Delegation versus Just Doing It

July 14, 2016

One of the things that I consistently struggle with when I run organizations is deciding when to delegate something versus when to do it myself. A well functioning organization should have lots of people in it that can split the work and get things done without large amounts of intervention. However getting an organization to a point where it is well functioning is a challenge. In a well functioning organization people need the authority, time, and ability to get things done. When new people join an organization they often are still learning how things work. There is a cost to on boarding on both ends.

In my civic technology projects I have two kinds of delegation. The first kind is for all the members of the team that visit every week. I can give one of them a high level task and they know both the history of the project and are able and willing to learn what they need to complete the task. Since they have been there every week I trust them to do it. The other kind of task, which takes more work to put together, are tightly specified micro-tasks designed to allow a coder to participate for the one session they are present. These tasks can take more work to put together. While it might feel like its worth just writing the code once I am done, not doing these tasks saves me real time and provides an opportunity for new community members to engage with the project in a meaningful way.

As a software developer that is now fairly talented at what I do, it is tempting to just write the software I want to create. Removing the management overhead of working on a group project feels like it would make things work faster, and in many ways it would. However the goal of a successful project is not just to have functioning software but to have a functioning community around that software. Communities are resilient and will patch bugs and keep your software up to date. Communities bring more perspective to the project and can take it in directions you did not consider by bringing in new and fresh perspective. In the short term delegation may not feel or be worthwhile, but I believe it is worthwhile in the long term.

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This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.