Delegation—5 techniques that will get you excellent results!

I recently surveyed professional projects managers from 54 countries and they all reported that their resources are a major source of concern. Perhaps you can relate to the frustration—their resources:

  • Lack enthusiasm and do not take responsibility
  • Do not report inhibitors and cause tasks to be late 
  • Deprioritize the tasks or quit working them without notification
  • Take more time than needed just to fill the allotted time
  • Do not understand tasks and wait for instruction

And perhaps you have experienced this: Your leadership assigns you a project with the usual constraints including scope, budget, and schedule—and you are expected to make it happen.  So, you pull together the best team of resources you can hoping, that they will deliver what is expected, on time, and with quality.

If you are experiencing any of these challenges, the good new is it can be better, much better—you can significantly improve the performance of your resources and have confidence they will delivery you as you have planned. This article explains several simple techniques you can implement right now that will greatly increase your success. Simple things that, amazingly, few project managers do…


Resource Challenges

Working as a resource can be very challenging. For various reasons the resource might find themselves facing the following:

  • Assignment to a task that they do not have the skills for
  • Given insufficient time to complete the task
  • Lacking understanding of what is expected for the task
  • Not being clear when a task is complete
  • Being told not to question the assignment

5 techniques to resource excellence

Ultimately, the project manager is responsible for the success of the resource. It is important for you to properly support and enable the resource, this way they can effectively perform the task for you. 

There are many things that you can do, however I have found that these five simple techniques gain the most in resource performance:

  1. Properly describing the task
  2. Defining the definition of done (DoD)
  3. Confirming resource understanding
  4. Propery estimating the task effort
  5. Daily reporting status

These seems like common sense, and they are, but how you accomplish them is your key to success.

Describing the task

Yes, of course you should clearly describe the task.  It needs to be well named and described.  Your resource should be able to easily access the description.

Task Name—the task should have a descriptive and unique name that easily identifies it from other tasks.

Work Descriptionthe task needs a complete and precise description of the work to be performed. It needs to specific, not vague and should clearly define:

  • All actions to be taken
  • All items to be delivered
After you have defined what is expected, and what the task is called, you can clarify when the task is considered complete…

Definition of Done (DoD)

After clearly defining your task, you are in a position to write the DoD. This is a clear and concise list of all criteria that the task must meet for it to be considered complete. These criteria are essential for the resource to report valid daily estimates of the effort remaining to complete the task.

You should clearly define:

  • All functional requirements needed to be complete
  • All non-functional requirements needed to be complete
  • All testing and results expected to be complete
Having defined the DoD, you can now see if your resource truly understands…

Confirming resource understanding

Have the resource confirm that they understand and accept the task description and DoD. The resource should be able to ask clarifying questions to confirm their understanding. The confirmation needs to be documented, but it can be simple as an email. 

So, your resource has confirmed that they are clear on the task, now you are set to create a realistic estimate of the task effort…

Estimating the task effort

There are many methods used to estimate task effort. Regardless of the method used, the resource needs to approve the estimate before the task is released to them to be worked.

When the resource approves the estimate, they have bought in, are planning for success, and have a good physiological mindset before they start the task. If the resource is forced to accept someone else’s estimate they are mentally justified when they fail—after all, it is someone else’s estimate, not theirs.

The resource is best equipped to make the estimate because they will be doing the work.  If they have done the task before, the estimate should be reliable.  If the resource is new to the task, they will tend to estimate high, which is good, because it serves as natural risk mitigation.

At this point you are in great shape to release the task to your resource, and as soon as you do, that resource needs to report task status every working day…

Reporting status

After the task is released, the resource needs to report updated status each working day. The report should be documented and easy to submit. This step is so important it should be a condition of employment in the case of an employee, or condition of engagement in the case of a contractor.

If the reporting done as part of a scum or similar meeting, it still needs be written and submitted by the resource.

Reporting is easy—only two items need to be reported: the “remaining effort” (not hours worked) for the task, and if there are any “inhibitors” slowing or stopping the work on the task. Of course in the case of an inhibitor, the details need to be provided.

Okay—some final things…

It is important for you to understand that the quality of the work your resource delivers is directly related to your preparation to enable their ability to do so...

When you include these techniques in your practice, you demonstrate your leadership and commitment to the success of your resource.  They see this, communicate more openly, and are encouraged to deliver excellence.

Implementation of new methods will take some work; however, each technique can be systematized to make it simple and efficient.

I encourage you to consider implementing any of the techniques that are missing from your practice.

From years of experience, I can say that the effort to perform these 5 techniques is far less than fixing problems like; incorrect work, incomplete work, poor quality work, late discovery of issues, and resources spending more time than they should on tasks.  

Steven Souther

Steven Souther is the creator of the Lagility Method. When he's not developing outstanding task methods & tools, he explores the underwater world of the seas. Learn more

  • Kimberly says:

    Great tips and discussion. Agree with Muralidhar regarding work load and your reply, Steven regarding tools – tools are essential for large teams and complex projects. thanks!

    • Steven Souther says:

      Thanks for your comment Kimberly. Lagility is developing tools to do this. There is an alpha version available for review if you are interested.

  • Muralidhar Gaddam says:

    These guidelines appear simple but are solid, some of them usually overlooked due to high manager workload. I particularly like the DoD concept, this did not exist much during my younger work days. Thank you Steven for this reference list.

    • Steven Souther says:

      Your are welcome Muralidhar. You are correct—they are basic, and yet so essential. A tool is definately needed automate the method so that the workload is significantly reduces while delivering all of the benefits.

  • Dr. Charles Chen, PMP says:

    Great summary of best practices!

  • Daniela Savino says:

    This article is more than interesting! It suggests some best practices not foregone, even if some of them are difficult to be made accepted by the resources. I use the first three and I see the activities go actually smoothly, but more effort is still to be done to keep on this way .
    I have recently attended an AgilityPM course and I think these practices are fundamental for agile teams.

    • Steven Souther says:

      Thank you for your comment Daniela. You are correct that the updates for resource are a challenge. Methods and tools are needed for this. The method I use a hybrid of traditional waterfall and agile methods.

  • JPP says:

    Task description based on sentence rule is good to get consistency and be sure it makes sense. I like the User-story one: As a (role) I (verb) to (purpose/deliverable)
    Also having some type of test scenario (TDD) is good to make things very practical.

  • Theresa Gilmore says:

    Great informative presentation.

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