Here I see a big problem in situations:

There is a manager/scrum master who wants to get work done fast in sprint, not be late. I often see them trying to use frightening/angry tone and similar stuff to motivate to achieve results faster. But often this does not work, the next day still sprint is late. Then angry again - why late. Then everybody have stress - programmers because hearing such tone, manager having to be angry and also he needs to tell to stake holders why they do not meet deadlines.

The problem is - the fixed salary kind of forces employee to work on same productivity all the time. So if for some reason he got stuck on a task or whatever, he is still paid as he should not have been stuck on the task and the company is not happy because it has to pay as he was going good. Then they make stress to a programmer and programmer becomes not happy.

Now if for a task the money is paid depending on productivity, it could reduce both parties unhappiness - company has to pay less when it does not go productively and programmer does not need to feel stress because nobody now blame him for being unproductive.

And also if he wants to get a bonus - he tries to be productive, so the project does not go unproductive.

If programmer still does not try to be productive, then it means motivator is too weak. Need to adjust. So fine tune the motivator to find a good balance so that programmer would be safe in case things go bad, but also he would get good enough added value if he succeeds.

For example:

the task is estimated for 8 hours. Programmers salary is 80 eur per those 8 hours, 10 eur per hour with those conditions. And without those conditions - programmers salary is lets say 90 eur per day.

Now could added condition: if you finish it in 7 hours, you get still 80 eur. And now you have one hour left in your day to earn 10 eur more by taking another task or go home (whatever motivates the programmer more).

Yea, programmer might still take 3 days to finish this task because maybe it was estimated bad and company migth not be happy. But it will be bit happier still, because now it would pay 240 eur instead of 270 eur. Its not perfect (because its hard to calculate perfect salary in IT), but better than before I assume because of motivator part.

And maybe that programmer had hidden talent to earn 100 eur per day on average when he has a motivator, while with fixed hourly without motivator part he would have earned 90 eur per day, because he started searching ways to improve. Win win.

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    If you reward speed, speed is what you get. Quality will go down the drain. – Oded Nov 8 '16 at 18:07
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    I'm basing this statement on the title, but research has shown repeatedly that money is a surprisingly poor motivator. Groups and individuals consistently perform tasks worse when the potential reward is a direct dollar figure. There is a lot of research available on motivation and reward. – pay Nov 8 '16 at 18:07
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    There is also the not insignificant cost to administer this variable payment system. – cdkMoose Nov 8 '16 at 18:13
  • @Oded - there is no fast cheap and quality. If you want quality , then pay it big, or do not ask speed. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:18
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    In addition to other reasons, there's a bit of human nature at play here. There are a good many people who relish excuses to be 'boss' and push people around. They'd rather use sticks than carrots, not because sticks give better results, but because using the stick provides ego gratification. – jamesqf Nov 8 '16 at 18:26

The problem is the system is easy to game. And programmers in general are a creative lot. They would often rather figure out a novel way to get the best result, than just solve the original problem. So. instead of trying to just grind out the most money they can, they work to find ways to exploit the weaknesses in the system, and maximize their reward with minimum effort.
And not because they are greedy or lazy, but because that is the game.

Because code is such a complex thing to evaluate there is no real way to do it completely objectively so some human evaluation will be required. Any time you include a human element you end up with a system that seems biased (even if it is not). That appearance of bias tends to demotivate further exacerbating the problem.


Aside from all the research that shows that money is not so good as a motivator, this sort of thing would be complicated to manage over time and complex systems have a tendency to break. Do you really want to break payroll? Do you want to be continually fighting over how much should have been in your paycheck? Do you want to have a tiny paycheck unexpectedly because you got handed a difficult task? Will your mortgage company or rental company care that you got paid half the normal amount when you can't pay for your housing this month?

