Two people talking and smiling at work to illustrate Fairisle article How to delegate

Photo by Cherrydeck on Unsplash (cropped)

How to delegate

Keep it simple.



Two people talking and smiling at work to illustrate Fairisle article How to delegate

Photo by Cherrydeck on Unsplash (cropped)

Article Author Philip Ratcliff

Philip Ratcliff is Fairisle Consulting’s Senior Consulant

Delegation is one of the most common topics of conversation when I’m coaching new managers. How do you communicate what you want done, and what you’re expecting, whilst still giving freedom to the person doing it to approach it in their own way? Can you stay responsible for something without taking the accountability away from them? What to do to set them up for success rather than failure?

I had a similar conversation with an experienced team member who doesn’t directly manage others. Why were their colleagues just not getting the message about what was needed? How could expectations and requirements be communicated more effectively?

A simple approach

There’s a technique that we use in ScrumAgile which I’ve found to be a really good approach to delegation. It’s known as ‘user stories’. It has a simple format that includes four statements (which might have a few sub-clauses).

 “As a…”

“I want…”

“So that…”

“My definition of done is…”

 Let’s walk through three examples of how this might work…

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Who is asking for this?

The first statement is simply who is the ‘client’ for the piece of work.

  • “As a manager”
  • “As the account manager”
  • “As the Chief Officer of Operations”.

Not only does it state who the ‘client’ is, but it also gives an idea of the potential audience who will see the outcome of the work.

What is needed?

“I want…” sets out clearly what the overall end result should be or deliver to the ‘client’.

  • “I want a report detailing the high level results of the recent customer survey.”
  • “I want a pitch pack for my meeting on dd of mmm for the module our customer is interested in.”
  • “I want a project proposal to outline and refine the procurement process for our organisation”.

This is the ‘headline’ of the piece of work and gives the context for the work too. But it doesn’t yet give the reason why or what it should include.


That’s where the next two statements come in. “So that…” gives the purpose of the piece of work and enables the person doing the task to know why it’s important. It also communicates an idea of what its impact might be.

  • “So that I can understand the gap between customer expectation and experience to inform our next campaign.”
  • “So that I’m able to show how the new module will complement and enhance what our customer already uses.”
  • “So that we can understand how to make the process more cost-effective and gain Exec approval for the necessary changes.”

What should it include?

It’s the final statement that both clarifies what you’re expecting and when you’re expecting it. It also enables the person doing the work to approach it in their own way. It should clearly define what you expect to receive but without dictating a particular method or approach, unless that’s an established methodology in the organisation.

  • “My definition of done is an overall summary statement for the results accompanied by relevant detail on question items that support or challenge the main thread of the summary. Please could I have it by the end of the month.”
  • “My definition of done is a pitch pack that includes the technical details of the module, the implementation costs, the ongoing servicing costs, and an assessment of the pros and cons of installing the module. Please can you get it to me at least three working days before the meeting.”
  • “My definition of done is a completed, costed, copy of our organisation’s project outline template for the next programme board meeting on dd/mm/yy.”

Now of course, this doesn’t happen in isolation, simply being delivered via email without any context. However, it gives an objective starting point for the person undertaking the work, and a clearly communicated set of expectations for what they should deliver. It also provides a basis for any further discussion about the task.

How they then go about doing the work is up to them.

A person working late. Image credit Daniel Chekalov on Unsplash


The Endurance Trap


Save time

It doesn’t take long to do but can save a lot of time.

If you’re a manager, introduce it into your team as a way of making sure that you’re communicating clearly what you’re asking for.

If you’re a team member, perhaps suggest it as a framework if your manager isn’t particularly good at delegation. Introduce it as something you’re using to help you make sure you’ve properly understood what you’re being asked to do.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to use stories to improve delegation, or if you’d benefit from some time with a coach, get in touch with us.

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