Key Decision Areas
The problem with delegation of authority is that it is not as straightforward as assumed by some managers.
Quite often, when managers “empower” people, they don’t give them clear boundaries of authority. By trial and error, people need to find out what they can and cannot do, usually incurring some emotional damage along the way. This was described by Donald Reinertsen as the “discovery of invisible electric fences”. Repeatedly running into these invisible electric fences is not only a waste of time and resources, but it also kills people’s motivation, and ruins their hair styles (Figure 7).
Figure 7 Invisible fences
With no idea of what other invisible fences there are around them, employees prefer not to try and discover them at all!
Reinertsen suggested that you create a list of key decision areas to address this problem. The list can include things like “Prepare project schedules,” “Select key technologies,” and “Set documentation standards.” A manager should make it perfectly clear what people’s authority is for each key decision area in this list.
I also believe that it is important for this level of authority to be the same for all similar tasks within that same area. After all, when a team has to discover by trial and error that it is authorized to set a documentation standard for requirements, but not for test cases, then apparently there are still invisible electric fences.