Delegation is the practice of giving a person or group the authority to perform the responsibilities of, or act on behalf of, another.
While delegation is primarily a mechanism for distributing work, it is also a tool for motivating and training teams and individuals to realise their full potential. Delegation underpins a style of management that encourages project team members to use and develop their skills and knowledge.
The objective of delegation is to get work done by someone else. This is not just a matter of giving instructions on what needs to be done. It also involves matching the work to the behaviour and competences of the delegated resources, as well as giving them the authority to react to situations and make decisions.
The same basic principles and process apply at project, programme and portfolio level. Like leadership, delegation is a mix of process and skill.
In preparation for the delegation process, P3 managers should ensure that they can delegate, are clear that they should delegate, and that time is available to delegate effectively. In doing so they need to recognise that some key functions and activities must remain with them, and that delegation will enable the work to be done better or cheaper by another resource.
The process of delegation is a ‘plan, monitor and control’ loop and allows the delegator to define:
- what has to be done (clear specification of the work being delegated);
- the control parameters to be maintained (the performance indicators and tolerances that will be applied);
- the monitoring and reporting mechanisms (how progress will be communicated);
- actions to be taken to bring the delegated work back on track should the control parameters be exceeded (escalation and issue management procedures).
Work then needs to be allocated to a team or an individual. Before doing this, the skill of delegation adds four further steps. The P3 manager needs to:
- know the person and their working style;
- agree the level of training or coaching required;
- identify and implement feedback mechanisms;
- identify and implement the reward mechanisms.
Successful delegation is essential to achieve a high-performing team, but there are barriers that prevent it from being done effectively. These include:
- confused lines of authority (in a matrix environment an individual may report to a line manager as well as a project or programme manager);
- availability of appropriately skilled staff (project and programme managers often do not hand pick their team members and have to delegate to people who are not ideally qualified);
- blame culture (if there is intolerance of mistakes, people will be reluctant to accept responsibility);
- excuses by the delegator (‘By the time I’ve explained it, I could have done it myself’ is not an acceptable approach).
The structure of a typical project management organisation is based upon implied delegation. While a project sponsor is accountable for the business case, responsibility for its preparation will be implicitly delegated to the project manager or to another role if the project manager has yet to be appointed.
Structured methodologies such as PRINCE2® make this delegation explicit by spelling out the roles and responsibilities of different members of the project team. If a project is being run without a formal methodology, then the sponsor and project manager must carefully set out a scheme of delegation.
In turn, the project manager may delegate responsibility for packages of work to individuals. This may be a team leader who becomes responsible for delivering certain products, or a specialist who is responsible for managing a particular aspect of the project, e.g. a risk manager or quality manager.
A programme delegates responsibility for delivering many and varied outputs to its component projects. In many ways delegation encompasses the essence of programme management: the focus on managing delegated work.
A programme delegates the creation of outputs to projects and the realisation of benefits to change management teams. It then monitors the work of both groups. It is the responsibility of the programme management team to define the monitoring and reporting mechanisms, specify tolerances and provide support to resolve escalated issues.
Project management teams should be permitted to manage within their remit, while the programme management team concentrate on the inter-dependencies between projects and any work that lies outside the scope of individual projects.
A portfolio is designed to achieve strategic objectives. The ways in which these strategic objectives may be achieved has to respond to changing external influences. This raises the likelihood that the work delegated by the portfolio management team to the individual programmes and projects may be subject to large-scale change.
As the scale of the delegated work increases, so does its susceptibility to change driven by external factors. The portfolio management team must therefore be adept at revisiting the specification of delegated work, adjusting priorities and rebalancing resources whilst retaining a robust culture of delegation and escalation.