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Mar 3, 2016

[Explained] Do feelings matter? On the correlation of affects and the self-assessed productivity in software engineering

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D. Graziotin, X. Wang, P. Abrahamsson, “Do feelings matter? On the correlation of affects and the self-assessed productivity in software engineering“, Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, vol. 27, no. 7, pp. 467-487, 2015. DOI: 10.1002/smr.1673

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D. Graziotin, X. Wang, and P. Abrahamsson, “Are Happy Developers more Productive?”, Proc. 14th International Conference on Product-Focused Software Process Improvement (PROFES 2013), LNCS 7983, pp. 50–64, 2013. ISBN 978-3-642-39258-0. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-39259-7_7

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In this study, we aimed to continue using psychology theory and measurement instruments for understanding the linkage between the real-time affect (let’s say, emotions) raised by a software development task and the productivity related to the task itself.

Eight software developers (4 students, 4 from software companies) worked on their real-world, software project. The task length was of 90 minutes (as it is about the typical length for a programming task). Each 10 minutes, the developers filled a questionnaire formed by the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) and an item for self-assessing the productivity.

SAM is peculiar because it is a validated way to measure the affect raised by a stimulus (like an object, or a situation), it is picture-based, and it is very quick to be filled especially if implemented on a tablet device (literally 3 touches). SAM represents the affect using three dimensions, namely valence (the attractiveness of a stimulus), arousal (the mental activation, or awakeness), and dominance (the sensation by which a stimulus dominates us). Therefore, the affect raised by a stimulus can be represented by three values for these three variables. We do not exactly know which dimension is raised any time, but we know the underlying components of that emotion.

Long story short, we analyzed how developers felt during the task and how they self-assessed themselves in terms of productivity. Self-assessment is not a very objective way of measuring productivity, but it has been demonstrated that individuals are actually good at self-assessing themselves if they are observed alone. The results have shown that high pleasure with the programming task and the sensation of having adequate skills are positively correlated with the productivity. This correlation holds over time, and real-time. We also found that there are strong variations of affect in 90 minutes of time. Happy software developers are indeed more productive.

Managers, team leaders, and leaders in general should expect higher performance when the affects triggered by a development task are positive. Moreover, the strong changes in affects and performance in short intervals of time have the implication that managers should care about their developers all day long and continuously.

This post is part of the scicomm series [Explained]. Read about it.

written by dgraziotin

Dr. Daniel Graziotin received his PhD in computer science, software engineering at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy. His research interests include human aspects in empirical software engineering with psychological measurements, Web engineering, and open science. He researches, publishes, and reviews for venues in software engineering, human-computer interaction, and psychology. Daniel is the founder of the psychoempirical software engineering discipline and guidelines. He is associate editor at the Journal of Open Research Software, academic editor at the Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal, and academic editor at the Open Communications in Computer Science journal. He is the local coordinator of the Italian Open science local group for the Open Knowledge Foundation. He is a member of ACM, SIGSOFT, and IEEE.

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