Pull Your Projects out of the Black Hole
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over…”
~ Steve Maraboli
Do you ever feel like your projects have fallen into a black hole? You might be delegating them to a particular person, or putting a return “in the drawer”, or empowering a team of people to upgrade the firm’s tax software. In all of these cases, you’re left unsure of when you’ll get the project back or what it will look like when you do. You may worry that you won’t get it when you need it or know the status if there are issues. This might have you thinking that you’ve entered The Twilight Zone…but instead, you’ve got a breakdown in your return and report process.
Like yours, our work environment at ConvergenceCoaching is highly collaborative, with multiple individuals involved in projects and various touch points along the way to completion. We’ve found that we are more effective in managing projects and delegating when we are crystal clear about the details of what we need done. That means that as a delegator, it’s my job to ensure that the person I’m delegating to understands:
What I need produced, the specifics of what will be included, in draft or final form
Who owns each component of the project and will do the thinking, planning, organizing or communicating about their phase before they hand it off again
By when this project, or the various phases of it, will be completed
The resources, either internal or external, that will be leveraged to successfully complete the project (including budgets, last year’s file, data from the client, etc.)
The method and frequency of return and report, which is a clear plan for how and when we’ll communicate about the project while it’s in process (and when we aren’t clear, then we’ve entered the black hole)
The details of the delegation outlined above, usually in the form of an email recap, so that we can all be on the same page.
In our black hole example, it’s our responsibility as delegators to set clear expectations for return and report. We hold the power to run our projects more smoothly in the future, if only we can get clearer with our teams about how we’d like to be involved.
The actual methodology of return and report can take different forms. I might request that we hold weekly status update calls if we’re working on multiple projects together. I may want you to invest two hours in the project, getting it to a certain stage, and then receive a check-in email on your findings before you go forward. Or I could ask to review and input to a draft version before it’s finalized and sent to the client.
Return and report will vary based on your personal style and need for control. Some of us easily let go of our projects while others struggle to cede authority and be open to different approaches. Return and report preferences might also depend on who you are delegating to, since your experience working together (or lack of) will often dictate how involved we need to be as delegators.
Another factor is the scope and length of the project timeline. On long-term projects like the tax preparation software upgrade noted above, more decisions are required along the way, along with course corrections to stay on track. A weekly or monthly check-in methodology might be necessary for the project team and the leadership group to stay on the same page and keep things moving forward.
The benefits of a clear return and report method for the delegator are that it:
- Allows us to stay in the loop on decisions made and actions taken
- Allays our fears about missing deadlines
- Offers the opportunity to reset expectations ahead of time with our client or other key stakeholders when the project veers off track
- Empowers staff to take the next steps necessary to progress the project
- Ensures that we feel less “micromanage-y” as delegators because we’ve got a mechanism to stay “in the know” and ensure delivery that will meet the timing committed to the client.
A clear return and report methodology also provides perks for the person being delegated to. It creates a support structure under which to complete the project, as well as a clear set of expectations for how often to communicate and seek input. Delegatees will experience more success and feel empowered to grow and develop new skills in the supportive environment provided by clear return and report.
The next time you find yourself thinking “what black hole did I send that project into?”, start paying attention to what expectations you’re establishing with others for your next return and report meeting. You’ll be amazed by the changes that clarity in this area will make!
About the Author
Renee is a consultant with Convergence Coaching, LLC, a national leadership and marketing consulting firm dedicated to helping leaders achieve success by working with them to develop and implement leadership, succession, human resources, and training and development plans.