Topics on the PMP: McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

One topic you can expect to see at least once on the PMP exam is McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. As a former tester I can assure you that having a strong grasp of this theory will give you at least one correct answer on the exam. From my experience, questions that reference this theory are very straight forward.

We’ll use this blog to discuss what the theory means and what x and y represent.

What is McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

McGregor’s theory is a motivation theory, meaning it provides explanation on what people want in order to do their job.This theory is rather simple in relationship to the other four motivation theories you need to know for the exam – like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. McGregor’s theory separates employees into one of two groups, either X or Y.

Theory X

Topics on the PMP: McGregor's Theory X

McGregor stated that those employees who are separated into Theory X need to be micromanaged. Theory X believes that employees are inherently lazy and without constant supervision, they will not complete their work.

As my fellow blogger notes in, “5 PMP Terms You Need to Know” you should remember that X = bad. When I studied for the exam, every time I saw Theory X, I got a mental picture of the giant red X from the game show Family Feud, which helped me remember X is not good.

Theory Y

Topics on the PMP: McGregor's Theory Y

Conversely, McGregor stated that those employees who are separated into Theory Y should be left to complete their work independently. Theory Y believes that employees are inherently motivated and want to produce quality work. Managers of Theory Y employees should let their employees have more freedom.

Again, as my fellow blogger notes, remember Theory Y = yes. While I studied these questions I pictured the employees saying – YES I CAN!

One additional item to point out is PMI prefers Theory Y. So, unless it explicitly says otherwise, you should complete the exam under the assumption that a project manager trusts his team members to complete their work independently.

Process, Knowledge Area, and Process Group

As always, let’s bring this term back to how it relates to the 47 processes of project management.

McGregor’s Theory is used when you are Managing the Project Team – which is one of the 47 processes on the PMP Process Chart.

Managing the Project Team is a process you complete during the executing phase (process group) of the project.

Managing the Project Team is a process you complete in the Human Resource Management knowledge area.

Final Thoughts on McGregor’s Theory

I hope you learned a little more about McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y. It is one of four important motivation theories you will need to know for the exam.

As long as you have the definitions memorized and can remember X is bad and Y is good, you will do well on any related exam questions.

For example you might get an exam question that is this straightforward:

What management theory states that employees are inherently motivated and should be left to complete their work without supervision?

1. Theory X
2. Maslow’s hierarchy
3. Motivation Theory
4. Theory Y

Did you get it? Theory Y – See some questions can be that easy!

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