To manage effectively, think of delegation as a goal, not a means

Effectively handing off work is a goal in itself.
Effectively handing off work is a goal in itself.
Image: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
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New managers often ask me for advice on how to delegate: How do I decide what to delegate and who to delegate to? How do I successfully manage one project that has multiple contributors?

My first piece of advice is that they start thinking about delegation differently. It’s not the means to an end, but the end result. The means are successful project management, organizational processes, and strong quality checks.

Map out the project

Project management is the first step in facilitating delegation. It starts with mapping out the projects, breaking them down into their various phases and identifying the tasks that constitute each phase.

Part of project mapping should involve brainstorming potential blockers at all stages to preempt and minimize project delays.

Once you have mapped all of a project’s tasks, you need decide who on your team should be assigned to each one. While it might be tempting to take the tasks that you’re most familiar with for yourself, as Andy Grove wrote in High Output Management, “ these are actually the best tasks to delegate, because it is easier to monitor something with which you are familiar.”

The greater detail with which a project map is created and tasks are broken down to their core actions, the better you can match tasks with team members’ skill sets.

Set Deadlines Focused on Success

The next step in delegation is setting appropriate deadlines. This is where brainstorming potential blockers really comes in handy. For example, if you can’t start a task until someone else has finished theirs, mapping out this blocker early on allows you to set deadlines that account for the order of operations that need to occur.

Be realistic in the deadlines you set. They should account for the time it will take to check for quality, edit and revise work, and deal with potential blockers.

Create Quality Assurance Checklists

Deciding how to handle quality checks tends to be one of the last hurdles to approaching project management with a strong focus on delegation. The first step, really, is just recognizing that you’ve built a strong team that can and should be trusted to produce quality work.

The next tactical step to ensure and measure the quality of the work involves creating checklists.

Do not underestimate the power of a good checklist. As Atul Gawande notes in The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, checklists are a powerful tool that have made revolutionary changes in a variety of fields, including medicine & disaster recovery.

Your quality control checklists should be tailored to different types of projects. For each repeated task or project, list out potential pain points or common issues that might arise. This list can then can be referenced by a manager when reviewing work or before a team member passes along a completed task. Encouraging all team members to create checklists will reduce the amount of time that needs to be dedicated to revisions.

Mistakes will happen, but these are opportunities to discuss how those mistakes happened and how current processes can be better utilized to prevent these issues from popping up again.

Communication is Key

Finally, communication processes are key to keeping delegated projects running. Even the best planned and mapped projects can hit hurdles if there isn’t a unifying path for communication.

The biggest hurdle I’ve noticed is around where and how communication should happen. With so many channels through which to communicate (project management tools, comments on Google docs, email, chat, etc.), it can be easy for notes, comments, and status updates to fall through the cracks. So it’s important to set expectations around where certain types of communication will happen.

For example, if someone completes a task within a project management system, perhaps just marking it as “complete” within that system isn’t sufficient, and an email or a chat needs to be sent to ensure everyone is aware of its completion. If a tangible deliverable is completed, just uploading it to Slack might not be sufficient— sending a more formal email to ensure it’s clearly on everyone’s radar might be needed. Hash these out with your team to best fit everyone’s communicative needs.

Overall, think of delegation as the goal that tools like project management and communication and quality control processes facilitate. Creating expectations and processes around project management for your team will go a long way in ensuring accountability across all levels and better allow you as a manager to identify unique areas of opportunity or growth for your team members.

Jennifer Mellon is the Co-Founder and President of Trustify.