When you kick off a project, you should know how you are going to get things done. You’ll have processes in place for many things already, thanks to your PMO, or as a result of having done them before. However, do you have a clear approach for delegation and escalation?

Delegation and escalation are two sides of the same coin. Delegation is giving work to someone in your team or maybe on the same hierarchical level as you. Escalation is giving work to someone above you, such as the project sponsor. The same principles apply for both task allocation exercises.

The person receiving the tasks needs:

- Clear instructions on what to do with it

- A deadline by when you need it done

An appreciation of what will happen if it doesn’t get done i.e. setting the task in the wider context of the project

- How do you choose which tasks to delegate, which to keep, and at what point things are escalated? You’ll have to do all of these things in a ‘normal’ project, so it is worth spending some time to work out how to get them done. This could involve:

- Setting tolerances for tasks and decisions: what are the trigger points for escalation? What can you fix yourself and what or when do you need input from someone higher up the project hierarchy?

Establishing what the staff development needs are on the project: who on your team would like some exposure to quality reviews, for example? Could you plan for them to be involved in quality reviews as part of their on-the-job training, with a view to delegating them the task of quality reviews in the future?

Establishing how competent your project team members are: what can you delegate safely? An enthusiastic member of staff might be really keen to take on the job of updating the project plan, but how well do they know Project Planner, or your project scheduling tool? Enthusiasm isn’t a suitable reason for you, as project manager, to delegate tasks. Prepare to support your team member through the learning curve so that she is competent as well as enthusiastic about taking on new responsibilities.

As we’ve seen, the project tolerances provide a framework to establishing which tasks need to be escalated. Set project tolerances for time, cost, quality and anything else you can think of that is important to the stakeholder group.

Some people find it easy to escalate but not so easy to delegate. If that sounds like you, remember a time when someone gave you a piece of work to complete. How did they do it and what instructions did they provide? If delegating makes you feel uncomfortable, just practice how you do it. You can’t avoid delegating, so you might as well think through how you will go about handing off pieces of work to your team, and if you need to, run through what you are going to say in the privacy of a meeting room or on your way to work before you talk to them.

Finally, consider how you will go about delegating and escalating. When is a good time to hand off tasks to a colleague? Do you need to schedule a meeting with them? If it is your project sponsor and the escalation is urgent, are they easy to get hold of? If not, what’s the contingency plan – or do you have to put everything on hold until they are in a position to provide some feedback as a result of your escalation?