Knowing which decisions you can let your team make is at the heart of a project manager's role. We have some pointers to let you know when, and when not, to let go.
Once in a while, you find a project manager that wants to keep all the decision making power to himself. However, it is my experience that most project managers would just as soon delegate some of the decision-making to the rest of the project team.
In fact, you don't want your team members helplessly bringing you every problem that arises over the life of the project. You want to empower the team to make as many decisions as possible. This helps the project team feel more professional about their jobs and the level of responsibility they have. This can also help morale, since people generally feel better about their jobs if they feel they have a level of control over the things that impact them. As a project manager, you need to encourage people to accept responsibility and make decisions when appropriate. This helps the team run more efficiently and allows individuals to grow professionally.
As a project manager, you need your team members to handle all the day-to-day problems and only bring items to you on an exception basis. At the same time, the project manager should resolve as many problems as he can, and only bring true issues to the sponsor for assistance.
If you really empower your team with decision-making authority, it might seem that they will be able to handle any and all problems without taking them to the project manager. Actually, this would be taking the empowerment process too far. There are some problems that arise that will need to be escalated to the project manager. Likewise, there are some problems that the project manager will need to escalate to the sponsor and other appropriate managers.
Here are some criteria to ask about the problem so that your project team knows whether the resolution is outside their control.
- Will the resolution result in an impact to duration or cost? If there is, the project manager must be involved. The project team members cannot make changes to the project cost or duration without project manager, and probably project sponsor, involvement.
- Will the decision require you to go out of scope or deviate from previously agreed upon specifications? This happens all the time. In many cases, the project team members feel empowered to take on scope change requests. This is not right. Even if the scope change is made without impact to cost or schedule, the project manager must always be involved to manage changes to scope.
- Is the problem and/or potential resolution politically sensitive? If so, the project manager must be involved. These types of problems may require escalation to the sponsor and management team as well.
- Will the decision require you to miss a previously agreed upon commitment? If so, the project manager must be involved since he or she keeps the schedule and must be involved in any decisions that result in changes to an activity end date.
- Will the decision open the project to future risk? If so, the project manager must be involved, since the project manager is responsible for the risk management process.
If none of these conditions are true, then the team member can make the decision. It may sound like there is nothing left, but in fact, most of the decisions that are required on a day-to-day basis do not meet these criteria and can be made by the team or individual team members.
Tom Mochal is the president of TenStep, a methodology development, training and consulting company.