According to many, the role of a project manager is not to ‘do’ the work, rather to ‘delegate’ it to others. However, this is only true to a certain extent. The project manager can and should delegate the responsibility of certain tasks to others but not their ‘decision-making’ responsibilities and should remain accountable for the success of ‘certain’ delegated tasks. For example, some tasks could be assigned to a team manager, like adding any risks and issues they’ve identified directly to the respective registers. Likewise, if the project manager has access to project support staff, then they are almost certainly going to delegate tasks to them, such as maintaining project documentation, safeguarding and version controlling the products, collection of progress data and compiling of information for reports and project dashboards.

That said, a good project manager should never perform 100% delegation, rather practice the art of delegation… The art of delegation is to know the capabilities and experience of the people you wish to delegate the work to. Empower them and trust them to get it done.

So how does delegation work in an Agile project environment?

In an agile project environment both the responsibility and accountability of tasks are part of the delegation process (and are entrusted) to others. For example, the managing of the technical/specialist development work to the developers working within an Agile/Scrum framework. Scrum development teams are ‘empowered’ by the project organisation to ‘self-organise’ and ‘manage their own work’. This is fundamental to achieving a successful Agile project environment and so will require the ‘art’ of delegation.

When you are delegating work, it needs to be done in the right way or it won’t get the right results. This is an art which needs to be grasped in order to get the correct results from those you’ve delegated the tasks to. It usually means you’re delegating the responsibility for ‘completing’ a task, but not necessarily the ‘accountability’ for its success, this is unless, you are working in an Agile environment/scrum framework.

Why is delegation so important in an Agile world?

So why is effective delegation so important in an Agile project environment? Among other behavioural factors, an agile approach to projects requires ‘collaboration’ and ‘self-organisation’, as well as a development environment that’s ‘fun’. This element of accountability means it’s even more important that the delegation is executed to the right people in the right way. With this in mind, the authors of the PRINCE2 AgileTM method asked an Agile project team the following question regarding such factors:

“What advice would you give to a relatively inexperienced project manager running a project in an Agile context? These are a few of their responses:

A project manager should trust the team to deliver...so that...you are not getting in their way by checking up on them.

A project manager should...leave the team to get on with it...so that...their creativity is not stifled by an interfiering boss.

A project manager should...trust the people who know best to deliver the right solution...so that...the right solution is delivered.

A project manager should...ensure the project board know what 'empowered means...so that...team members will be supported and not overruled.

A project manager should...focus on having a stable team around me...so that...we can harness the fact that teams are more innovative and effective then individuals.

A project manager should...work with team managersto ensure the delivery team is having fun...so that...people are well bonded and their commitments that they make to their peers are strengthened. We can see from the above that the word ‘trust’ is both used and implied. To support these expectations, the key to successful delegation is being absolutely clear about what you’re expecting for the outcome.

Delegate clear outcomes. Make them measurable. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Explain what is to be done, how you think it should be done, and the reasons for doing the job in the first place.

Instill confidence in the delegate’s ability to successfully deliver that outcome and you will infuse your belief in their ability to deliver. That said, how much direction and detail you actually need to provide to get from task handover to a successful completion will depend on the level of capability and experience of the person you’re delegating to, as well as the nature of the task in hand. Giving too much detail to those who have sufficient capability and experience will make it seem like you lack trust in their ability, whereas not enough detail for someone who lacks experience can produce a bad result, leading to a stressed, demotivated team member and perhaps you wishing you had simply done the task yourself! This can only lead to frustration, potential conflict and you being over-stretched in the future.

The difference between delegating and dumping

Delegating provides an opportunity for project team members to develop their own interpersonal skills, knowledge and abilities, which in turn can help to develop and sustain synergy within a team. By allowing your team members to make their own decisions, you’ll ultimately have resources who can work both collaboratively and independently and deliver even more value to your project. You should know your team, their strengths and interests. If you aren’t sure, ask them. You can test motivation by asking for volunteers rather than nominating!

Of course, in order to empower others, you need to delegate, not dump! Effective delegation is not about dumping the mundane work off your desk, or asking someone to jump in and resolve something that you let fall through the cracks. These tactics will ultimately lead to a breakdown in morale and trust, which are not factors that will help a project team deliver successfully. Mastering delegation will help your project’s activities tick-along to the planned and agreed targets, contributing to project success, as well as developing empowered and motivated teams by building their autonomy, self-esteem and enjoyment of their work. And you need to ensure they are having fun too!

Learning to let go, how it’s done

However, you may be emotionally attached to certain tasks or simply enjoy doing them yourself, but you need to ‘learn to let go’. Many people will certainly need to let go of the old-school way of thinking, “If I want something done properly, I have to do it myself” mentality. In new- school thinking, however, the correct statement should be, ‘‘If you want the job done properly, you have to learn how to delegate it properly to others so that they can complete it to the appropriate standard.’’

If the very thought of delegation makes you uneasy, you should start by delegating a single, low priority task. As you see the job can be completed successfully without your intervention, you’ll gain confidence in the process and can move on to delegating further, more complex tasks.

You should realise that when you delegate something, it’s now ‘out of your hands’. You’ll need to step back to avoid interfering in the process and its progress. Trust them to get the work done. As hard as it may seem, you should wait until the final result before judging how the delegation is going. Delegate the entire job. One hundred percent responsibility for a task is a major performance motivator. The more often you assign responsibilities to the right people, the more competent they become. Practice management by exception when you delegate. Set clear goals, standards, and deadlines for the delegated task. A job without a deadline is merely a discussion. Then tell people to come back to you onlyif they have a problem. If they are on schedule and on budget, they do not need to report to you. You can assume that they have the job under control.

Schedule in ‘time tolerance’

In some situations, when delegating to someone for the first time, it may be prudent to factor-in some additional time (tolerance) to allow for any possible mistakes

and resulting rework. This will help you to manage by exception. Once you’ve seen successful results and better understand their capabilities, you can relax your work estimates and tolerances, as well as build your confidence and trust in the ability of others.

Delegation doesn’t come naturally to some people, yet delegating is one of the many key ‘softer’ sides to project management and a skill required of any project manager. Therefore, if we want well executed tasks and projects, with empowered and motivated project teams, then delegation is a critical art to be mastered. After all, projects, in particular those in an Agile environment, rely heavily on the effective and timely execution of a plan by ‘empowering’, ‘trusting’ and ‘making the best use of’ every individual within the team to ensure synergy and collaboration.

Key take outs

  1. Successful project management is not 100% delegation
  2. The difference between standard and Agile Project Management
  3. Learn to delegate and not dump project tasks
  4. Letting go can empower you and your team
  5. You should practice ‘management by exception’