Delegation, is it an Art or a Science?

More than often project managers are swamped with too much work and still refuse or procrastinate in delegating some of the work to one or more of the team members in the project team. This is not specific to project management and fear of delegation is known to be present in all sectors, professions and all positions within corporations and firms. Here below it is listed the most common reasons why project managers do not delegate, properly, timely or not at all and when they do, how should they go about it:

Barriers from the project manager

–        Not enough time to properly explain the work to be performed and how

–        Fear of losing control of the task delegated and that the result will be disastrous

–        Fear of not getting credit for the quality and success of the delegated task

–        Fear of losing tasks that are enjoyed and getting stuck with the unwanted tasks

–        Fell that he/she can do it better and that the result will not be as perfect as it could

–        Fear of delegating-self out of a job as the senior management sees others with competence

–        Lack of confidence in team members with the fear that they will completely fail

Barriers from the team members

–        Not enough time to understand and assimilate the task to be performed

–        Not enough experience to execute such a task without asking too much and looking incompetent

–        Fear of failure and that such a failure can have serious consequences

–        Not their responsibility since tasks were not theirs in the first place

–        Fear of being a scapegoat and that the PM is just setting one up for failure

–        Reactions from other team members who may think you have some type of preference from the PM

Barriers from the situation

–        Constrained resources, when money is the biggest concern in the organization and failure is not an option whatsoever

–        Unclear hierarchy, when it is difficult to understand the lines of authority in the firm or corporation

Reasons not to delegate

–        When there’s lack of clarity, if you cannot understand it yourself do not expect others to understand it either

–        When you need the learning, so the delegation will prevent you from learning some core competence intrinsic to the task to be done

–        When the project is too high stakes and it is best that you get it done yourself and are in control all the time

To whom should the PM delegate

–        The experience, knowledge and skills of the individual

–        The individual’s preferred work style

–        The current workload of this person

How should the PM delegate

–        Clearly articulate the desired outcome

–        Clearly identify constraints and boundaries

–        Where possible, include people in the delegation process

–        Match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority

–        Delegate to the lowest possible organizational level

–        Provide adequate support, and be available to answer questions

–        Focus on results

–        Avoid upward delegation

–        Build motivation and commitment

–        Establish and maintain control


Reference and sources:

17 thoughts on “Delegation, is it an Art or a Science?

  1. Walney, I appreciate the insights. Delegating tasks isn’t something that comes naturally for me, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that if I want something done right I should take care of it myself. I feel like I have to be intentional about recognizing the strengths and experiences of others and looking for opportunities to help someone else develop or learn a new skill. I also am a work in progress so far as coaching is concerned so there are times where I feel like my inability to accurately (and quickly) bring someone else up to speed inhibits me from delegating a task.

  2. In the role of project manager, I believe that proper delegation is the road to success. However, the project manager must successfully delegate in order to have a successful project. As you stated in your post, the project manager, should assess resources, and delegate tasks appropriately. This also ties into a recent article that I read about nine keys to successful delegation in project management.

    The article was stating the following nine keys:
    • Don’t be vague
    • Ensure that the deadlines you set are realistic
    • Provide all necessary information to each delegation
    • Ensure that you are available as the project management leader
    • It is assumed that you are delegating tasks for project management because you don’t have the time to do everything on your own
    • After you have delegated, remember to keep your hands off as much as possible
    • In addition to having the weekly status update, have in place a system for reporting on the project
    • Keep a log for yourself concerning who is doing which tasks
    • Don’t neglect to give praise and credit when tasks are completed properly and on time, or when there is good progress being made on a task

  3. This is very interesting. I like how it clearly states the barriers to delegation for each group and a few of the issues that popped up regarding the delegation. I think that the fear of not getting credit for the work is a large issue for a lot of project managers and bosses in general. Everyone likes that have the spotlight shown on them every so often and if the project goes well, most people want to be able to say that it went well because of what they did.

