Delegation poker & authority boards – Management 3.0

This concerns who’s responsible for what – who has the authority to perform certain actions, take ownership of specific tasks, etc.? In organizations, responsibilities and the level of control are often not clear (cf. difference between Responsibility and Authority). Most often, one has to discover or figure out what level of authority they have.

Proactive people may take more ownership and proceed with actions. Till that moment, a superior intervenes to set some boundaries. Rarely did these boundaries are formed from the beginning. Some people do not care about these blurry boundaries of authority and will delegate all kinds of “accountability” to higher-up managers (in case of situations going wrong). This can be entirely counter-productive and frustrating.

If you are serious about setting boundaries of authority and want to delegate real authority to teams in the company, you should take action to make these boundaries clear.

A great tool to do this exercise is delegation poker by Management 3.0.

Delegation poker

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 specific 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 essential to notice there are several levels of delegation.

Levels of delegation

Delegation poker cards

We distinguish the following levels:

  1. Tell: You as the manager make the decision.
  2. Sell: You make the decision but you try to persuade others to buy into it.
  3. Consult: You get input from team before still making decision.
  4. Agree: You make a decision together as a team.
  5. Advise: Your team makes the decision, but you try to influence it.
  6. Inquire: Your team makes the decision and then tells you about it.
  7. 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 three levels, the manager makes the decision; in the last three levels, the team makes the decision. In level 1, “tell”, the manager decides without team input. In level 7, the team gets full authority to decide independently.

For each action, the team and the “manager” decide together the delegation level.

Playing delegation poker

The exercise is done in the following way:

  1. List possible actions to decide the level of delegation (see some examples below)
  2. 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.
  3. When all persons have chosen, they reveal their cards.
  4. If you want, you can calculate the points. There’s a rule to discard the points of the highest minority (*)
  5. Let the people with the highest and the lowest cards explain the reasoning behind their choices.
  6. 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. If three or four people all chose 7, that is the majority, meaning they earn seven points.

The delegation level 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:

Delegation poker - authority board

Actions discussed:

For an example: getting coffee 🙂

  1. Defining the priority of epics on the backlog
  2. Defining the priority of user stories within an epic
  3. Writing a new user story (within a totally new epic or an existing epic)
  4. Defining a new task (sub-task of a backlog item)
  5. Pulling a “ready to-do” item from the backlog into the workflow
  6. Estimating backlog items
  7. Fixing a blocking defect in production
  8. Defining UX
  9. Deciding to fix or not a fix a minor defect
  10. Deciding to tackle certain technical debt
  11. Tracking progress
  12. Defining a technical solution

As you can see, we’ve discussed the delegation-level for each action. The goal is to discuss what level of delegation is realistic and desirable. Points for change (more or less delegation) can be defined and acted upon.

The visualization is straightforward: list the actions and delegation-level in a matrix.

Now is 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
authority board example

Delegation is an investment

– Plan regular meetups to evaluate the level of delegation set for each action. Usually, this kind of delegation board is maintained by the manager (superior).

The delegation level should be acceptable (comfortable) for both parties – not too low and too high. As the team gains more confidence, delegation can increase.

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 the delegation of authority should be set at a low enough level to build competence in people but not so low that things quickly 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 need 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: