Knowledge workers, which includes programmers and software developers, squander about 41 percent of their time on discretionary tasks that not only bring them no personal satisfaction but were also better off delegated to someone else more suited for the job, according to an article by Harvard Business Review.
In fact, when researchers from Denmark carried out a study looking at the correlation between a person’s ability to delegate and their level of job satisfaction, they made two interesting findings.
First, both the leader doing the delegating and the people being delegated to had a higher sense of satisfaction with their job the more often the leader delegated. The leader had more free time for more satisfying tasks, and the staff enjoyed the sense of trust and autonomy.
Second, when a task is delegated, it gets done in less time than it would have been had it not been delegated, and the quality of the final product is the same. Delegation can also have an impact on a business’s bottom line.
ScaleTime published an infographic entitled “The Art and Science of Delegation,” in which the company showed that CEOs who are successful at delegation tend to generate more than 33 percent in revenue when compared to CEOs who have a do-it-all-yourself mentality.
So, when should a leader delegate a task in the development team?
Rather than looking at when a leader should delegate, let’s look at when a leader should realize that they aren’t delegating enough:
If a leader feels that they are always drowning underneath a mountain pile of work that never seems to end, then maybe it is time to lighten the load a little and delegate a few tasks to other employees.
If a leader feels like they are not suited for a particular task, then they should pass the job along to someone better cut for it.
This stems from the fact that every member on a team will have certain skills that make them suited for some tasks more than others, and a team leader is no different.
If a leader feels that they don’t have faith in the abilities of their team members, then this is an excellent time to start delegating.
This last one may seem counter-intuitive, but the only way a team can start coming together and growing is for their leader to trust them and nurture their capabilities.
The types of tasks that are ideal for delegation in the development team
Aside from tasks that the leader is not suited for, there are a few other types of tasks that are prime candidates for being passed on to someone else:
1. Tasks that don’t affect the bottom line
A leader should consider delegating any task that doesn’t affect the growth of the business, the type of task that is simple, rarely requires any experience, and is usually routine in nature.
Even though a leader could easily carry out these tasks, the time consumed could be better spent on other, more valuable endeavors.
2. Tasks that are exhausting physically or mentally
A big part of a leader’s job is to stay passionate and to infect the rest of their team with that same passion.
However, if forced to perform mentally or physically exhausting tasks, a leader may get sidetracked and not only lose sight of their vision for the company but also become unable to motivate the rest of the team.
A word of caution is warranted here: passing on too many stressful tasks may fatigue the team and cause them to resent the leader. So, discretion is the better part of the delegation.
Alright, what is the process of delegation in a development team?
Delegation is one of those things that are easier said than done. Here are a few steps any leader can carry out to become a better delegator in a software development team:
1. It all starts with a little planning
Before delegating a single task, a leader must perform some preliminary planning, which starts with understanding the technical specifications of the task about to be delegated as well as being able to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks.
The idea behind breaking down a task in a development team is very similar to the concept of division of labor, first introduced by Adam Smith in his book “The Invisible Hand” and then perfected by the automobile industry, especially Ford and Toyota.
When Smith first introduced the idea of division of labor, he envisioned that industries could become much more efficient if each worker became specialized in a specific task, cutting down on the overall time required to complete a finished product.
In the same vein, when a leader breaks down a task into smaller chunks and blocks the time for each, it becomes easier to pass along specialized tasks to the proper experts.
Once the tasks have been sliced and diced as best as possible, a leader has to decide which slices should be passed onto someone else’s plate and which parts should stay on the plate in front of them.
2. Choose who’ll carry out which tasks in the development team
The next step is to decide which team member will be responsible for a certain task.
This decision boils down to appreciating the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, including their skills, their schedule, and the things that make them feel passionate.
However, leaders must avoid making the task too easy for their team: The ideal situation is one where the delegated task is difficult enough to be intellectually stimulating and to offer the employee growth opportunities yet not too difficult that things start spiraling out of control.
3. Relay the information clearly and concisely
To maximize a team member’s chance of successfully completing a task in a development team, a leader needs to equip them with instructions and documents that let them know both what is expected of them and how they can best achieve these goals.
And, when a task is of critical importance, the team member should receive contextual information that might affect how they carry out the job.
The contextual information can be anything from how the delegated task aligns with the business’ overall vision or what the possible stakes of missing a deadline are.
4. Trust the development team
Upon delegating a task to someone, a leader must trust the individual’s capabilities and believe that they will perform the task to the best of their ability.
This is critical for two reasons: For the leader, micromanagement can be so time-consuming that it defeats the entire process of delegation.
For the team members, too much micromanagement can rob them of their sense of autonomy, making the whole process feel tedious and draining.
More importantly, a leader needs to foster in their team a sense of responsibility and accountability, something that will be near impossible if the leader is peering over their shoulder every two minutes.
5. Be a mentor, a guide, and a teacher
An SQL team manager named Patrick Rogers working at Flatfy, the international real estate company, once tweeted: “Even if you already know something, it’s still a learning experience for somebody else.”
This simple sentence should encapsulate every leader’s approach when it comes to mentoring and training their employees, and every act of delegation is a learning opportunity in the waiting.
So, even if an employee might be unable to handle a certain task at first, a good leader should try to mentor them through it rather than just pass the task along to someone else.
This concept is even more important when it comes to junior employees and fresh graduates. Instead of just giving them simple menial tasks, leaders ought to give them serious responsibilities, things that will help them develop and learn that much faster.
It will also make them feel like valued team members, which is integral for any newcomer.
It is worth remembering that junior employees and fresh graduates tend to be hungry for any learning experiences, and because they are still starting out their careers, they are grateful for any opportunity to gain new skills.
And, like every good teacher, leaders must give their team constructive feedback on the job being performed; some people will go so far as to say that the feedback is the most important part of the entire delegation process because it ensures that true learning actually takes place.
However, just as a leader is willing to dish out their thoughts, they have to be willing to hear their team’s feedback regarding their leadership and delegation skills.
Bringing it all together
After seeing how important delegation was for a leader’s success, we looked at situations when a leader can identify that they aren’t delegating as much as they should be.
Subsequently, we investigated the types of tasks that are for delegation and looked at the delegation process as a whole, starting with breaking down the tasks and jobs at hand all the way to being a guide and teacher to one’s team.
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Ashley Wilson is a digital nomad writing about business and tech. She workes remotely as a content creator for various SMBs. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking homemade treats and trying out new flavors. You can get in touch with Ashley via Twitter.