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An Engineering Manager’s Guide to Delegating

As an engineering manager, how can you ensure you’re correctly delegating tasks to your team? Follow this guide for delegation dos and don'ts.

By Mara Calvello  •   October 14, 2022  •   8 min read

There are only so many hours in the work day.

And there comes a time in every engineering manager’s work day when there isn’t enough time to get everything on your to-do list crossed off. It can be hard to know when to delegate these tasks to your team and even harder to determine when it’s time to let some projects go.

Delegating isn’t easy—it can be tricky to do so correctly. When delegation is done right, everyone wins!

Why is it important to know when to delegate?

As an engineering manager, knowing how to delegate is crucial to the team’s success. As a leader, there’s simply not enough time in the work day to do everything yourself. Not only because you can’t, but also because you shouldn’t.

Delegating tasks and to-dos empowers other engineers on your team, builds and establishes trust, and assists with professional development. And as a manager, delegating is an excellent way to identify who is best suited for specific tasks or projects, who has the drive and passion for which projects, and who may be approaching burnout.

Effectively delegate tasks

During the meeting, effectively delegate tasks by assigning clear action items to know who is doing what, and by when. Try Fellow for free!

How to figure out what to delegate

You likely have a long to-do list, so it can be tricky to know what to tackle yourself and what to delegate to the engineers on your team. Once you’ve made the act of delegation a priority, you need to figure out what projects to delegate.

Remember, what you choose to delegate and what you choose to accomplish yourself sends a message to your team. If you constantly give your team members tedious tasks that are essentially busy work or tasks that you’re clearly trying to avoid, you may come across as lazy, or it may seem as though you don’t trust your engineers with tasks that are actually important.

Your team members may start to think that you don’t value them or think they’re capable of handling tasks or projects that make a lasting impact on the success of the company. Or, perhaps they’ll start thinking you’re simply offloading tasks that you can’t be bothered with or believe you’re “above” working on.

Instead, when you delegate high-value tasks and give your team members the right level of support, you’re letting your team know that you trust them, believe they have the skills to complete the task at hand, and value their hard work.

For this, consider the Eisenhower Matrix, which can help you decide what to prioritize by urgency and importance! Knowing the urgency and importance of each task enables you to determine whether or not it should be delegated. With this method, simply assign tasks into one of the four quadrants: Do First, Schedule, Delegate, or Don’t Do.

Best of all, check out this template that lays everything out for you!

Tips for engineering managers when delegating 

Ready to start delegating? Consider these seven tips for engineering managers looking to delegate tasks the right way.

1Decide a communication format

When you delegate tasks to your team, think about the communication format that makes the most sense to relay all necessary information. For example, if a project will require a lot of information upfront, you may want to first let your team know in a one-on-one, then invite them to a more in-depth meeting regarding the need-to-know details. 

Best one on one meeting tool

If a task may be familiar to your team already or is one that doesn’t require a ton of onboarding, you can communicate using business instant messaging software, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Ultimately, the channel you choose as the communication format should give you what’s necessary to share the complete details of the delegated task.  

2Share the why

Next, share why a task is being delegated. If you skip this part, it can lead your engineering team to believe that you’re lazy or can’t be bothered to complete something yourself.

Be sure to explain to your engineer exactly why you chose them for a given task. This context should explain why you think they’re right for this responsibility. For example, maybe the two of you have previously discussed their interest in taking on new challenges in hopes of a future promotion. Let them know that accomplishing this task successfully can be a stepping stone to a promotion!

Or, you may want to explain that this project needs a certain level of expertise or a specific skill set that you believe this person possesses. If this is the case, let them know for an added confidence boost.

3Have clear documentation and expectations 

When delegating, it’s crucial to provide clear details, documentation, and expectations—but be sure to do so without micromanaging or hand-holding. Let your engineers know the goals or milestones you hope they’ll hit and the information necessary to do so and then let them tackle the assignment on their own!

Remember that how you may approach or accomplish a task isn’t necessarily the way everyone will. If there’s still a successful end result, let your team members tackle projects the best way for them.

4Define a desired outcome 

To set your team up for success, be sure to have a thorough discussion about the desired outcome. Ultimately, you may delegate a task, but you’re still on the hook and accountable for the results! Even when you take a step back and give someone else the reins, you’re still responsible for the project getting accomplished on time.

Don’t get too caught up in how the employee gets to the desired outcome; just make sure you’re both clear about the expectations for what the finish line looks like.  

5Be ready for failure

Delegation isn’t always smooth sailing. More than likely, there will be some bumps in the road. Have a system in place for what to do when something goes wrong. If deadlines go missed or broken code gets pushed, how you respond is important.

If you criticize this failure too intensely, other team members won’t want to take on new challenges or tasks in the future. Frame the failure as a learning opportunity for the individual to whom you delegated the task and for the rest of the team. See if there’s a way the project can be salvaged and find out if there’s a way to turn it into a positive instead of a negative.  

6Ask and give feedback 

When delegating tasks to your team, you never want to skip feedback. At the start of every project, agree on how and when you’ll share feedback and updates. 

Ask the engineers to whom you’ve delegated tasks for their feedback. Find out if you’ve given them enough information to succeed and if they feel supported with everything they need to accomplish the tasks. 

As an engineering manager, this helps you stay in the loop on their progress and avoid unwanted surprises, like missed deadlines. When the work is complete, check the work you delegated to your employees and make sure they did it correctly. Make time to give them any feedback they can use in the future when other tasks are delegated to them.

Feedback Feature Fellow

7Agree on a schedule

One way you can set up your employee for success is by creating a schedule and sticking to it. This includes when elements of the project are due, when you’ll review their work, and when they can come to you for feedback. Doing so can not only ensure both of you are on the same page, but it can also help to manage expectations and remain in the know about what’s to come. 

Additionally, agreeing on a schedule can help you see if or when your employee is falling behind and at risk of not completing the project on time. The sooner this becomes clear, the sooner you can act to help get everything back on track.

Delegating dos and don’ts

As an engineering manager, there are certain dos and don’ts to delegating tasks. 

  • Do: Always make yourself available! You should be free to answer questions, provide feedback, and do quick check-ins. This is especially important if this is the first time you’ve delegated any sort of task, big or small, to a member of your team. Let them know you’re there if they need something.
  • Do: Be patient! Sometimes when delegating, you’ll think you could do the project better or faster than the engineer to whom you’ve delegated. You have to take a step back, be patient, and let them work on the task in their own way. Otherwise, they’ll never learn.
  • Don’t: Micromanage the tasks! Your team doesn’t need hand-holding. Trust that they can get the job done, even if they go about things differently than you would have. If you’re going to spend the time micromanaging your team members, you may as well have done the task yourself.
  • Don’t: Delegate tiny tasks! Trust your team with the projects and tasks that make a difference within the organization. If you only give your team the small projects, they’ll think you don’t trust them, or they’ll think you think you’re too good to handle the smaller projects.

Over to you!

When delegating tasks, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do so. If this is your first time delegating tasks as an engineering manager, put these tips and dos and don’ts into practice to ensure you’re delegating with purpose. You always want your team to feel like you trust them and believe they’ll be successful. Remember that at the end of the day, their success reflects on you!

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