5 tips to help you delegate like a boss

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OK, perhaps the title is a bit cheesy, but delegation is powerful stuff. It’s so important that it should be a part of both your work and personal life. In Pluralsight’s new Management 101 course, I discuss this issue so that every boss can understand how powerful it is to leverage time and how to delegate effectively. Let’s talk about how you can start doing that right now. Before we dive in, take a few minutes to think about a project in which you either delegated tasks or they were assigned to you. List out the pros and cons of any projects that come to mind. Here are some key questions to get you started:
  • What did and didn't go well?
  • Where were the teamwork or communication mistakes?
  • Did anyone feel like they were not treated properly?
  • If you had the same assignment today, would it excite you or make you cringe?
Now, let’s look at some critical points that will help you make a delegated project successful.

1. Make expectations clear

Define what will be delivered and when. Will this be a prototype or a fully-tested product? Will it need more work or testing after the delivery date? Is functionality the main goal or are you focused on design and UI? Some developers will produce exactly what you ask for, which can be a painful lesson for you in how to spec a project. On the other hand, some developers take artistic liberties and will over-deliver or fill in the gaps of a loosely-defined requirements document. This could turn into a project that has a different deliverable, is over budget or has continued delays. Time spent on the requirements document can help alleviate a lot of pain later, especially when the deadline arrives. My most embarrassing software project failure only cost me a few thousand dollars (and set other projects back a few months), but the failure happened after years of project successes. I thought my expectations were clear. Unfortunately, what became clear was that what I was expecting was different than what the team understood, and we were getting further and further from what was needed.

2. Know when to follow up

Assigning a project and then failing to communicate with the person (or team) who has the assignment will leave you feeling nervous and out of control. I’m not suggesting that you ride the project too closely, in which case you might forever brand yourself as a micromanager. What I’m recommending is that you have the appropriate follow-up at the right times during the project. Please be careful to not fall into the temptation of changing the specs every time you meet! In my most embarrassing failure, my follow-up was lacking. My questions were not precise and my communication was not frequent enough. I wasn’t able to successfully gauge the progress of the project, and didn’t listen to my gut (which told me to get more precise status updates). If I would have asked the right questions at the right times, I could have gotten the project back on track, or I would have known to pull the project long before it failed.

3. Train and empower

When you delegate a project, make sure the team has everything you can give them in order to succeed. Usually, delegation is not a test of their resourcefulness. Testing your team, especially if they can fail with negative personal repercussions, will enforce a culture of fear. Instead, let your team know that you’re there to support their success. If you can’t give them any training or authority, let them know they have to be resourceful. If you can empower them, do it immediately, so they know what they’re working with. In my most embarrassing failure, my team was too empowered. I was too hands-off. I should’ve reigned it back a bit and played a more active role. Clearly, this idea of empowerment can go both ways.

4. Trust your team

It's critical that you build confidence in your team, which begins with trust. As you delegate assignments, they’ll recognize whether or not you trust them. Constant follow-up and training is OK – if you think of this as an opportunity to for growth, and you communicate as a mentor, your team can thrive. This prepares them for bigger and better assignments down the road. In my most embarrassing failure, my level of trust was characteristically high. I generally trust my team to a fault, which contributed to the project’s demise. Trust is empowerment, but you have to trust the right amount. Trust highly skilled talent; namely, those you’ve successfully worked with in the past. For junior talent or new relationships, trust, but don’t be too hands-off.

5. Take responsibility for failure, give credit for accomplishments

When the deadline comes and the project is delivered, there will probably be a little great, a little bad and whole lot of “good enough.” Since your name is on the project, you’ll likely take heat for the bad and get the pat on the back for the good. You might be tempted to look to individuals for the blame. Let me encourage you to transfer all praise to your team for the good, and the great. At the same time, be careful that you tactfully and genuinely take responsibility for the bad. Your team needs to know that failure is OK (within boundaries), and that you will go to bat for them. Doing this well and consistently will help create a positive culture in your team. In my most embarrassing failure, I assumed all of the failure. The team I worked with did not take any heat for the project. There was no reason to throw them under the bus. The failure was mine, and to blame them would have been a rookie move that would only brand me as someone others wouldn’t want to work with. Others I delegate to would fear that they might be next, but taking the heat ensures them that I have skin in the game too. It all comes down to this: Delegation can be scary, especially if you’re used to doing everything yourself. But  it's also extremely powerful, allowing you to leverage your own time. Equally essential is giving others important projects to show that you trust them and will allow them to thrive and grow in their own roles.

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Jason Alba

Jason Alba is founder and creator of JibberJobber.com. He is a Pluralsight author of multiple courses on job search, career management and personal branding. You can find all his courses on his Pluralsight author page.