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    +1 even when listed as reasons for leaving a job, money is far down the list, as a motivator, it's even further down the list. – Old_Lamplighter Nov 8 '16 at 18:50
  • @HLGEM - one month paycheck does not mean anything. Look at long run. In the long run if you are motivated and good - you should make money. If you are not making then nobody is making, and then everybody would quit the company. Company will not be able to trick you to pay lower (in the long run) – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 19:02
  • @RichardU I read a lot that money is not at the top of the list for motivations so I must be the 1%, while I do value other items, if I had to pick only one thing it would be money. While I do want challenging and interesting things to work on, I'd rather have money and boring things to work on because money allows me to live the lifestyle I enjoy living. – The Muffin Man Nov 8 '16 at 19:17
  • @TheMuffinMan Fine, would you take a 100,000 dollar per year pay increase to work security in Syria in Aleppo? – Old_Lamplighter Nov 8 '16 at 19:19
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    @Will_create_nick_later, one month paycheck means something when through no fault of your own, you can't pay your bills that month. – HLGEM Nov 8 '16 at 20:00

I see lots of problems with this approach, and most have already been covered by other answers.

The main problem I see is:

I don't want to work for a company with this type of payroll

There is almost no benefit for the employee unless they want to grind away at 100% effort everyday. The closest thing to your payment scheme that I can think of is sales*, and is exactly the reason I always avoided that field when I was first starting out.

Freelancing also has a similar payment scheme in that you are paid based on your results in a relatively small time frame (project by project). So if I wanted to be paid this way I would give freelancing a shot. Most people stay in jobs (rather than working for themselves) because of the stability of the same amount of money, week in and week out.

So, one more reason to avoid this payroll scheme is that it will note serve well to attract new employees.

* A sales position where your base salary is relatively low, and you make most of your money based on commission

  • There is benefit - less anger from managers because of productivity. Ideally - no anger. Guess what - I am doing 100% effort everyday already. I have nothing to loose. Many people do. And I am dreaming to find less stressful managers. Freelancing yea, but then I need to be salesmen and also I do not want 100 % fixed price. I want also some stable part of salary. I want kind of a mix between freelance and full time job. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:50
  • Seems like you might benefit more from a question like "How do I get compensated fairly based on performance?" rather than proposing a radical payment basis change. – Dan Nov 8 '16 at 18:58
  • I am compensated fairly, but I get too much stress by trying to do fast. Or I do not know some thing how to be fast and not get stress. With such system I should be able to feel better because nobody could get angry at me now. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 19:06
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    @Will_create_nick_later: Then maybe you should ask a question along the lines of "How do I handle a boss angry at me because they believe my work takes too long?" – sleske Nov 9 '16 at 10:29

The chief problem with reward driven behavior is you reward that behavior. If you reward most projects done, people will select small projects because they can complete more of them, thus neglecting big ones.

If rewards are put in place to address problems, a very real danger is creating "The Cobra effect", where an attempt at a solution breeds more problems.

Reward systems only work when finely tuned to a replicable, measureable, and universal outcome. Such as: If you meet your quota of 65 flawless widgets per day, you get a bonus.

Call centers are notorious for winding up in trouble in trying different incentives. Measuring success by time on a call, for example, will result in good representatives handling difficult calls that take more time than simple ones. Another one that our group ran afoul of was that the call center was being incentivized based on first call resolutions, which resulted in a problem buried for months because it was never escalated past the first call. Quick fixes were applied and the problem festered.

A varying pay solution, such as you suggest will get all the programmers going for the low-hanging fruit and passing the buck on, or even taking short cuts on the more difficult sections.

In short, it's just a bad idea no matter how it has been tried

  • Those low-hanging fruits should have less bonus. To avoid short cuts - thats code reviews are for. If the code is terribly written there will be soon the talks about that programmer that he is doing crap constantly. If he does not change, fire him. As you would without this reward system. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:54
  • While I agree with most of your points; just because something has never worked before doesn't mean new methods shouldn't be tried (as long as they account for past failings). – user30031 Nov 11 '16 at 20:35
  1. Tasks are hard to estimate accurate time that they take. Many people use t-shirt size - i.e. about a day, 3 days etc.
  2. You introduce a competition within teams. Programmers trying to get the easier jobs to do. Somme jobs will be left aside if possible
  3. You will end up with tension in the organisation - some teams may be having an easier time than others
  4. How does one manage when people are not happy over timings etc.

This all seems very much pain for potentially very little reward.

