Theory X vs Y

Theory X and Y refers to two types of team motivation which benefits from different management approaches (McGregor, 1960).

Theory X is team motivation by external factors of rewards and penalties and is best approached with measurement style of management with full or partial supervision of key indicators and critical effort dimensions (depending on the cost of measurement). Theory X often applies more to contractors, such as contract testers, where’s there’s a client-contractor relationship and less internal motivation to help the business or customers.

Theory Y is team motivation by internal factors such as job satisfaction or desire to help and is best approached with delegation style of management with no supervision and trust (depending on the cost of delegation). Theory Y often applies to embedded testers, particularly when in cross-functional scrum teams and shared objectives, where there’s an employer-employee or colleague relationship.


Measurement vs Delegation Management

Test managers work out what motivates their testers the most and apply a management approach accordingly.

When it comes to managing cost, each tester will have contracted hours that they must fulfil to remain employed, or in the case of external contractors, pay is directly linked to the number of hours worked. Cost of testing therefore favours the measurement approach, where cost can be increased or decreased to meet project needs by the addition or subtraction of more testers. This also applies to different testing activities, for example, moving a tester from spending time on automated tool development to spending time on test planning and design reviews.

However, due to the problem of applying metrics when it comes to quality of work and value delivered, test managers would typically look towards delegation management through internal motivation to inspire testers to produce high quality work without the need of supervision and external motivation (Austin, 1996). This also means that spending time and money on activities that raise internal motivation are a better investment than trying to apply financial or time rewards for high quality work that are open to dysfunction.

Note that delegation management may affect costs if testers are willing to put in extra hours to produce a quality work, which should be kept minimal and sustainable to protect testers’ welfare. Likewise a lack of work hours may signal a tester is internally demotivated or dissatisfied in some way, which could be a sign of ineffective delegation management. So balancing delegation value management against measurement cost management is a good approach to managing test teams effectively.

Delegation management approaches based on raising theory Y motivation include:

  • Positive working environments where people are happy
  • Sense of belonging via shared communities or practice, sense of purpose and values – we’re all testers in this together
  • Inspirational leadership through strong communication of vision/mission/goals
  • Intimacy of working in small, close, collaborative teams such as scrum teams or specialist test teams
  • Built trust via promises, shared vulnerabilities and strong investment in personnel development
  • A view of the larger picture how their work impacts and serves the larger business and customers

Measurement management approaches based on raising theory X motivation include:

  • Good metrics based on full or partial supervision of key indictors and critical effort dimensions
  • Target-based rewards and penalties, usually bonuses
  • Standardisation of repeatable processes which variances can be measured against
  • Breakdown and grouping of similar tasks and sub-tasks
  • Controlling any overtime to ensure employee welfare or finding the cause of any undertime


Values and Relationships

While people ultimately need to work for money to support themselves and their families, neither this nor work itself will motivate teams to produce more than the bare minimum to stay employed or prevent them leaving. Teams are motivated to produce their best work and strive for improvement when it comes to values and relationships (Kennedy, 2005).

Values motivate people by knowing what they do makes a difference to someone, when they know the risks and rewards to themselves, and when their own core values are taken into account. Taking the time to be transparent, answer their questions and take an interest them as people matter.

Relationships motivate teams when members are cared about on an individual level, known as the Hawthorne Effect. Everyone is important, so make sure they know this through personal attention and considerations to comfort. This could be as simple as buying a high-quality chair, flexible working time for things, providing gifts and creating social events.



  • Austin, R., 1996. Measuring And Managing Performance In Organizations. New York, NY: Dorset House. p. 84, 104-107.
  • Kennedy, L., 2005. Keeping The Promise: A Work Ethic For Doing Things Right. Orlando, FL: Reliable Man Books, pp. 37–39.
  • McGregor, D., 1960. The Human Side of Enterprise. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

2023-07-02: Added measurement and delegation management approaches
2023-08-14: Added values and relationships, renamed to “motivation”

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