Project Practitioners > Let The Bird Fly

Let The Bird Fly

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Delegation is a must as a project manager. Doing everything required for a project’s success is impossible. You must rely on others to complete tasks. The completion process includes speaking with owners, scheduling with subcontractors, and inputting information regarding invoicing and documentation.


For most, these tasks can be implemented over time through a course of small iterations. You can have them reach out to an owner for simple information to build that relationship over time. Scheduling subcontractors starts with one and eventually leads to all. Inputting information begins with one project then building from there.


Information overload is a thing. If you start to throw all three tasks at a person at the maximum level of involvement immediately, none of the information sinks in; therefore none of it gets done. You have to slowly build to the level you want this team member to function.


For some, this level of effectiveness is never reached. They continue to ask the same questions about the same activities. The information is in a shared folder easily accessible to all team members, yet you are the resource they choose. Who is the owner for this project? Who should I send this email to? Which subcontractor are we using for this task?


The first few times are excusable. Maybe the team member is unfamiliar with the shared folders for each project. Maybe the team member has not used a similar process in the past, so this new way of doing things is taking a while to adjust. However, at a certain point, something has to click.


In other words, you must kick the bird out of the nest and see if he or she flies or drops like a lead balloon. This one true test is pass or fail. You have given them the resources to fly. Whether they do or not is another story.


Here are some effective ways to let the bird fly:



  1. Make Their Own Decisions

Have them send an email to an owner without someone proofreading. Have them submit an invoice without someone standing next to them. Get them to make manageable mistakes and have them work aloud through their thought process.


You are a guide but not an answering machine. Let them work through their process of finding information. Get them used to the idea of looking in those locations first before ever thinking of coming to you for answers. Push their comfort level of asking owners or subcontractors questions. On paper, these phone calls appear scary because no relationship has formed yet.


What if they ask a stupid question? What if you are wasting someone else’s time? These are ridiculous stories we tell ourselves when initially reaching out to people. The truth is people would rather have you call them asking a ‘dumb question’ than mess it up and have to resolve the mistake.


By putting these individuals in situations to succeed on their own, they start to become autonomous. Each little success builds on itself until you are the last resort for questioning.


  1. Meet Their Needs

Sometimes, the job can be so boring they do not want to take that extra leap or effort. You start to wonder why someone will not copy and paste a message into the online portal. Do you ever think the tasks you are delegating are below the abilities of your team member? Someone does not possess a master’s or professional certification to enter data or copy and paste. He or she wants to put that education to use.


When there are too many personal preferences that you have that do not fit their working style, those differences can make it frustrating. Not only ask for input but also implement their changes. Improvement does not only pertain to a team member but also yourself. No one knows everything. Leverage your team member’s education for your benefit in accomplishing tasks and learning.


If your process is linear and straightforward and the person you are training finds a better fit for their working style, embrace their nuance rather than hammer away at how you do things. Also, make sure the task is challenging enough to stretch their comfort zone but not so difficult they get frustrated and quit.


A task can bring with it so many nuances that confuse others. Leave those to the people with the most knowledge of the situation. Eventually, this person will be up to speed and be able to handle the differences, but for a beginner, keep it simple.


  1. Feedback

Honest, immediate feedback in real time will help. Often, people let these issues fester then blow up. At a certain point, you become so frustrated with the questions and constant dialogue you lash out. I have seen someone start to cry at their desk because of a scenario like this. All the person wanted to do was help, but the tasks became so overwhelming that emotions just poured out.


As a reminder, if you find yourself making someone cry because you have assigned them too many tasks at once and they feel overwhelmed, be sympathetic. The last thing they need to hear is how to do something or move to another task. Be a human being.


Once things have settled down, give real-time feedback to the employee so they can adjust in the moment rather than having to think back a month to remember. Looking at a bill they input months ago then asking a million questions about it does not do anyone any good. People barely remember what they had for lunch let alone why an invoice was created for a task that happened 30 days ago.




An autonomous team member should be the goal of every project manager. You assign a task and do not have to worry about following up with progress or making sure it was received. Set it and forget it.


The way to instill autonomy into your team is trusting their abilities. They are on the team for a reason. Time to give each team member the resources to succeed on their own. Show them where to look for project information. Give them the contact numbers of important project personnel. Let them slip and fall a few times but always be there to help them up.


Having them make their own decisions feeds into their needs of the position. Who likes being watched like a hawk? No one I know. Micromanaging and paper grading are the most frustrating activities a project manager can do. It comes off accusatory and lacks confidence that the team members need.


The flying technique of an individual does not matter. It matters that they are flying.

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