    I have a hard time delegating with certain things because, I like to get it done correctly the first time. What I am learning as a new manager of a group of 7 people is that I cannot effectively do 7 people’s jobs. I need to take to heart many of the things on this list. One thing that I would like to work on is to clearly artuculate the desired outcome to my group. I think that if I can work on just this one thing, it will help me become more effective as a manager and project manager. Great list!

  4. Having a manager unwilling to delegate can also be frustrating for a team member that is either looking for more work or trying to broaden their own skill set. My current manager doesn’t typically feel that the amount of time it will take to teach me a task is worth having me help him on projects. In my current role, I am either slammed or have nothing to do. Even if it takes more time for him to teach me a task, it could be helpful for personal career development, and in the future I may be able to help with similar tasks. Interesting list.

  5. Very well written post Walney. I found a lot of these ideas to be very interesting and it is amazing how delegation is not focused on more my companies and organizations. I personally have issues with delegating as I have a difficult time trusting others. I have always worked for smaller companies so I suppose if I worked for a bigger company my approach would be different. Unfortunately, I have been trained as a manager to take the point on projects and do whatever is necessary to achieve maximum results. More often than not it comes down to me doing the majority of the important work. Perhaps this implies I could improve on being a better leader (like I discussed in another post) and do more to train my team so they are better equipped to perform at the level I expect them to.

  6. Walney, I really liked your topic. I definitely continue to work at getting better at delegating. I have found that by not delegating and not training others on your job, it limits your ability as a manager to move on to different projects or positions within the company. I had a great manager who once told me that he didn’t care if I made a mistake when taking on a new role as long as I learned from those mistakes. His theory was that even if a small loss occurred, in the long run, it would be well worth the training for someone who would eventually take a management role in the company.

  7. This is such a great post that all of us can speak to. I have personally been responsible for many of the issues covered above. My reasons for not delegating is fear that the tasks would not get accomplished or that they will not be accomplished correctly. I have a recent example that proves my theory. A couple weeks ago we had a regional review of our market’s performance. The review lasted all day and covered each department’s financial and operational metrics. In order to prepare for this review, each department had to create a set of metrics and outline the financial outcomes, ROI, and operational initiatives to improve these metrics. While preparing, I had delegated some of the metric preparation price to 4 of my subordinates, hoping they would jump on this responsibility. When I received some of the metrics, the night before the review, I was made aware that they were somewhat incorrect and some that were completely missing. This may have been partially my fault as I did not elaborate on where to pull this data from but assumed they knew which metrics to use. Therefore, I spent all night working to revise this data to make it presentable for the next day. I feel like I could go numerous ways with this experience in the future; I could continue to delegate but spend more time explaining the tasks or I could not delegate at all and do the work myself, which would ultimately push the time limit on other tasks that must be completed. I hope to have these issues figured out in time for our next regional review.

  8. This is a great article that speaks to some of what we have touched on in class, especially the first article we worked on that had someone working on two different projects. Reading through the different bullet points, the one that jumps out is “focus on results”. Although I haven’t worked in a project manager role, I remember what it was like when I first took my management position at my company; it was my first position as a manager, with a team of individuals of all different strengths and weaknesses. My main focus was results, and finding a common goal. By doing that, I was able to get everyone on the same page, and it helped for them to begin shaping their decisions so that we became a more cohesive team. You will never be able to do everything in a project; without respect and alignment from the team you are working alongside, your project will more than likely run into problems and issues.

  9. We all need to be doing this better! I do think that this is a gap for many project managers, and ANY project manager could do this better. I think one of the solutions is better training with real-world examples – PM’s have to be put in the situation where they need to get over their barriers to learn how to delegate better.

  10. Very interesting article and facts. I think too often we all fall into the trap or mindset of “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself”. I know I have been victim of that mindset but I have also worked for and seen supervisors who delegate every job and sit back and do nothing. It is definitely a delicate balance and one we will all need to walk at some point. I plan on keeping this article handy so I can look back and see which side of the spectrum I fall on and figure out how to be on middle ground.

