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Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: When to Delegate (Part 1 of 3) March 13, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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Delegation is a hard skill to learn and most newbie managers do it wrong. They over-delegate or under-delegate. They micromanage or abandon responsibility entirely. Ultimately they lose the most important resource, time. Whats the right way for a new manager to delegate?

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

So you’re a brand new minted manager. The sword has just left your shoulders and you have been sent into the world to slay dragons. Pint-sized firedrakes are not the only lizards on your hit list. There are also huge ancient beasts that make Tolkein’s Smaug look like a gecko. You need troops to accomplish the tasks before you. However, troops do you no good if you don’t deploy them properly.

Here’s a quick guide in three parts to delegating the fight:

When (and why) to Delegate
I think there are several key reasons to delegate.

1. If someone else can do the job better than you, delegate it to them.

A lot of sources will say if they can do the job 80% as well as you, you should give it up. That’s fine, but if you are short on troops you may have to settle with keeping more of the grunt work.

2. If you can’t get enough concentrated time to execute the tasks of a project, delegate them.

I often find that my day is consumed by meetings. Even the time I do have is in 30 minute to 1 hour spots. This often makes it impossible for me to progress on efforts that require concentrated 2 or 4 hour segments of work. I usually have to turn these items over to subordinates even though I might be able to do them better. Their schedules tend to be more free than mine and they can execute these longer tasks because they can fit them in. The nice thing about this is that you can still review the finished work. This ensures quality and in the end increases your subordinates skill if you coach them properly.

3. If you consistently, despite your best efforts, fail to achieve a task, consider delegating it.

The most likely reason for this failure is lack of priority. You may think it is lack of skill (in which case see item A) or lack of time (in which case see item B), but the most likely reality is that you have the skill and time, you simply cannot get it high enough up the priority list to do it properly. If this is the case you need to first consider how important it is. You have three options: Decide not to do it, Decide it is important enough to do this instead of other things, or delegate it.

My organization does time tracking and one item I have consistently not done well is open new “buckets” for projects. It only takes a few minutes, but I rarely go into the application that does this. It’s only a priority when it hasn’t been done. But it’s ultimately critical to our financials. When I didn’t do it, my people felt neglected. At one time, I asked them to remind me if I didn’t get it done, but that felt wrong. I would certainly be upset with them if they didn’t do what I asked unless I reminded them. So in the end I trained several of my leads to do the work so that if I got tied up I could simply send the work out to them.

A note to servant leaders: Do not confuse delegating with not serving.

I am a proponent of servant leadership. Often times servant leaders want to help their followers so much they won’t delegate. Remember, delegation frees you up to serve more effectively. It gives your subordinates the chance to learn. It prepares the organization to operate without you when you move up to the next level or “win the lottery”. A servant leader serves his people and organization best when he learns to delegate.

When and why do you delegate?


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