some may stick on that direct path to their goals. Others may be comfortable in changing situations, strategy or even goals in line with new developments. Summary of the MBTI factors (Adapted from Capretz 2003) Another model, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, draws from the MBTI and encapsulates it in the concept of Hippocrates’ four humours (Artisan, Guardian, Rational, Idealist) which are each split into a further four subdivisions. Although its application in the literature reviewed was limited. Artisan Promoter (ESTP)
Supervisor (ESTJ) Fieldmarshal (ENTJ)
Idealist Teacher (ENFJ)
Keirsey Temperament Sorter types (http://keirsey.com/aboutkts2.aspx)
FFM - Five Factor Model of Personality The Five Factor Model of Personality (FFM) has been developed extensively over the last 50 years. The most recognised form of the “Big Five” represent personality along five dimensions and identifies traits associated to high and low levels of these dimensions. The descriptions of the dimensions have changed over time. Previously “Emotional Stability” was described as “Neuroticism”. “Openness” has been described as “Intelligence”, however the tendency is to avoid such a description as it is ambiguous and could be misinterpreted (Feldt et al. 2010).
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Personality Dimension Extraversion Conscientiousness Agreeableness Emotional Stability Openness
Characteristics of Low Levels Characteristics of High Levels Reserved, Introverted Gregarious, Exhibitionist Chaotic, Disorganised Dependable, Organised Irritable, Rigid Likeable, Flexible Anxious, Insecure Calm, Secure Insensitive, Practical Imaginative, Senstivie Summary of FFM (Adapted from Clark et al. 2003)
Comparison of Personality Models The MBTI has questioned if it can qualitatively measure distinct types, and that the Judgement/Perception dimensions are too weakly defined. As there is no qualitative measurement of the dimensions, using MBIT does not aid statistical analysis. In turn hinders efforts to draw associations between personality and other measures (Feldt et al. 2010). Balijepally et al. (2006) proposed that FFM is better suited to measuring personal psychology within groups as included assessment of Emotional Stability (Neuroticism), which is of interest when studying work groups. Emotional Stability is the tendency to express negative emotions, with higher scores denoting emotional stability. Emotional Stability is generally considered to be positively associated to group success. As the MBTI is unable to account for this trait, it may be limited in application to groups of individuals. Capretz in later paper (2010) does address the criticisms levelled at MBTI in stating that it is not possible for “a single personality test to predict success in a field as broad as software”. Again reiterating that what is being measured by personality models is not career success, but career preference.
What Type of Personalities Do We Find in Software Development? There are personality traits that are indicative to certain disciplines, as shown by case study conducted by Clark et al. (2003). One of their hypotheses was that Information Systems students were more extroverted than Computer Science students, for which they found support in their research. It is not unreasonable to conclude that certain types of people would be drawn to specific roles that fall under the increasing blanket term of Software Development. This view is supported by Capretz et al. (2010) who states: “According to psychology, not everybody can excel at all kinds of tasks. Thus better results are achieved if people with particular personality traits are assigned to different aspects of a project, especially the roles best suited to their ability.” Several studies have indicated a higher prevalence of introverts (Balijepally et al. 2006, Capretz et al. 2003, Hannay et al. 2010) amongst software developers. As per the MBTI assessments conducted ISTJ, ISTP, ESTP, ESTJ orientations were well represented in role of programming in the software development lifecycle. The dimensions of sensing (practical, fact-orientated) and thinking (principle-oriented, cool-headed) being the most commonly preferred. Phase Skills Personality Characteristics Analysis Communication, Interpersonal Extroversion (E), Feeling (F) Design Analysis, Innovation Intuition (N), Thinking (T) Programming Autonomy, Analysis, Attention to Detail Introversion (I), Sensing (S), Thinking (T) Testing Organisational Skills, Attention to Detail Sensing (S), Judging (J) Maintenance Adaptable, Attention to Detail Sensing (S), Perceiving (P) MBTI Dimensions and the Software Lifecycle (Adapted from Capretz et al. 2010)
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Another finding of the work done by Clark et al. (2003) was the difference between high performing students and high performing professionals in the realm Software Development. That the students indentified as exceptional were largely introverted, whereas extroverts represented the majority of exceptional professionals in their case study. The power of perception may be possibly skewering the results seen in the workforce. Extroverts being more gregarious would be adept at promoting their successes within the organisations they operate in. Another consideration is the possibility that developers who take initiative to develop their communication skills are reaping the rewards of being recognised as successful.
