In organizations, most often responsibilities and the level of authority are not clear (cf. difference between Responsibility and Authority). This concerns who’s responsible for what – who has the authority to perform certain actions, to take ownership of specific tasks, etc? Most often, one has to discover or figure out along the way what level of authority he/she has.
People who are proactive may take more ownership and proceed with actions, till that moment a superior intervenes to set some boundaries. This can be quite counter-productive and frustrating. Rarely, these boundaries are clearly set from the beginning. Some people do not really care about these blurry boundaries of authority, and will delegate all kind of “accountability” to managers higher up (in case of situations going wrong).
If you are serious about setting boundaries of authority, and you want to delegate real authority to teams in the company, action should be taken to make these boundaries clear.
A great tool to do this kind of exercise, is delegation poker by Management 3.0.
Delegation is the assignment of responsibility or authority to another person (normally from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities … it’s is one of the core concepts of management leadership. However, the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work. Delegation empowers a subordinate to make decisions, i.e. it is a shift of decision-making authority from one organizational level to a lower one. [Source: wikipedia.org]
Delegation poker clarifies the level of authority for certain actions between 2 entities: for example between a team and a manager, between a team and a product owner, between 2 teams, between a product and its users. It’s important to notice there are several levels of delegation.
Levels of delegation
We distinguish the following levels:
- Tell: You as the manager make the decision.
- Sell: You make the decision but you try to persuade others to buy into it.
- Consult: You get input from team before still making decision.
- Agree: You make a decision together as a team.
- Advise: Your team makes the decision, but you try to influence it.
- Inquire: Your team makes the decision and then tells you about it.
- Delegate: You offer no influence and let team work it out.
As you see the 4th level: “Agree” is the level in the middle to have a mutual agreement between the two parties.
In the first 3 levels, the manager makes the decision; in the last 3 levels the team makes the decision. In level 1 “tell”, the manager makes the decision without any team input. In level 7, the team gets full authority to make the decision on their own.
For each action the team and the “manager” decide together the level of delegation.
Playing delegation poker
The exercise is done in the following way:
- List possible actions to decide the level of delegation (see some examples below)
- For each action, each person (the team and the manager) chooses one of the delegation cards privately (likewise poker planning). The idea is that you don’t not influence your peers in making a choice.
- When all persons have chosen, they reveal their cards.
- If you want, you can calculate the points. There’s a rule to discard the points of the highest minority (*)
- Let the people with the highest and the lowest cards explain the reasoning behind their choices.
- Visualize the levels of delegation in a matrix (an authority board)
(*) The rule of the highest minority: for example, there might be a person who always chooses 7, if he is alone in his choice, that gets thrown out as an option, as do his points. Now, if three or four people all chose 7, that is the majority, meaning each of them earns seven points.
The level of delegation depends upon the action, the context and the organizational culture.
Authority board example
An example of delegation poker between a team and his product owner:
As example: getting coffee 🙂
- Defining the priority of epics on the backlog
- Defining the priority of user stories within an epic
- Writing a new user story (within a totally new epic or an existing epic)
- Defining a new task (sub-task of a backlog item)
- Pulling a “ready to-do” item from the backlog into the workflow
- Estimating backlog items
- Fixing a blocking defect in production
- Defining UX
- Deciding to fix or not a fix a minor defect
- Deciding to tackle certain technical debt
- Tracking progress
- Defining a technical solution
As you can see for each action we’ve discussed the level of delegation. The goal is to have a conversation of what level of delegation is realistic and desirable. Points for change (more or less delegation) can be defined and acted upon.
The visualization is very simple: list the actions and the level of delegation in a matrix.
Hereby another example of a team deciding upon the level of delegation for these actions:
- Spending of allocated budget
- Acquiring new budget (next phase …)
- Hiring new people
Delegation is an investment
– Plan regular meetups to evaluate the level of delegation set for each action. Normally, this kind of delegation board is maintained by the manager (superior).
– The level of delegation should be acceptable (comfortable) for both parties – not too low and too high. As the team gains more confidence, the level of delegation can increase – ultimately to full delegation. This is the purpose of a self-organizing team.
– Managers need to understand that delegation is an investment. The aim is to gain more distributed control.
As a manager, you must understand that delegation of authority should be seen as an investment. It may take a while to get a return on your investment. In the meantime, inexperienced team members will cost you time, energy, money, and possibly some frustration. [Source: Management 3.0]
That’s why delegation of authority should be set at a level that is low enough to build competence in people, but not so low that things easily get out of control.
How to get started
You can buy or simple download delegation poker cards at the management 3.0 website. As a team approach your manager and say you are in need of an exercise (simulation) to clarify delegation. In a team, you can do this exercise in a retrospective. Don’t hesitate! I received good feedback.
More background info and examples:
- Delegation boards (at Happy Melly, the company behind Management 3.0)
- Delegation Map
- Leading Agile Developers: The Seven Levels of Authority (Part 1)
- Leading Agile Developers: The Seven Levels of Authority (Part 2)