One of my weaknesses as a PM is not being able to delegate and manage work assigned to others. What are ways you can tackle this? Granted I have high expectations of others, but sometimes they just don't meet the basic requirements.

Example: I asked someone to do a task for me, and 2 hours before the deadline they present it to me clearly showing no effort was put into it. I had to scramble and re-do it myself. In this scenario, how do you deal with this person? Is there a better way of asking them to do it? How can I enforce it so they do it better next time?

  • Can you clear up a few things? Do you know they have the skills to do the work? Are they offering or are you telling them to do it? Do they have the time? How did you ensure that the ask and quality expectations were clear? This is not meant to say you didn't do these things, just need to understand the current state to make any suggestions.
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 21:13
  • @Daniel sure! Yes, they're the dedicated team for the specific task, so I had asked them to help. I believe I gave them sufficient notice to do it (2 weeks), and made sure to ask if they could deliver (they said yes). As for expectations, we had a meeting about the requirements and had everyone agree before any work was done.
    – tbd_
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 22:32

6 Answers 6


A few suggestions:

Don't delegate & disappear until the deadline. Check in with them once or twice, just informally to ask how it's going, do they need any clarification from you, are they having any problems.

Be sure everyone is clear on what the priority of the delegated task is, especially if the people you've delegated to have other usual tasks, and possibly other people that are setting their priorities or depending on them.

And when things do go wrong, don't think "enforce". Think "ask." Ask them about it (after you've calmed down from having had to scramble to do it yourself, and after putting any thoughts of what you think happened firmly out of your mind), in a non-judgmental, non-authoritarian, curious way.

For example, in the situation you describe, I might say something like:

So, I appreciate that you turned the thing in on time, and that it had (something else I can remotely find to praise about it), but I was surprised that it didn't include (specific things that you had expected it to include). Was I not clear about that, or ...?

Note that I'm leading with the assumption that the fault might have been mine. I will do this even if I am 99.999% sure that it was not, partly because I have learned that communications problems usually have fault on both sides, but mostly because it is the least accusatory framing I can provide, so it is least likely to provoke a defensive, self-justifying response, and most likely to elicit an open, productive response.

Hopefully, the response identifies what the other person thought the problem was, and the conversation can then proceed collaboratively to figure out how we can avoid a similar problem next time. Sometimes I will offer a solution (eg, "would it be helpful if I checked in with you halfway thru?") and sometimes (usually not the first time) I will assert a solution I want to try (eg, "OK, well, next time I would like to see your design/prelim draft so we can make sure we're on the same page earlier").

Communications problems are SO common. It is SO easy to think that everything made it out of your head and into your words when really only half of it did -- and this is true on both sides. It's often helpful to point that out (eg, "Oh I see, I said X and what I meant was X+Z, but I wasn't explicit about the Z part so you assumed I wanted X+Y") as it can become an area for continuously working towards improvement.

It's hard to move from "I asked you to do this thing and I ended up redoing it myself, dammit" to "OK, well that didn't work out how I expected. What do you think happened?" And it can take a few hours or a day or two to get there, especially at first. But I have found it well worth it: both in terms of fostering a collaborative, productive team, and in terms of lowering my stress level. :)

Good luck!

  • Thanks for the answer Vicki, very very insightful! I will definitely apply the mentality of being objective and challenging my assumptions as much as possible. I spend a lot of energy on internal struggles whenever something like this goes wrong - I should definitely take the more retrospective approach and improve as a team. As someone from a technical background, I constantly underestimate the importance of effective communication...
    – tbd_
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 16:47

To add to Vicki's great answer:

Once you train people that you will redo sloppy work and fill in for them, they will rely on it.

As a general rule, a PM never does any work, a PM does PM.

How to do this? See Vicki's detailed answer.

  • Ah, a good reminder! It's so tempting to do everything myself!
    – tbd_
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 16:43

You are only looking at the individual as a possible root cause of the mediocre performance. This is not unusual, unfortunately, but it is also not very effective. You need to look at the entire system: processes--including the supporting processes such as QA (@VickiLaidler's suggestion) and risk--tooling; knowledge--both tacit and explicit--and your talent.

And you need to monitor performance over time. The human talent is the least reliable; there is quite a variance in all of our performance. Even the best pilot will bounce one in every now and again. So you need to measure and monitor your talent's performance over time to find his/her modal performance level.

In most cases, the human is not what's broken. There are other drivers that disable human performance no matter who (s)he is. You need to take a more sophisticated approach on this very complex topic of performance than what you are seeking here.