Motivating Software Developers Given the assumption that a motivated employee is a willing employee, and the relation it has on performance. Project Managers would be mindful to ensure that team members are motivated and feel good about what they are doing. The cost and effort of recruiting is far greater than retaining, beyond the financial impacts, the loss of familiarity with project at hand has dire consequences for temporary and time constrained nature of projects. Factors of motivation can change over the course of a career. In the initial years of a career in Software Development salary ranked highly. This factor is later superseded by other factors, such as: career progression, organisational commitment and job satisfaction (Linberg 1999). Feldt et al. (2010) noted that there is a strong association between age and certain personality factors. The proposed explanation is that as an individual gains experience “they lose their youthful naivety”. This supports the notion that personality and motivation are interrelated. Linberg (1999) conducted research as to how Software Developers define a successful project. Which produced the following finding: Projects that provided a technical challenge, resulted in the expected output, and were composed of small yet high performing teams – were successful projects. Even in the case of projects being cancelled, they were not considered a failure to developers if there was some learning that could be transferred to the next project. The implications of this research are that traditional view of a successful project (on time, to specifications, and within budget) is not shared with people who produce the outputs. Given that the majority of Software Developers prefer projects that are innovative; the temperament of the individual seems to have a bearing on this response. This view is supported by studies utilising a variety of personality assessment methods. Artisans: Thrive on Chaos and Ambiguity
Guardians: Dislike Ambiguity in Early Phases of Projects Idealists: Tolerate ambiguity. The vision of the Rational: Enjoy the Challenge. However lose final product keeps them motivated. Interest Once the challenges have been solved. Responses to Project Ambiguity as per Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter (Adopted from Linberg 1999) Capretz (2003) noted that cutting edge projects that involving research seemed to attract Intuitive and Thinking (NT as per MBTI) types, whereas maintenance and enhancing projects drew in more Sensing and Thinking (ST) types. This does raise implications for the allocation of developers to the types of projects and work tasks within projects.
Managing Your Resources The scale and complexity of Software Projects allows for few “solo” performers. Additionally newer Software and Project Development Methodologies emphasise collaborative effort (Capretz 2003). There is a preference amongst developers to be assigned discreet features or functions to develop Page 5 of 9
(Linberg 1999). While this does promote a sense of workmanship it is in direct opposition of agile methods, which encourages collaborative ownership (Balijepally et al. 2006). To this end agreeableness amongst team members is desirable in projects choosing to utilise methodologies emphasising collaborative code ownership, as to minimise conflict. Not all conflict is detrimental to a project. Task centred conflict, if addressed properly promotes discussion and may translate to positive gains in output. However relationship based conflict is almost always considered to be detrimental to the group performance (Balijepally et al. 2006). For these reasons, when applying methodologies that encourage collaborative efforts, team personality composition is important. Task conflicts can be resolved through dialog and project management processes, where-as relationship conflicts are far more challenging to resolve. However it is quite possible for a task conflict to be misinterpreted and become a relationship conflict if not dealt with appropriately and timeously (Liu et al. 2011). When requirements or deadlines are unrealistic, project members may become discouraged and not commit to the goals (Linberg 1999). Similarly if roles and tasks are ambiguous, anxiety and hesitancy will affect the performance of team members (Rasch, Tsoi 1992). In the situation where there is uncertainty of user requirements more evolutionary development methodologies with heavy stakeholder investment should be adapted. However this will not eliminate the possibility of conflict as heavy stakeholder involvement can increase conflict, but aid in reducing ambiguity in the project (Liu et al. 2011). Clarity of what is expected will positively contribute to job satisfaction in turn having a positive contribution toward Project Completion The factors of positive feedback from leadership and a sense of being involved in projects of significance are motivational forces for Software Developers. Being mindful of a predominantly introverted workforce, leaders may find they have to actively engage development teams to foster these channels of communication. This along with redirecting organisational â€œnoiseâ€?, maintaining a positive attitude, timely and reasonable decision making, and removing obstacles were seen as positive managerial actions (Linberg 1999). Software Developers define project success in very different terms compared to the conventional measures of project success. It is not related to meeting budget or schedule goals of the organisation. If the final output meets the quality expectations of the client, the budget and scheduling concerns are less important to the Software Development team (Linberg 1999). This may offer insights into why some developers, if left unchecked, may start developing additional features beyond the project scope. As they may feel these additional features will bring a quality of experience that outweigh the cost incurred to schedule and budget.
