Delegation is the ability to assign tasks or responsibility to an individual or a group of people, empower them to make decisions, and trust them to complete work effectively. There are many techniques for delegating properly; the best approach may depend on the context.
In managing software engineering teams, I prefer a delegation approach focused on results instead of methods. This takes more time and energy to see results but develops people’s abilities and scales in the long run.
A straightforward approach focused on results is the stewardship delegation, shared by Stephen Covey in his best-seller book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Stewardship delegation involves clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment regarding expectations in five areas:
- Desired results: Create a clear, mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished, focusing on what, not how; results, not methods.
- Guidelines: Identify the parameters within which the individual should operate. If you know the failure paths of the job, identify them. Keep the responsibility for results with them - to do whatever is necessary within the guidelines.
- Resources: Identify the human, financial, technical, or organizational resources the person can 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 times when reporting and evaluation will take place.
- Consequences: Specify what will happen, both good and bad, as a result of the evaluation.
I don’t usually use this process by the book in my daily work, but I like to reflect on those five areas when delegating a project or activity to an engineer.