  11. I like all the previous comments. Delegation is one of my weaknesses. I noticed this even at home with my kids. I often find myself doing what I should ask them to do. One of the reasons is that I think I will get it done faster and better. why delegate something you believe you can do better than others. But the problem is if you don’t delegate you end up having your hands full and end up struggling to find the time to do anything well or properly. If there is one thing this article taught me is that I should put more effort into delegating and less into “doing it myself”

  12. I think this is a great article where it touch on an important point of project success. Failure to properly delegate project tasks it may not only delay project completion time but may cause a project failure. I remember when I was planning my first project, I wanted to do everything by myself as I knew I could do these tasks better if I was the one doing them, but this caused me to fall behind schedule and not meeting the deadlines. Now I learned how to take advantage of “delegation” to achieve a better end result.

  13. This is an interesting article and hits on a lot of the pieces that I would see as barriers for delegation, however it would be interesting to discuss this in relation to a matrix organization. I see this a new common problem within matrix organizations. It’s hard enough to control for the factors listed in this blog but imagine the complexity of having to delegate outside to a group you have no control over? What if that manager doesn’t buy into the project that you are managing? I would imagine that would cause a unique complexity because the person responsible will be greatly influenced by their management or maybe not supported at all. I think this is a growing area of concern for project managers.

  14. This post has really provided me with some much needed insight. I have been considering a career in project management for some time as I continue with my degree and I am now able to see something I could easily end up doing which could be potentially dangerous.

    I was particularly interested with the section on barriers from the PM him or herself. Some of those barriers are things that I could see myself doing. One particular barrier, “Fear of losing control of the task delegated and that the result will be disastrous” is one that I have done in the past. I have been a part of many different organizations in a leadership position and this barrier is one that will definitely inhibit progress.

    I really appreciate that you not only included what the problem was, but also ways to fix it. Great post!

  15. Delegation is absolutely essential for project managers! Personally, I am an individual who values independent work and likes to make sure that things are done the way I see fit. However, as a member of the executive board for my sorority, I have found that delegation is key. Organizational leaders, much like project managers, often face barriers from the team members on their willingness to work on delegation tasks. I totally understand the lack of clarity from both sides – the PM and the team member – and how this can be especially frustrating.

  16. Your post spoke to me, as I can relate to the barriers to delegate mentioned above because I am people manager. I found myself too easily nodding my head in regards to “not enough time” to train and to “fail” from the project manager or team member. Can we honestly say that if we had all the time in the world to accomplish something, we would always succeed on a project? If we had no deadlines at all, is delegating a necessity? My initial thoughts to these questions is that without deadlines and infinite time, priorities would be much more difficult to establish. However, without the pressure of a looming due date, it may be easier to determine when to delegate. With more time, it would be much easier to “include people in the delegation process” and to “provide adequate support” to identify when a team member will succeed. Your blog post has made me consider how to work these two delegating tools into the every day projects and assignments.

  17. Delegation is too often and Art and not enough times a Science! As a team member on many projects and a manager of a department, I myself have been on both ends of delegation barriers. Sometimes they are completely understandable and other times they are just bad practice. The consequences of poor delegation can seriously derail a project and alienate team members, yet program managers and management often misuse delegation. Identifying the time and place for delegation is subjective but by applying more consistent and systematic approaches, management can set the platform for the team in a fair and reasonable manner. Including others, leveraging skillets, and evening out workload are all benefits of proper delegation. While it is easy to say, overcoming barriers is possible.
    The one barrier I myself fall into more often than I would like is the “Not enough time to properly explain the work and show how to perform” point from above. I believe this is because often the work environment is operating under fire drills and therefore time is often limited. Many times I find that I can just do the task easier and faster than taking the time to show other team members or delegate to my employees. This is hard to break out of but as I work to move away from fire drill mode, I find having more time allows me to delegate more effectively.

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