Delegation can be easier than you think. You just need the right method…
I’ve delegated more than 10,000 tasks to people throughout my career. Most of my delegations were to hundreds of students at Make School, a Bachelor’s in Applied Computer Science Program that I helped build from scratch. I’ve honed my delegation process to be highly effective.
There are three goals of delegation:
- Reduce back-and-forth communication
- Ensure high quality work
- Ensure timely followthrough
Let’s dive into each.
1. Reduce back and forth — “Once-and-done”
Delegate with the full context of a task to reduce the back and forth.
The most context-rich method I’ve found is The 5-point delegation method developed by by Stephen Covey:
- “Desired results: create a clear mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished, focusing on what, not how; on results, not methods. Be patient. Be sure the other person understands and sees the same thing.
- Guidelines: set parameters; warn your person of ‘failure paths’, of what you know they should not do
- Resources: Talk through the human, financial, technical or organizational resources the person can/should draw on to accomplish the desired results
- Accountability: Set up the standards of performance that will be used in evaluating the results, and the specific time when reporting and evaluation will take place
- Consequences: Specify what will happen, good and bad, as a result of the evaluation”
This level of detail preempts most clarifying questions. The receiver has everything they need. You’ve proactively reduced all the back and forth. Once-and-done delegation.
There is more we can do to ensure high quality work.
2. Ensure High Quality Work — “Phased delegation” & “Templates and Frameworks”
Skill: Phased delegation
Inexperienced collaborators are at risk of “going off the rails.” They can waste time circling on unproductive tasks or fail to ask for assistance.
Phased delegation reduces the risk.
- Break the project into phases
- Delegate phase 1 → round of feedback and input with you
- Delegate phase 2 → round of feedback and input with you
- Delegate phase 3 → round of feedback and input with you
- Delegate phase 4 → round of feedback and input with you
This process provides guard rails. You can rapidly course correct at each phase.
A maxim here: delegate a work process, not a project.
A project is the end deliverable you want (addressed in #1 above).
A process is a way to reach quality work on that deliverable (addressed in #2 below).
Very experienced collaborators don’t require phased delegation.
Skill: Use templates and frameworks
Templates and frameworks increase the quality of delegated work.
A template is a way of thinking about a problem. This includes the “conversion funnel” concept in marketing, the “income statement” in finance, and the “SBAR” proposal in organizational change. These concepts provide heuristics on how to break problems down and tackle them. Templates empower people to discuss complexity more easily from a shared point of reference.
A framework is a hands-on editable version of a template. Frameworks provide short-cuts on how to use a template for your own work projects. A framework for an “Income statement” could be a pre-made editable Google sheet in its format. A framework for a “SBAR” could be an editable worksheet to write-your-own SBAR. A framework for a marketing “conversion funnel” could be a software service that allows you to input your own numbers to generate and manipulate your own conversion fun. These frameworks bake in guardrails we aim to create through delegation. Good frameworks also prompt its user to address all the common considerations and pitfalls for the topic.
Common templates and frameworks in different fields:
- Startup Investing — financial model, SWOT analysis, PEST analysis, Porter’s 5 forces, pitch dec
- Design — Landing Page, Wireframe
- Policy — Policy Memo
- Engineering — Kanban Board, Product Requirement Docs
Use templates and frameworks to increase the quality of delegated work. They help the receiver structure their thinking.
3. Ensure followthrough — “Effective Badgering”
You can socially engineer ways to ensure people follow through with their work.
- Ask “how can I support you” midway through their project. This subtly reminds them to do the work without nagging them.
- Schedule an event around a deadline to create real world stakes, such as: (1) Prescheduled 6 user interviews the day after their next design drafts are due. This makes the deadline feel more real. The person won’t want to let anybody down by not following through. (2) Prescheduled some time for teammates to edit a draft one hour after it’s due. Let them know you will be editing immediately after it is turned in. (3) Schedule a retrospective reflection on a project the week after its intended completion date.
Failure to follow through would lead to a minor let down and lack of valuable feedback. This possibility encourages better follow through.
Note on what to delegate …
At what level of abstraction should you delegate? Should you delegate a high level responsibility — such as designing strategy — or a lower level narrow task?
First, access the skill level of your task receiver.
If they are more experienced than you, just give them the work. They’ll execute better than you could have instructed.
If they are the same or less experienced than you, delegate a level of complexity that matches the assignee’s skill level (Dave Kline has a useful framework for this):