  • easier jobs = less bonus. If super easy - no bonus maybe on that task. Those which are left aside - eventually gain bigger bonus. It would be like economy system which would balance things. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:58
  • Surely easier jobs can be completed in time or faster - hence a bonus. – Ed Heal Nov 8 '16 at 19:01
  • so what. Like if the task is estimated 1 hour. I agree - it will be completed much faster than task estimated 8 hours. But the thing is - then margin for that task to get a bonus - will be 0.5 hours for example. Now if you complete it that fast , no problem - take a bonus. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 19:09
  • And the flip side is...? – Ed Heal Nov 8 '16 at 19:11
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    This is stupid when people in a team are competing with each out. End of team – Ed Heal Nov 8 '16 at 19:18

I wise thing that a former manager told me: "Whatever performance measurements you introduce, any reasonably intelligent developer can double his or her performance according to that measurement, without any increase in productivity."

In software development, developers can do a quick and shitty job that will cause lots of work later on, or they can do a good job that will make life easier for everyone in the future. If you reward the quick and shitty job, that's what you will get. You pay over the odds for rubbish work.


The subject of money and motivation has been researched extensively. This animated video of a TED-talk handles a lot of it.

I would suggest you watch it. The key thing to take away from it: money is a terrible motivator and research shows that if you try to motivate people doing a creative/mental task with money they actually become less productive.

People in general are much more motivated by intrinsic motivators (ie: I want to do this) than they are by extrinsic motivators (ie: If I do it, I will get this thing) and the more you speak to their extrinsic motivation, the less productive they will become. (And the more money you will be paying, as for many people there is considerable intrinsic motivation in gaming systems for money; a lot more than there is in working harder for pay.)


  • @Eric - I used money just as an example. Can find whatever else, but not making stress. Yea, stress also motivates, but at the cost of health and happiness. I did not watch the video yet, added to todo list. But I was thinking - to find out what motivates each worker and then use this. And btw - I saw an example when money did motivate. My father needed in his farm workers to work overtime on certain month. They were so unhappy to work for standard salary. He decided to use 2x salary for overtime. Suddenly they started coming to work happy. So this means that money motivates in some cases – Will_create_nick_later Nov 9 '16 at 17:10

Many reasons, but I'll give two fundamental ones.

It's not like apple picking where you can easily quantify the work done by counting the baskets of apples. Many jobs these days it very difficult to quantify on a day to day basis, you can judge in hindsight slightly better and by progress in general, but you can't be exact and still have quality control. If you start paying programmers by the word/letter typed you'll end up like the old books where writers were paid by the word and they just fluffed everything out.

Secondly, Unions and the union mentality where mediocre people expect to make a decent living doing as little as possible, absolutely useless people are difficult to fire, and ambitious hard working people suffer a bit although they can still get ahead.

When it is quantifiable it makes sense to do so, because your maths is simple, you have a set amount of work to be done, you reward the people who get through it properly the fastest because time is money and the seasons wait for no man. So in my forestry days while planting pine at 10 cents a tree, you would have 'gun' planters making 1200 dollars a week, and you'd have others making 200 a week.

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    Unions and the union mentality where mediocre people expect to make a decent living doing as little as possible is highly offensive. The vast majority of union people do the best at their job and simply want to be protected from the whims of management and the upheaval of their life in the interest of a small increase in the bottom line for a quarter. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 8 '16 at 18:22
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    You're offended? The vast majority of people possibly including myself ARE mediocre. – Kilisi Nov 8 '16 at 18:23
  • its not easy, but is it easy to pay fixed hourly price and then motivate by anger and see no results? So you say unions would not allow this? Weird. Why I see the sales people handled this way? Selling is not picking apples also. I see salesmen get minimum wages and extra salary depend on the result. Sometimes the good result is not possible to achieve because of poor product or so. People still work. They could say - no this is not good - give me full hourly high salary otherwise I do not work. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:24
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings - they do their best, I believe. If their best is 80% of other guy best, he should get 80% of what other guy gets. People are not equal. But feels like management wants people to be equal. Equaly best. – Will_create_nick_later Nov 8 '16 at 18:26
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    @Will_create_nick_later - Because sales results are easily quantifiable. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 8 '16 at 18:27

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