Delegating

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Credit: flickr / Stevie-B

As a student, you don’t really learn how to delegate. It’s one of those crucial life skills that doesn’t seem to make it onto the curriculum, and when we think about it – how would it?

There are opportunities, but you have to go out and find them. Volunteer to team lead on a group project. Join a student organization and take on an exec position.

The thing is, if you delegate writing some code in a group project to someone who’s a terrible programmer, they let the whole team down. You often have no control over who the people in your group are, let alone whether they are competent. The danger is, first time around, you don’t realize this – you think they know roughly the same things you do. Some might, some won’t, particularly if your program has a lot of flexibility in course choices and supports joint programs. The second time around, you might have learned from this experience but you can’t necessarily change it. You might know that some people aren’t competent, but you don’t have the time to discover who is or who isn’t, and in a group project you can’t just kick people out because they don’t know what they are doing.

Group project experiences:

As team leader in a group project I organized the task divisions. One guy completely screwed his up, let us all down and our project was kinda a bust. This was the case for every other group as well, but that didn’t help the feeling of crushing failure that I’d delegated badly.

In another group project, one guy was such a muppet he wrote a loading screen that came on screen for 10 seconds and delayed the launch of the application until it had gone. One of my friends ended up having to rewrite all of his code for that and everything else (later, when I had to code a loading screen, it was so simple I couldn’t believe he’d managed to get it so very wrong). Another of my friends was excluded from her sub-group in this project, as the other (male) members of that group took the tasks that had been assigned to that sub-group and did them all. When she finally told me, I flipped out and emailed the prof – he was really nice and took care of things. She said it wasn’t sexist, but I think it was because there’s no way they would have done that to another guy – even one as incompetent as loading screen guy, and my friend is a talented programmer.

Problems with group projects in University:

  • People you work with don’t necessarily know what they’re doing.
  • You don’t necessarily respect each other. If I’m at a company, hopefully I respect people because they’ve gone through the same hiring process as I have. I should be able to assume they’ve proven their abilities. This is not the case at university.
  • In the real world, there are significant benefits to being liked that do not apply here (you don’t usually get graded on how easy you are to work with).
  • There is no clear hierarchy – even if you’re the group leader, that doesn’t mean you have years of experience and have proven yourself, it’s just luck of the draw or being the person that takes charge.

All this leads to it being hard to delegate, and the same issues apply in a student organization – perhaps even more so.

  • People may not think you have a right to ask them to do anything.
  • There may be no significant downside (to them) in not doing it.
  • They may be disorganized, and forget.
  • They may think the task you’ve asked them to do is not important, but ignore the request instead of refusing.

Trying to delegate more, I find three common scenarios.

  • I ask someone to do something, and it happens. These people are gold dust – keep them onside.
  • I ask someone to do something, and they do not respond. I chase it up, but in the end do it myself / ask someone more reliable.
  • I ask someone to do something, and they do not respond. It is a small task, which means I don’t necessarily remember to follow it up. It just doesn’t get done. Down the road, this causes problems.

In the worse case, delegating takes more time than it would to do it myself. In the best case, I save myself time and give someone who deserves it more responsibility. In the best case, I leverage and more gets done.

The question: how to maximize the best-case scenario, and minimize the worst-case?

6 thoughts on “Delegating

  1. I think they’d rebel :-s it’s so hard to get people to come to meetings, and especially frustrating because if people would just respond and indicate whether they will or will not do things fewer meetings would be needed.

    One thing I’ve got out of GTD though is the idea of having a list of things I’m “waiting” on – I think it will dramatically reduce the stress of delegating if I can offload the chasing up thoughts out of my head.

    (Love the link! Some great tips. Have to work out what I can incorporate with people who I can only rarely get a hold of :-s)

  2. I think they’d rebel :-s it’s so hard to get people to come to meetings, and especially frustrating because if people would just respond and indicate whether they will or will not do things fewer meetings would be needed.

    One thing I’ve got out of GTD though is the idea of having a list of things I’m “waiting” on – I think it will dramatically reduce the stress of delegating if I can offload the chasing up thoughts out of my head.

    (Love the link! Some great tips. Have to work out what I can incorporate with people who I can only rarely get a hold of :-s)

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