In most engineering project companies, graduate engineers are appointed and groomed to become senior engineers, project managers or even directors of the company. Companies all have different cultures, and this plays a major part in the development of personnel. One of the critical skills that all engineers need to get to grips with is delegation.
It’s an unwritten rule in the business world that you would never get promoted from the current management position you are in, if you are the only person that can do your job. It’s thus your responsibility to groom other employees to take over from you. Once they are ready to take over from you, you are ready to move up the corporate ladder.
In order to run any project or business, delegation plays a major role. You would often see that engineers or inexperienced project managers work very long hours and always seem swamped with work. It’s not to say you should not work long hours, but you need to measure how effectively you work during these hours. The only way to get a large amount of work done without sitting in the office until midnight every night is to master the art of delegation.
Often when especially engineers get asked about delegation, they respond with the answer that they would rather do their own work and know its correct than having to fix the delegated work when they receive it back. It might be that this is something that gets drilled into engineers during their education, but it’s a very big problem in engineering companies.
Although it can be very frustrating when the team you delegate to don’t deliver, it’s your responsibility to take the extra time you now have available from delegating work to give feedback and work with your team. As soon as the team members you delegate to understands exactly what you need from them, they will improve, and the frustration will get less. It’s important to understand that this is an iterative process and will get better the more times the team works together with constructive feedback.
When reviewing work produced by the team members you delegated to, it’s important to think bigger picture. Every person has a different writing style and it’s in your nature to change every word to your writing style. You should, however, focus on the outcome or message rather than the writing style. You could give guidance on a better way of writing certain things to help improve the message but avoid re-writing and changing large sections of the work as it will get you back to not delegating but doing.
A number of activities can be delegated although the common perception is that only deliverables can get delegated. A good example is approvals, you could delegate authority to employees under you to do approvals to a certain level that will reduce a lot of your workload without really increasing the risk if managed correctly. Another example of optimizing your time by delegating is meetings, as a project manager, senior engineer or director, you don’t necessarily need to sit in every meeting or interview. You could delegate most of the meetings to your employees and only be involved when it’s really important or have a feedback meeting that covers a number of other meetings.
As a professional engineer, it often happens that you have to sign off on certain engineering solutions or reports and take responsibility for it. This process frightens most engineers as the documents often get produced by junior engineers and you only have a few minutes to look at it before it gets issued. Although it’s very important that the professional engineer understands the logic behind the problem and covers himself by doing a few checks, it’s impossible for the professional engineer to review every single item in detail. This leads to professional engineers not wanting to delegate but rather do all their work themselves. The correct process however to follow is to continue to delegate the work, but ensure you have the correct checking processes in place before you do the final sign off. If there is a complex engineering problem, ensure that you have an experienced person look at it before you have to do the final sign off. Squat checks and peer review processes also work well to get more eyes on the problems and solutions before it goes out the door. A lot of risks can be reduced by using this technique without losing efficiency in the company.
With the latest technology advancements, delegation and even outsourcing have become a lot easier. You could be delegating your work to a dedicated person or team in India or China and get an expert in Germany to review the work before you approve the final work. By sharing screens, LinkedIn resources, making use of video calls and meetings as well as cloud-based document storage systems the whole world is connected and could be part of your team as you need them.
Trust plays a major role in the delegation process and it’s very important that the trust gets established as soon as possible in these teams. Trust, however, does take time to establish and both the team members producing the delegated work as well as the person delegating the work should work towards building this relationship. It’s often difficult and risky to delegate a large amount of work to new team members where the trust relationship is not established yet, a good way to get around this is to start with smaller less significant portions and build the trust relationship this way. If the team member performs well with the smaller packages, increase the size and complexity levels of work until a solid trust relationship is built.
Another very important part of delegation is to communicate, something the engineers all over the world battle with. The first step is to communicate exactly what you need from the party you are delegating to, ensure that you keep the message clear and basic with milestones and deliverables that you can measure against. The next step is to ensure that the team member doing the work is meeting his or her milestones without micromanaging them. Thus, set up feedback sessions to ensure the deliverables and milestones are met and communicate any changes or alternations during this session clearly that everybody understands the direction. Once the task has been completed, ensure you have another communication session to discuss the previous task as well as lessons learnt during the process.
Micro-management and delegation do not go together. If you plan to delegate a task and then micro-manage the person doing the task for you, you are better off just doing the task on your own. At least when you are doing it on your own, you will only waste one person’s time. Although it might be very hard to let go at first, it’s very important that you allow the members of the team you have delegated the work to grow in the process and swim in the deep end while they do it. You should always be there for guidance if they ask for it, but don’t force yourself and your comments on to them as they will never improve.
In the age we are living, tasks do not only have to be delegated to humans but can also be delegated to computers and machines. Even automation of certain processes in an office or factory environment is a form of delegation. A good example is when you have a lot of repetitive activities that needs to be done and you write or buy a software program that does this for you. Another good example is Siri or Alexa that works like personal assistants and can even book a haircut by phoning the hairdresser and speaking to the receptionist to align schedules and book the appointment. Both Android and Apple have a number of apps that can be downloaded or even developed to help you delegate and manage your daily tasks. This should be embraced and can improve your efficiency as an individual a lot.
Although most of this article has focused on the person delegating the tasks to other team members, it’s as important for the person doing the work that’s delegated to understand the importance of the relationship and also realize that it’s a difficult process for the person delegating to let go and trust them. It’s up to the person doing the work to show the other party they have it under control, once the trust is established, it will be a lot easier process.
The best way to start delegating effectively is to start doing it and get feedback from the rest of your team members. Once you have received positive or negative feedback, you need to embrace it without getting upset and strive toward continuously improving it. Before you know it, you will be a great delegator and allow your team and business to achieve greater heights.
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