Project Manager or Delegation Expert

The Sky’s the Limit exercise was very interesting for me after spending the summer interning with large corporate finance company’s internal consulting team.

 In the Sky’s the Limit exercise, teams of 4-5 had 20 minutes to build a structure out of spaghetti and marshmallows. There was a budget of around $20,000 with mini marshmallows costing $1,000 and large marshmallows $5,000. Spaghetti sticks were free. The goal of the project was to build the tallest structure possible that could stand for 20 minutes and then hold 50 sheets of paper for 1 minute.

I was our team’s project manager and failed miserably. We only spent $8,000 of our $20,000 budget and our structure never stood. After further thought about why our project went so poorly, I realized the importance of one thing my internship mentor stressed to me: Delegation.

While building our spaghetti marshmallow tower, the decisions on design of our structure, when to start building and budgeting were all made by me. Our team discussed strategies and threw ideas back and forth, but the decisions always ended up being my initial idea. As the project manager, I felt responsible to make all of these decisions. Clearly, that approach did not work.

My internship mentor managed the project we were working on this summer. She had little expertise on most of the subjects of our project, so she delegated. We built a team of members from multiple departments with varying roles. She simply posed questions and then let this team of experts make the decisions for her. For example, when deciding on cost, she would have asked the spaghetti marshmallow engineers what they would need in materials and labor to build the desired tower. That information then would have been relayed to management and finance to see if that budget is feasible. The experts then would have conversed, mediated by the project manager (my mentor), until a budget was reached to build a tower that filled the company’s needs. The same would have been done for time. “Engineers, how long will this take to build? Management, how long do we have to build this?” A vision of a structure within an expected period of time would then be agreed upon, decided by the experts.

Here is the key takeaway: As a project manager, do not try to answer all of the important questions on your own. Focus on asking the important questions to the right people. Be a Delegation Expert. My first thought when building our spaghetti marshmallow tower was, “How can I build this?” If I could do this exercise again, my first question would be, “Who has engineering expertise?” and then I would have asked them, “How can we build this?”

4 thoughts on “Project Manager or Delegation Expert

  1. Great attitude! I find that we are often focused on our successes but it is in our failures that we learn so much. What I admire about your reflection is your positive attitude at your failed project. I like how you build up on your mistakes, that is a quality key for learning. Most importantly, I find your suggesting very valuable. In fact, I was also in a team that failed the quality test of our high rise but did not realize the important of exercising questions to the appropriate people before reading your post.

  2. Good points! I think a lot of projects fail because tasks were not delegated well. This reminds me out large group projects that we all know so well. In what feels like every class in college, we have to do a group project and many people complain that they end up doing all the work for a group project. I think the reason for this is that they are not bold enough to delegate tasks to others or they do not trust others to complete certain tasks and they just end up doing it all themselves.

  3. Good points! Although being a project manager is a great position to hold in a company or even in our particular class, its important to realize that the project manager does not need to make all the decisions for the group. By working together and delegating specific roles/tasks based on the person’s qualifications, the project could be completed well and a time efficent manner. I also liked how you did not see the marshmallow project as a failure, instead it was a learning experience that could lead to success for future projects.

  4. I agree with you in everything! I was not the project manager of the group but felt that I would have want someone who got “delegation expertise”. It was hard in this project because there was not enough time. However, with a good project manager, probably there would have been more chance to win. As tijana30123f14 said, the project manager would delegate the roles to people who fit best. But, this was not the case. I didn’t know my project manager nor my project manager knows me. So, it was for sure hard for the project manager to start delegating in this case

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