  • Thanks for the answer, David. It's easy for me to lose track of 'managing' rather than doing a lot of the work. I find that I easily spend a lot of time there. Thanks for the advice!
    – tbd_
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 16:42

It appears that you tend to be a perfectionist. Aren't you? Well, that's one of the challenge you got to face if you are a perfectionist. In adverse situations, the team members might also play games. That's natural in a highly political environment.

Is being perfectionist your problem? No. Then, how will you overcome the situation. There are ways and means to control the situation and it's purely in your hands. It's only you. Does it sound like a self-help cliché? Yes, it is.

Does it hold true for all those perfectionists? Quite naturally. Let us analyze the situation further.

Consider you assign a task to your team member. You would assume that by assigning a task to your teammate, the individual would take the ownership and revert to you when complete. If this is the case, then, your expectation is very much correct. That's how your team members would need to function. But you need to understand that they are not "YOU". They are different and have their own characteristics. You will need to accept this and change your mindset. This is the first step to success. Do you agree?

Okay, I have changed / ready to change my mindset. Now, What?

Well, there are umpteen ways to attack this problem. Instead of enlisting a huge set of possible solutions, let us narrow down to only two areas. What would it be? It would be: a) hard-way, b) soft-way. These two "ways" shall be your highway to your success. Crap, is what you will think. No, it is not. There is no other option other than to keep reading. Please bear with me.

Hard-way: Okay, so what is that hard-way? It is all about preparing the hard deliverables. What else, it would be your "task sheet" also known as Work-breakdown-structure (WBS) that spells out who does what and when. But then, you would ask, I have the task sheet prepared. Now, what?

The answer to this question would be: If you have prepared this WBS all alone thinking that your team members will need to go by your schedule, than I am sorry. You are at fault. You are preparing to blow your own trumpet. Trust me, that happens. I have committed that mistake and have burned my fingers and toes.

You should possibly involve your team members, brainstorm (yup, that's the buzz word), and then arrive at the WBS. The next activity shall be to communicate. But to whom? To the stakeholders. Communication is key. Please note. The moment you broadcast, your team will feel the heat. They will get to know that the tasks are getting noticed from top to bottom. Use the communication tool wisely.

The next set of activity shall be to keep monitoring and tracking. This is very essential. Publish the status religiously - rain or shine. This means you will need to over-communicate regularly until you gain traction.

Figure out the results. You will be surprised to believe the story. You can create history.


Now the soft part. This is very essential. You know that "give respect to take respect" is a famous adage. But then, that's what everyone expect. Please look at your team members as equal. Never indulge into any gossip. At times, just by using the magical words (please, thank you, etc), you could sense where your project is moving to. Always, be calm. Never vent. Your behavior at work depends on your project and your professional success.

Soft skills are very important to delegate and to get the work done. You might sometimes need to keep prodding. That happens, but then, as a PM, you got to see yourself as a guide.

Hope this helps you.


Couple of comments for you:

Granted I have high expectations of others, but sometimes they just don't meet the basic requirements.

  • Spend more time thinking about your hiring / selection process
  • Avoid becoming a policeman
  • Read and think about Setup to Fail
  • Immediately show that you care and work on the right outcomes

we had a meeting about the requirements and had everyone agree before any work was done.

  • If you procure services, make sure you understand this subject
  • Two weeks you say without communication would be foolish

no effort was put into it.

  • Effort is too subjective. Either the work fulfills the requirements or not.

Work environments changed a lot since the apparition of emails and voice messaging, not so long ago. I remember a time when people had only the choice to answer the phone or not. More recently appeared "gaming" in work places, gaming like in video games, people choosing their avatar and playing it along the days, the weeks and even the months. Now a days, everybody want to manage and managing is seen by many as "making it do by others", blaming others in case of problems. My stereotyped answer is not very far from the truth. People game their job when they don't have the competence to do it: to take the eat and face difficulties. Gaming in work places is a true cancer. If a boss has to delegate to look competent, employees have to blame an other employee to look competent. Happily, is it just a phase we are going through. The law of profit is implacable. No company has the luxury of having gaming employees always focusing on blaming others than to do what they are legally obliged to do. Usually when an employee does not want to do a job he or she is paid for, the employer can fire him or her. Many public companies are stuck with that cancer because the budget comes from a government and seems to be eternal. My solution in my studies and in the work places I was in, was always to do my work alone if it was my responsibility to do so. I prefer to talk to my boss and establish an agreement with him or her on who does the job, when and at what salary. I assured the success of my studies like that in which there was a lot of team works to do. Frank discussions are avoided more and more. Face to face discussions too. When will the bell of profit ring to bring back people in reality? A work place it not a gaming lounge and success is not always blaming others to get the promotion.

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