Theory X and Theory Y by Ivar Jacobson

Management styles have a huge effect on software development teams.  A significant shift required in  the movement toward a more agile approach is a change in the way that teams are managed and measured.Management styles can be described in  a number of ways - Theory X and Theory Y are popular approaches dating back to the 1960's but still applicable today.   Basically, Theory X assumes that people are basically untrustworthy slackers who need to be constantly monitored and told what to do and are only working because they need the money.  Theory Y assumes that people want to do a good job and are motivated by more than money, and that people produce their best results when they are working in a supportive environment that frees them to be creative and productive.It should come as no surprise that a necessary condition for a movement toward agile teaming is a "Theory Y" management culture - a team trying to adopt an agile approach in an organization with a "Theory X" management culture is doomed to failure and frustration; it will constantly be fighting the management system and the surrounding culture. In these organizations, the management culture (and its supporting measurement system) must change along with the team approach in order for both to be successful. Before you can change it, however, you need to understand it.

  1. Kurt Bittner | February 19, 2008 at 2:44 pm Reply


    People management is certainly important, perhaps even the most important as you suggest, and DeMarco’s book has a lot of good things to say about that topic. It is true that the approaches you mention do not specifically address people management, nor do I think they should – there is no need for every approach to have to be an island unto itself and to have to reinvent everything that came before. There is no value in that.

    That said, people management is not the be-all end-all answer either – even when good people management is pursued, the people still need techniques and approaches to help them with specific problems. That these discussions of methods tend to get so contentious is perhaps the larger problem – most of the methods have some good ideas in them, and none of them are complete or perfect (nor do they need to be, in my opinion).

    There is no magic method that works in all situations – the most important thing is to be smart and well-informed and understand where specific techniques provide benefit and where they do not, and then choose what works best for your specific situation. To the extent that various methods tout that they provide “the answer”, they are spouting marketing “blah blah” – there is no “answer”, but there are tools and techniques that can be useful if you know how and when to use them.

    The real problem occurs when people blindly follow a method unthinkingly, expecting to be magically transformed. Real improvement requires real work. There is no shortcut.

  2. Jurgen Appelo | February 18, 2008 at 8:18 am Reply


    Ivar, in response to this post and the previous one:

    I noticed that all sorts of combinations of popular methods have been promoted in literature. One can combine XP with Scrum, and Scrum with DSDM. And DSDM is compatible with Prince2, of course, and XP can be added on top of that. Oh, and naturally the UP is agile and can be combined with any of the other methods.

    I also noticed that these methods all put “people over process” but the real important people management practices (like those mentioned in Tom DeMarco’s Peopleware) are not described.

    From this I have concluded that all methods are simply marketing blah blah for a big bunch of best practices, from which they all have taken a smaller subset. And the most important thing to consider first are the people management issues that these methods seem not to be addressing…