Project management and the art of delegation

Patrick Weaver
September 3, 2013

All project managers have numerous pressures on their time, and need to achieve a high rate of productivity. Many also feel they are too busy to waste time delegating properly and try to do everything themselves. One key to effective time management and getting a ‘life’ outside of the office (which actually makes you more efficient in the office) is effective delegation. Unfortunately the people who need to read this article are probably too busy being busy to have time.

Delegation is when you assign responsibility to another person to carry out a specific task, and is one of the most important management skills. You delegate, or assign responsibility for an action every time you:

  • Assign a resource to a schedule activity;
  • Assign responsibility for an action item, issue or risk; or
  • Decide to transfer a job on your to-do list to someone else as part of your personal time management strategy.

To delegate effectively, you need to put yourself in a position where there are good people to whom you can delegate responsibility and be mentally prepared to accept the fact that you need to delegate to others. If you can delegate properly it is not quicker to do the thing yourself!

Process delegations: Many people forget that assigning work to a person through any of the project management processes is in effect delegation. You need to assign the appropriate level of authority and responsibility to an individual who accepts the responsibility for accomplishing the task.

Personal delegations: Based on the available skills in the people you can delegate to; all of the tasks in your to-do list that have a low level of importance should be delegated and potentially some of the important ones as well. You need to focus on tasks that are in your area of expertise – where you can make the biggest difference for the entire team/project and allocate the rest of the items on your list among the team, based on their individual skill sets. Let the team know the process you’ve been through, the fact that you need their help, and the relevance and value of the tasks you are delegating.

The process of delegating

To start the process, first select the people to delegate to, based on their positive attitude and demonstrated willingness to challenge and contribute: people who already deliver what’s expected of them in terms of timeliness and quality and go beyond what’s expected.

Having chosen the people, start small, build on what they already know and their existing skills but also be prepared to use the delegation to help the person grow in confidences and capability by adding incremental ‘extras’; make sure the additional challenges are seen as an opportunity, not a punishment.

Each delegation requires the person to know how to do the task (preferably, they already have the skills or have access to coaching and mentoring support); know why the task needs doing, its relevance and their contribution to the greater objective; and know exactly what has to be accomplished using the acronym SMARTER.

Each delegation should follow the SMARTER rules:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Timebound
  • Ethical
  • Recorded

Good delegation saves you time, develops your people, grooms a successor, and motivates. Whereas poor delegation will de-motivate your team, confuse the other person and fail to achieve the task or purpose. To maximise the outcomes, regularly assess how each person is doing, how you are doing and where there have been ‘failures’ the cause of the failure, most of the time it’s caused by management not the individual.

Delegation check list

To delegate work to team members, everyone needs to be clear about the following:

  • Activity name: This comes from the schedule if its an activity, other delegations need a clear, unique name to facilitate effective communication.
  • An explanation: The reason the work being delegated needs to be clearly defined together with authority levels and escalation options.
  • The deliverable: The team member needs to understand the scope of the work and the deliverable or work component (a portion of a larger deliverable) that s/he is expected to complete. If there are quality criteria to meet, the team member should know these quality requirements and any relevant acceptance criteria.
  • Start-date and end-date: Everyone needs to be clear on when the activity can start and when the activity is due to be completed. If the team member cannot meet the deadline date, s/he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.
  • Estimated effort hours (optional): The project manager should communicate the estimated hours required to complete the activity. This is usually of secondary importance compared to the due date unless the customer is getting charged for each hour worked. If the team member cannot complete the activities within the estimated effort hours, s/he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible.
  • Estimated costs (optional): If the team member cannot complete the work within the cost estimate, s/he needs to let the project manager know as soon as possible with the reason, if known, and any suggestions to resolve the problem.
  • Dependencies: Make sure the team member knows the relationship between his/her work and any other activities such as those waiting on the deliverable or those that must be completed before his/her work can start (or continue).
  • Other resources: Communicate if there are other people or resources working on the same activities. The team member must understand their role and who has overall responsibility for the activity.

If team members understand the work perfectly but don’t deliver on time, you may have a performance problem. However, if the team member is not clear about the work they have been assigned or the due date, the project manager may have a communication problem.

Author avatar
Patrick Weaver
Patrick Weaver is the managing director of Mosaic Project Services and the business manager of Stakeholder Management Pty Ltd. He has been a member of both PMI and AIPM since 1986 and is a member of the Asia Pacific Forum of the Chartered Institute of Building. In addition to his work on ISO 21500, he has contributed to a range of standards developments with PMI, CIOB and AIPM.
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