How to turn mega-projects for one into reliable processes for many
February 19, 2014 5:54 PM   Subscribe

My responsibilities at my job have slowly but organically grown until they are more than I can handle alone. Fortunately, my boss is very good at giving me people to do things for me. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time transitioning from the paradigm where I hold absolutely everything in my head, so I end up farming out simple tasks but then staying late putting a finished product together. How can I learn to divide work among multiple people successfully?

The work involved is kind of like programming in that certain obscure technical skills and knowledge are required. It is also heavily reliant on outside vendors. There are specifications and requirements which if passed mean that a project is technically okay, but: (a) we are beholden to outside vendors for confirmation of these issues; no one person can verify every point; and (b) it's possible to pass, but crappily, in which case the next iteration of the project will be difficult and may require some embarrassing "that thing we delivered last year was actually pretty bad so we need to change the parts that you thought would stay the same this year" talks. So it's really important to do a good job, not just the minimum required for acceptance.

Up until now my work procedure has been to become a meta-expert in everything. I may not have skill A to verify vendor X's work, but I know enough about A to tell if X's work is obviously problematic. I can look at vendor Y's work and know that I need to tell vendor Z to be wary of such-and-such because it will affect her too. That sort of thing. I have no problem with dividing work up among outside vendors like this; it's what my company does and I have learned how to do it fine.

The problem is that my projects have grown to the point where it is impractical for me to watch over all this myself. So I need to have some of this meta-work done by others, but I am really bad at delegating this. I don't know how to transition from the "one person knows everything" model to the "lots of people know overlapping things, and if they all follow procedures everything is fine" model. How can I learn to create procedures that can replace dictatorial authority?

- No-one I can assign work to knows as much as me about this meta-management process (if they did, they would be in the same boat as me with their own projects), although they might well know more about indivdual components (e.g. be a genuine expert in skill A or whatever)
- I probably can't get the company to pay and free up time for actual during-the-day training so it will have to be books or maaaaybe online training if not too expensive
- I have no formal training in management etc. at all. I don't even know the right vocabulary for googling this stuff
- The projects I work on are very important to the company, so a trial-and-error approach is dangerous

Things in my favor:
- I don't have to worry about budgets, office politics, etc.; because the projects are important, if I say I need ten people to do X next week, my boss will try to make it happen (I can't be wasteful, of course)
- I can assume that everyone on my team is competent and motivated, and although I am not known as a leader I have good relationships with everyone

I feel like this overlaps with the general problem of transitioning from worker to manager, but the advice I was able to find on this topic didn't quite apply because it all assumed a qualitative shift into an existing managerial structure. Here, I have to create the structure myself. I recognize this as an opportunity to learn something very useful, but don't know how to begin.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
As you do your meta-review, think about what you're analyzing (meta meta analyze?) and see if you can reduce any of it to writing. Rules of thumb, specific triggers to keep an eye out for. I've done this in a different context and was pretty amazed at how much I could delegate after thinking through process and outcome.'

These could be a starting point for training. But you'll have to do some sort of training in the end - shadowing, mentoring, etc. even if it's not formal, so it's probably better to keep the numbers down and build the relationship. (Also, if you can, select people who seem to have the right attitude - flexibility, intuitive thinking, willing to get it done and figure out how on the way attitude, whatever.)
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 6:24 PM on February 19, 2014

it's possible to pass, but crappily

One place to exert some effort is in developing better handoffs. It shouldn't be possible to pass crappily if doing so means failures on down the road. Work on building some of your expertise about what to look for into the handoff criteria that determine whether the work is ready to go to the next set of hands.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:43 PM on February 19, 2014

Project management training for you might not be a bad place to start.
posted by Good Brain at 10:48 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suggest looking for advice aimed at the demographic of "My personal business is doing well and I need to hire my first employee". A lot of it will be irrelevant to you (how to run HR etc) but I think this should also find the advice on how to shift from doing everything yourself to delegating it out.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:09 AM on February 20, 2014

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