Delegation Poker

Delegation Poker Collage 2

I’ve been using Delegation Poker with the organizations and teams I work with. I also share it at meetups and other community events.  I have found the Management 3.0 tool to be valuable in the collaboration and facilitation of discussions surrounding the efficacy of delegation.

First, we need to understand that delegation is not a binary switch where we either delegate something or we don’t.  I remember when my son was a young boy and he wanted me to allow him to cross the street by himself. I didn’t just one day delegate the self-responsibility to him and say, “Fine, you can cross the street yourself now”.  There were levels of trust that needed to be cultivated until I was secure with him handling it by himself. So first I instructed him on what to look for and then asked him to cross. I then graduated to having him look and tell me when he thought he would cross before I would let him cross.  Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to allow him to make his own decision.  

Jurgen Appelo and Management 3.0 have created a tool called Delegation Poker which can help us with the delegation process.  They employ seven cards representing the different levels of delegation. As a team, we can list activities that require a decision (ex: new hire, product release, etc.).  We can then use these cards in planning the delegation level (planning poker style).

There are many different ways to leverage Delegation Poker, but most of my experience relates to assistance growing organizations on their agile journey.  Hopefully my examples will assist you in getting started and provide inspiration to also experiment with your own uses.

A lot of the organizations in the beginning of their agile journey are command and control. They strive to be agile, but their existing processes are predominantly command and control.  They start to recognize that they want to be more autonomous at the team level.  As they mature, they question their existing processes in discussion and retrospectives.  This is one of the times where I leverage delegation poker.

I usually leverage a retrospective or schedule separate time with the team.  I have the teams list current activities requiring decisions.  I have them quickly prioritize them in order of importance to address.  We timebox and go through the items in priority order.  For the first item, I have everyone flip their representative card at once for what they thought the current level of delegation was.  As in planning poker, we would discuss everyone’s opinion and come to a collective decision to the current delegation level for that item and record it.  We would then flip the cards again as to the delegation level they felt we should be using forward and discuss.  As usual, the value is in the discussion.  As a facilitator, I find it useful to capture some quotes from the discussion and read them back to the team when they are done.

  • C’mon – can we just make a decision already!
  • That requires to much time!
  • Person 1: Please be patient!  Person 2: Patience is a waste of time!
  • Well, I don’t trust that it will get done correctly.  
  • We don’t have the expertise.
  • You’re killing me with this re-voting.
  • Cool – that definitely works.
  • Why don’t we ask them?
  • Great point – do you all agree with that?
  • If we take the “approval” step out, they won’t do it right.

I try to allocate extra time to discuss the quotes I captured because sometimes they are quick statements that are overlooked and can provide value in further discussion towards root issues.  Many times it also provides some comic relief.

After we determine the aspired delegation level, we then discuss a plan to move from the current level of delegation to the aspired delegation level, recording action items along the way.

In addition to using Delegation Poker actively with teams, it is also useful for learning agile principles.  I have used it several times in organizations just starting their agile journey.  I conduct mini 90 minute workshops which go through an exercise where the participants split up into teams and make boxes (see picture above).  I first give them a box making process to follow and ask them to use delegation poker to identify the level of delegation for the current process activities.  I then also ask them to use delegation poker to identify the delegation levels they aspire to be at for those activities.

Once that is done, I tell them that they can now create their own process to making the boxes.  They create their new process and proceed to build the boxes following their new process.  When they are done, I ask them to use delegation poker to assess the delegation level of the new process’ activities.

We compare the original, updated and aspired delegation levels and discuss delegation state relationships and experiences.  You would be surprised how many times the teams do not reach their aspired delegation level with their own newly created process.

I have several stories from these workshops, but one is my particular favorite.  Teams started getting into a discussion about their updated processes.  The conversation between me (facilitator), Team 1 and Team 2 went as follows:

  • Facilitator:  Why did you decide to have a quality control person examining and signing approval for the box at the end?
  • Team 1:  Well, we need to make sure it is a quality product?
  • Facilitator:  So did the quality control person find any boxes that weren’t acceptable?
  • Team 1:  Well, no – not these times.
  • Facilitator:  So why not experiment and eliminate the quality control check and use the quality control person to build more boxes?
  • Team 1:  Because if we did that and took away the quality control person then people would definitely not make good boxes.
  • Team 2:  We didn’t have a quality control person and our boxes look pretty much like yours.
  • Team 1:  Ha Ha Ha!

In this specific exercise, there was no convincing Team 1 that taking away the quality control person could result in the same good quality and was worth a try.  It was so different than their understanding and the way they worked all theses years.  Even when there was proof of another team’s success doing it, they could only laugh (like “no” that couldn’t be – they’re tricking us).  Change is a tough thing and this was one lesson (like many) that was going to need follow-ups.

There are different ways to use Delegation Poker, but this is the way I tend to use it most.  We can be most effective if we can conduct the decision making with the people that have the information.  Just like my son wanting to cross the street though, this requires competency from the doers and trust from the management involved. Conscious steps can be taken to get to the best delegation level for that item in your team.

So whether you’re a startup or an established team at a large company, take a look at Delegation Poker to facilitate the right level of delegation growth for you.

Delegation Poker

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