Motivation in Agile Teams

Motivation as described by Cobb (2011) is an approach that directs, inspires and encourages individuals and teams towards achieving some set goals.The functionality and performance of a team determines the success of any project. Therefore, to achieve high performance, some strategies such as motivation are required to drive the team towards producing the required outcome or meeting customer(s) expectation (Moe et al, 2010). Motivation plays a significant role in agile teams and several studies have revealed that motivation has a high influence on the output of software development. Goodpasture (2010) suggests that the application of agile methodology usually works better when the team members are motivated as well as empowered. However, it is important to note that every individual has different ways of responding to motivation.
In addition, motivation in agile teams results from the proper application of agile practices in agile software development. Using the daily scrum meeting as an example, commitments are made to each other at the meeting on what needs to be done and this motivates them to perform the underlying work.

The practice of pair programming also motivates agile teams as it provides the developers with opportunities to learn and share knowledge from each other. However, there is a tendency for the team or member to lose motivation in the case where a developer is domineering and wants to be the dictator. Another example of motivation can also be seen in the use of the wikipage for the development of articles, team members could not find their way around the page at the first iteration which was demotivating but as time went on, team members became enthusiastic and motivated about using the page.

Motivation can be categorised into two broad concepts which are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation relates to an individual’s drive that results from the pleasure and satisfaction of accomplishing a given task. With an intrinsic motivation, an individual strives to meet or even exceed a set goal. Examples of intrinsic motivation include achievement, recognition, and responsibility.

==Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to undertaking a task or activity with the aim of receiving something in return. It depends on the needs and surrounding environment of an individual. Examples of extrinsic motivation include salary, bonus, reward and benefits.

Methods of Motivation

There are several techniques that can be applied in motivating individuals according to a research carried out by Goodpasture (2010). In this research, it is suggested that every individual has different response or acceptance to motivation therefore it is essential that the motivator understands the motivation technique to apply on a team member or the team as a whole. The techniques of motivation that can be applied on individuals include:

  • Define a realistic, clear and achievable task
  • Increase the level of control the team or member has over a task by giving an added responsibility and freedom to deliver the required task
  • Some team or member may also be motivated through involvement
  • Providing incentives such as bonuses, rewards & compensations

Theories of Motivation

According to Abraham Maslow (1987), human needs are classified into five levels, in an hierarchical order of lowest to highest needs. These needs include
  • Physiological i.e salaries
  • Appropriate facilities
  • Job security
  • Interactions with customers and colleagues
  • Teamwork
  • Self esteem i.e. recognition and appreciation from team members
  • Self actualization i.e.the realization of the full potential of the individual.

For a team to be able to work effectively and perform, every team member's needs must be satisfied from the lowest to highest need respectively. According to the theory, the higher level needs becomes motivators when the lower level needs are satisfied.

Project Manager's Perception of Motivation

Project manager who use agile practices must ensure their team produces high quality work. Project managers need to provide a supportive atmosphere that will constantly motivate their team to produce quality work using their best capabilities, also project managers have to ensure that all the team members make accurate decisions and complete given task in timely manner.

Motivating Agile Project Teams

The growing pressure on agile teams to deliver a successful project and the emergence of new methods such as agile requires an effective and efficient management of the team. A project manager must ensure that each team member is motivated to use his or her capabilities in the best interest of team or organisation.

Benefits of Motivation in Agile Teams

  • It promotes innovation and creativity among the team members
  • It allows for development of skills thus, improving performance

Barriers to Motivating Agile Teams

There has been several research on motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic) and according to Asporani (2004), motivation cannot be stated to have any disadvantages but there are several obstacles that could make motivation unachievable. These barriers include:
  • The motivator needs to understand the kind of technique that would be effective on an individual or the team as a whole and this is sometimes difficult to achieve because of human differences and perception
  • Motivation also requires the right climate in order for it to be effective
  • Determining the proper reward or incentive that will successfully motivate the team may be difficult
  • The motivator also needs to be motivated towards achieving the goal in order to have any impact on the team


Cobb, C.G. (2011) Making Sense of Agile Project Management: Balancing Control and Agility. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Available at: [Accessed: 6 March, 2012].

Goodpasture, J.C. (2010) Project Management the Agile Way: Making it Work in the Enterprise. U.S.A : J. Ross Publishing Inc. Available at:
[Accessed: 6 March, 2012].

Maslow, A.H. (1987) Motivation and Personality 3rd edn. New York : Harper& Row Publishers, Inc.

Moe, N.B., Dingsoyr, T. & Tore, D. (2010) 'A Teamwork Model for Understanding an Agile Team: A Case Study of Scrum Projects'. Information & Software Technology.52(5) pp. 480-491. Available at: [Accessed: 6 March, 2012]

Orla, M. (2011) Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems. Available at: . [Accessed: 13 March, 2012].

PM Prespectives (2011) Motivating Agile Teams. Available at . [Accessed: 13 March, 2012].

Asproni. G, (2004). Motivation, Teamwork, and Agile Development. Available at: [Accessed: 12 March, 2012].

Yesh. D, (2011) Agile= Intrinsic Motivation.Available at: [Accessed: 15 March, 2012].