Managing the delivery of a project from start to finish can be one of the most demanding endeavours of your life, and for many project managers, it is an experience full of unexpected trials. So how do you manage it all? If you’ve planned your project delivery process scrupulously, cemented the structures in your project lifecycle, or invested in team development in your software or web development, then you will at some point have discovered the beauty and opportunity of delegation.
Delegation is simply the act of passing across or handing down responsibilities or tasks within a team. In the professional context, it can occur laterally between team members or vertically from a senior employee to a subordinate.
Perhaps you’re a self-confessed perfectionist who likes things done a certain way, or a newbie in the project management game, and you don’t feel ready to share your influence with team. Lack of control is sometimes hard for even seasoned project managers and owners. But if you’re yet to practice the art of delegation, you’re missing out.
The Benefits of Delegation
- Delegation Allows You To Focus – As a Project Manager, your time is precious. You need to ensure your mind is focused on the most important tasks; the “vital few” as Darren Hardy once put it. Business management is plagued with tasks that are urgent, important and developmental – how can you be effective if you try and juggle them all? You need to pass over the tasks that others can do, and allow your mind to tackle the big fish on your plate.
- Delegation Empowers Others – Think about it: how do you feel when your boss gives you a big responsibility? Dynamic, right? Important? Accountable? Handing over the reins to an assistant or team member gives them a boost of self-esteem, and communicates that you believe in their capability. It says “I know that you can handle this” and raises their profile among their peers. In the majority of cases, when people are given such promotion, they become more invested in what they’re doing, because they recognise that the success of the team rests on them.
- Delegation Communicates Trust – as well as saying “I know you can handle this”, the act of delegating an important responsibility also says “I trust that you will get it done.” Trust is having confidence in a person’s character. There are many Project Managers who work with technically capable staff, but wouldn’t leave them alone with their most difficult client, let alone their most important one. When you delegate, you demonstrate that you believe they have not only the skills, but also the tenacity, will, integrity, and sense of excellence to do the job to your standards. That is a tremendous, powerful investment in your professional relationship: when you increase the level of trust between you and team members, it invites more honesty, dependability and determination between you.
- Delegation Facilitates Collaboration – let’s say you’re the Project Manager of a slick software development firm. The team has just scored a big contract and the Regional Director has emphasised that it’s important everything is top quality. You, being an untouchably gifted strategist, decide to not only brainstorm and finalise the layout of the spread, but to design, arrange and define the architecture as well, leaving your assistants to buy you coffee, hold your calls and make sure you’ve got the best pencils from Paperchase. Not only does that signal that you see your team as incompetent and uncreative, it also limits the project from the benefit of multiple points of view. Your employees are there for a purpose and, Manager or not, you don’t have a monopoly on ideas. A vision is supposed to be shared and built on, by synergy and diversity. A successful project by a work hogging boss leads to a happy captain and grumbling subordinates, thinking about the greater success that could’ve been. On the other hand, when the work is shared the praise is too, trickling down to those who supported you, giving them an incentive to do more next time.
- Delegation Trains Future Leaders – the true purpose of leadership is to empower, encourage and equip others to fulfil their own potential and bring out the best they have to offer the world. No one can excel without opportunities, and as the leader of your team you are the keeper of the keys, so to speak. The stagnation, rise or decline of your department is on you. Delegation is an important practice: it assures productivity and effective teambuilding for everyone involved.
How to Delegate
- Prioritise Your Activities – Put together a list of all the things (you think) you have to do in the week (weekly planning is better than daily), and then order each point in order of importance. Brian Tracy purports an amazing way of doing this, called the ABCDE method. “A Tasks” are those which must be done – the critical stuff, and anything your boss gives you directly; “B Tasks” are those which should be done, but not until A Tasks are completed; “C Tasks” are those which you would like to do (these are usually activities that draw on our interests, or are the least demanding) but shouldn’t be done until A and B Tasks are done; “D Tasks” are those which you can delegate (those which can be done by someone else) and “E Tasks” are activities which you can eliminate altogether (wasteful, unimportant tasks which have no real value). If you complete this exercise, you’ll not only be shocked at how much less you have to deal with, you will also know which tasks to delegate.
- NB: Don’t Spread the Junk Around – A lot of Managers misuse their authority be delegating their undesirable tasks – perhaps a B Task they would rather not handle (such as a phone call to a difficult associate), or an E Task that is below their pay grade (excessive admin tasks usually fall in this category). Delegation is a good idea, but if the tasks are E Tasks at their core, passing them down not only overburdens your workers – leaving them stressed and possibly resentful – it also perpetuates the habit of doing the wrong tasks and wastes your employees’ talents and time. Remember, delegation is about efficiency and empowerment.
