Being a technical leader is hard.
As a technical leader, you are often expected to remain a high-performing personal assistant while also taking on other responsibilities to help the team. These additional responsibilities may include allocating work to clearly defined tasks, managing congestion, prioritizing work, mentoring younger engineers, and resolving inhibitors for the team.
The hardest part of being a technical manager is learning to balance your individual work with the needs of your team.
How do you get your work done by helping your team stay productive? You can’t do everything, and you certainly don’t want to burn yourself by working longer.
One solution to managing this increased workload is to learn effective delegation. So the question is, when should you delegate and when should you do something yourself?
Tasks can often be characterized by two spectra – complexity and frequency. The task can be simple or complex, and the task may need to be completed frequently or infrequently. We can use these attributes to decide when a job should be moved or not.
Engineers want to automate tedious work. Ideally, everything you need to do often should be automated as much as possible. For example, if you need to collect metrics about your team’s work in each sprint, see if there is a way to automate the process.
If the task cannot be automated, simple and repetitive tasks should be delegated. These can be, for example, conducting a standup meeting or performing simple code reviews. Simple and frequent tasks are things that no one on your team should be able to do with little or no additional training, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to do everything yourself. You are here to help your team, but your team is also here to help you.
If the task is easy and rarely a task, just do it yourself. If it takes longer before you explain to someone how to do the task than you would just do, then go ahead and handle it yourself.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of value in educating team members and growing others. However, such simple and rare tasks are usually not the core responsibilities of someone’s job and are not essential to anyone’s career development.
An example of a simple and rare task might be to use a script once a quarter to create a report. Or it could be buying tickets for future team activities – nothing too exciting and too time consuming.
Again, automate everything you can. If you are able to complete a complex and frequent task and automate the process to complete it, you should!
Assuming you can’t automate the task, complex and often tasks should be delegated to your team members to facilitate their growth. As a technical manager, you are someone who knows how to share work, plan projects, solve inhibitors, and manage events. Train your team members to develop these skills as well!
Ask a team member to lead the planning of the next project for which your team is assigned. Delegate an internship to a colleague to divide complex work into smaller tasks. The next incident will invite a teammate to resolve the issue with you.
When you can train your team to handle these complex and frequent tasks, they will advance in their careers. It also frees you to concentrate time and energy elsewhere because you are no longer the only person who is capable of doing this kind of work.
Complex and rare tasks are often the most difficult to transfer. These tasks don’t happen on a regular basis, so they don’t take up too much time. They may be valuable for the learning of other members of the group, but due to the rarity of the task, the return on training and work delegation is not equal.
Complex and rare tasks should be delegated to your team’s rising leaders as stretching tasks. You can ask a senior engineer to help them review the performance of the trainee being mentored last summer. Or you can ask a senior engineer to do research and then give a high-level assessment of a new feature that the product management is considering but not yet committed to.
These types of tasks are not common, but they can be good learning experiences for everyone involved.
Let’s go back to the delegation matrix. Here it is, all filled:
As you can see, much of your work can be transferred! Your job as a technical leader is to help keep your team productive, and often the best way to do that is to invest time in advance to train your team members so they can soon handle even the most complex tasks alone.
Thanks for reading!