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Individual Personality and Group Performance For the effective measurement of the effect of individual personalities on the group, the notion of a “team personality” has been constructed (Bell 2007, Hannay et al. 2010). The composition which is the aggregation of indentified personality dimension score by mean, minimum, or variance. The aggregation employed is dependent on the task type as per Steiner’s task typology. Task Type
Mean or Sum
Mean or Sum
Task Type Aggregations as per Steiner’s Task Typology (Adapted from Bell 2007) Disjunctive tasks, are such where the strongest individual in the team is able to “solve the problem” –whereas conjunctive tasks are most affected by the “weakest link” in the team (Bell 2007). With the concept of team personality established it is now possible indentify and measure how individual software developers contribute to team performance. Traits that are consistently indentified by managers as those of exceptional developers are: confidence, creative problem solving, communication skills, and organisational skills (Wynekoop, Walz 2000). To this end Clark et al. (2003) hypotheses that exceptional developers would exhibit greater levels of: extroversion, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. In their findings of exceptional application developers in the workforce, higher levels of extraversion and conscientiousness were found. Bell (2007) sought to indentify the factors in the FFM of personality that were related to team performance, which compliment the hypotheses put forward by Clark et al. (2003). Hypothesis 1: Team conscientiousness will be positively related to team performance Hypothesis 2: Team agreeableness will be positively related to team performance. Hypothesis 3: Team extraversion will be positively related to team performance Hypothesis 4: Team emotional stability will be positively related to team performance. Hypothesis 5: Team openness to experience will be positively related to team performance. Hypothesised Factors of FFM contributing to Team Performance – Bell 2007 The results of the qualitative analysis of team performance conducted by Bell (2007) concluded that: “...team minimum agreeableness and team mean conscientiousness, openness to experience, collectivism, and preference for teamwork emerged as strong predictors of team performance in field studies.”
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Conclusions In forming teams, there is growing support for the notion that the composition of personalities and temperaments will contribute to the success of the group. It has been found that heterogeneous teams perform better than homogeneous teams in unstructured creative tasks (Balijepally et al. 2006). That a diversity of personality types would be beneficial in the initial â€œstormingâ€? phases of a project, while teams comprised of like individuals are better suited than diverse teams on structured tasks. Being mindful of the personality dynamics within the team at different stages of the project could translate to more efficient project outcomes. Apart from personality composition, there is also the matter of technological and methodology composition. The team appetite for innovation/adaptability would determine if an individual would be open to learning new technologies or methodologies (Linberg 1999). However if time lines are short, a preference for known technologies would be better suited. Given the complexity and far reaching scope of Software Development it is reasonable to state there is a place for a variety aptitudes and personalities. The varieties of roles that have been developed to support the process of software development each have competencies that are suited to differing types of personality. Organisations that make a conscious effort to place individuals in roles that compliment their personals strengths will see gains in productivity and efficiency. Extending this line of thought to the composition of a Project Team will realise these benefits. While personality has not reliably been found as a determinate of individual excellence, there certainly is evidence of its moderating effect on group performance.
About the Author Ryan Collingwood is practising Business Analyst with a background in software development. Having studied at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne Australia, Masters by coursework in IT Project Management, and a subsequent Masters by coursework in Business Analysis â€“ is inclined to asking questions about technology and the people that make it happen. Twitter: @ryancollingwood LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com.au/in/ryancollingwood
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References Balijepally V, Mahapatra R, Nerur S 2006, "Assessing Personality Profiles of Software Developers in Agile Development Teams", Communications of the Association for Information Systems, Vol. 18, No.4 Bell S 2007, "Deep-Level Composition Variables as Predictors of Team Performance", Journal of applied psychology, Vol.92, No.3, pp.595-615. Capretz L (2003), "Personality types in software engineering.”, International journal of humancomputer studies, Vol. 58, No.2, pp.207-214. Capretz L, Ahmed F 2010, "Why do we need personality diversity in software engineering?", Software engineering notes, Vol.35, No.2, pp.1-11. Clark J, Wynekoop J 2003, "Identifying Exceptional Software Developers: A Comparison of Students and Professionals", Communications of the Association of Information Systems (CIAS), Vol. 11, No. 8, pp. 137-154. Feldt R, Angelis L, Torkar R, Samuelsson M 2010, "Links between the personalities, views and attitudes of software engineers", Information and software technology, Vol.52, No.6, pp.611-624. Hannay J, Arisholm E, Engvik H, Sjøberg D 2010, "Effects of Personality on Pair Programming.", IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, Vol.36, No.1, pp.61-80. Linberg K 1999, "Software developer perceptions about software project failure: a case study.", The Journal of systems and software, Vol. 49, No. 2-3, pp.177-192. Liu Y, Chen HG, Chen C, Sheu T 2011, "Relationships among interpersonal conflict, requirements uncertainty, and software project performance.", International journal of project management, Vol.29, No.5, pp.547-556. Rasch R, Tsoi H 1992, "Factors affecting software developers' performance: an integrated approach”, Management information systems quarterly, Vol.16, No.3, pp.395-413 Wynekoop J, Walz B 2000, "Investigating traits of top performing software developers", Information Technology & People, Vol.13, No.3, pp.186-195.
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Software permeates every aspect of modern life. Unlike the material intensive manufacturing or construction projects, endeavours in IT are a...
Published on Jan 28, 2015
Software permeates every aspect of modern life. Unlike the material intensive manufacturing or construction projects, endeavours in IT are a...