- Choose the Right Delegate – Hopefully, you’ve done your recruitment well and you’re surrounded by competent, enthusiastic staff! If this is the case, you’ll have skilled individuals at your disposal who are inspired to be active in your organisation or department, and are more than capable of sharing some of your tasks. Selection at this point should therefore be very easy: choose the person or group that have the skills and talents most inclined to the task(s) you’re giving them. If they are ill-equipped, or if the activity requires a new capacity, they you may need to walk them through the process.
- Give Clear Instructions – When you actually hand down the task you want to delegate, make sure you give clear instructions. Communicate exactly what they have to do, the end result you expect to see, when you expect to see it, and why it is important. The last point is especially important, because (as previously stated) communicating the importance of a task ensures your employee will handle it with more care and intention. Invite them to ask questions. Also, if necessary and where possible, emphasise that you are confident he or she will do a good job. A little encouragement often goes a long way.
- Don’t Micromanage – In all that you tell your employee, avoid telling them “how” you want the task done. For example, if you want them to give a presentation, you can tell them what you want them include, but specifying the layout of each slide, the order of the points they give, and number of times they interact with the audience is unnecessary. Often, it can be discouraging and limit creativity. It also necessitates that you constantly oversee the process, which is the opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve. Essentially, unless there are legal factors involved, or you’re working to specific requirements, or it’s an urgent matter and inventiveness would take too much time, your employee should be allowed to think for themselves.
- Be Patient and Supportive – The bigger and newer the task, the scarier it may be, so make yourself available to answer any questions, and let them know they can come to you whenever they need help. You may need to pitch in if they are unsure or lack the confidence to make critical decisions, and even if they don’t keep coming back to you, it’s wise to get an update every now and then to make sure they’re staying on track.
When Delegation Goes Wrong
Perhaps they balked in the face of responsibility and produced less than you hoped. Perhaps they misinterpreted the instruction, the purpose of the task or the timeframe they had. Perhaps they already had a lot on their plate and didn’t understand the importance of their delegated task. Whatever the case, there are times when delegating to an otherwise excellent employee can leave you feeling let down. But there’s hope! You can still salvage the working relationship, their confidence (an insecure employee is an unproductive employee) and the project itself.
- Be Open to Other Ideas – Be honest and unbiased: is the work they produced really off base, or just not how you imagined? Some people are more difficult to please than others, and you may have had a specific vision for the end result. But even if it doesn’t look/sound/deliver in exactly the way you wanted, does it still get the job done? You may prefer footnotes to end notes, but if the document is for internal distribution, does it really matter? Perhaps a purple background would’ve made a prettier banner, but red is more striking anyway, so what’s the problem? Unless you have serious grounds for dispute (e.g. poor quality or inaccuracy), personal taste may be the issue – in which case, don’t split hairs, just be an encouraging leader.
- Accept Responsibility – if, however, you believe you’ve been clear about what you want to see and it really hasn’t materialised, you may be tempted to blame your junior or lose your temper. Don’t. If you can tell that they’ve made an attempt to complete the task, and it’s gone sideways, it’s because you didn’t communicate the concept in as much depth, or the follow-up support wasn’t made available for them to be sure of their progress at every stage. If you sit down with them and ask what they thought you wanted, you may be surprised at what they come back with.
- Be Honest – help them to see the ways in which their work was inconsistent with what you wanted. Be gentle but firm, and offer constructive Make sure they know their efforts weren’t in vain, and you’re looking forward to seeing them take it further.
- Resist The Urge To Micromanage – you may want them to go over it again. (This is even advisable over giving it to another employee or finishing it yourself, which are the clearest ways of telling your employee that their efforts were entirely hopeless.) It’s still not a good idea to dictate how they do what you’ve asked them, but if necessary, ask them what ideas they have, and use insight and leading questions to help them see the problems they may face in doing it “their way”.
When Delegation Goes Right
- Acknowledge Their Success – praise is an amazing stimulant in a working environment; it raises morale, productivity, trust, and effort, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. If they’ve done a good job, let them (and possibly others in your team) know how much you appreciate their efforts. You may even want to let your boss know that success of your department or project was down to the outstanding contribution of a certain worker.
- Reward the Diligent – Rewards are a quick, simple, effective way of affirming the right behaviour: they give other workers an example and incentive to strive towards, they cement positive vibes and dynamics between you and your employees, and they give everyone a sense of value and impact. Rewards may be snacks, time off, license to work from home, awards, vouchers, gifts, bonuses, or a plethora of other treats. If you’re pleased, don’t hesitate to dole them out: delegation is a delicate matter, and when it goes well, in one way or another, be sure to celebrate.