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?”