How to effectively delegate tasks and manage projects

Maximize team efficiency by explicitly requesting work, documenting asks, using project management tools for transparency and more.

How to effectively delegate tasks and manage projects

Early in my career, I was surprised when a co-worker told me they didn’t realize I wanted them to complete a task that I thought I had asked them to complete.

In hindsight, I now know that my language was vague. We were in a meeting, and I said something like, “Alex, I think it would be helpful if we could cut the data in a different way to figure out what’s really happening.”

I didn’t specifically ask Alex to look at the data differently, did I? So Alex didn’t do it. When I asked Alex a few days later, they had no idea that I had expected them to follow up.

When I relayed my surprise to a mentor a few days later, he offered me some advice that has helped me both personally and professionally. He said, “Justin, if you don’t specifically ask someone to do something, you can’t expect them to do it.”

I’ve thought a lot about that advice over the last 15+ years, and it’s served me well in a few ways.

Eliminating ambiguity with explicit requests

When I want someone to do something, I try to explicitly ask them to do it. I try to be as clear as possible in my request and double-check to make sure it is clear. I try my best to document the fact that I’ve asked for it. Documenting the request is probably the most important step, and it can be done with a follow-up email, a follow-up Slack message or the creation of a task in a project management tool like Asana, Trello or JIRA.

In my personal life, my wife and I know that if we really want the other person to do something, we need to explicitly ask as well. We’ve tried to transition our language to each other from “Maybe we should do X” and “I think you should do X” to “Can you do X by Thursday?” and “I want you to do X.” It’s not perfect, but it’s better, and it helps us set and meet each other’s expectations more often.

 

Anticipating needs

My teams and I have been able to surprise and delight our co-workers or stakeholders when we deliver something of value to them that they didn’t explicitly ask for.

We anticipate what needs to be done when others have not expected it, showing proactiveness that they have not experienced before. We follow up after a meeting with an email or a Slack to ask, “Would you like us to do X?” or we open a ticket, assign it to ourselves and add our stakeholder as the requestor.

Establishing transparent workflows

Providing stakeholders with visibility and transparency about the work my team is doing, especially our prioritization process, has drastically increased stakeholder satisfaction and improved cross-functional relationships.

As mentioned above, a project management tool like Asana, Trello or JIRA can do wonders. Stakeholders can see: 

  • What tasks my team is working on.
  • Who is working on them.
  • Who the other stakeholders are.
  • The time we’ve spent on them.
  • The delivery date.
  • And more. 

They can see how the work aligns with quarterly OKRs or strategic initiatives or whether an ad hoc request came out of left field. This is especially important for marketing roles with a service or support component, like MOps, creative and web development.

Setting clear expectations in marketing

Two traits that separate great service from general support are the ability to anticipate what others will need before they ask for it and the ability to know when someone is asking for something even when they don’t explicitly ask for it.

When the CMO says, “I’m worried this campaign’s performance is not meeting expectations,” a good marketing analyst should ask, “Ms. CMO, would you like me to put together an analysis that looks at the current results versus expectations? I can have it by Tuesday.”

An average marketing analyst hears the CMO’s comment and waits for an explicit ask from the CMO or the campaign owner through an email or ticket.

My mentor’s advice is valuable for both the requester and the recipient, and I have experienced this on both sides. 

  • As an individual contributor or a support resource, I make sure I clarify and set expectations with leadership when I am unsure if an action item is the responsibility of my team. 
  • As a leader, I explicitly ask for work to be done with specific dates to eliminate ambiguity.

I hope you will try this strategy on your own, reap the benefits, and then “pay it forward” to others. 

 

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About the author

Justin Sharaf

Contributor

Justin Sharaf is a marketing and marketing operations leader who has worked at some of the biggest names in B2B and B2C during his 15+ year career. With a background in analytics and technology, Justin believes that building a core foundation of data and technology helps optimize marketing programs and empowers marketers to be more effective and efficient in their jobs. Justin is analytical, but not a data scientist. He is technical, but not a developer. He is creative, but not a designer. He is a modern marketing leader with a deep background in marketing operations. Most recently, Justin was Vice President of Marketing Operations, Global Campaigns, and Demand at Collibra. Previously, Justin was Vice President of Marketing at Jahia Solutions and Director of Marketing Technology and Operations at LogMeIn, where he built and managed a team responsible for over 70 marketing technologies. Justin also worked in Marketing, Analytics, and FP&A at Vistaprint and Time Inc. He has a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College.

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