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Delegate successfully as a first time manager of Product Managers

Andrew Tsui

Director of Product at CNN

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Problem

I am proud of my craft and my ability to execute, and I am constantly challenged to find ways to level up and scale myself effectively so that more teams can operate just like ones that I work with directly. While I have grown in my career and gained skills over time, it is my hands-on mentality that can get in the way of successful delegation and scale. In the past years, I’ve found that the following ideas have helped me get a lot more comfortable with delegating to others with success!

Actions Taken

Shifting my mindset to be open to delegation

Success as a manager is not about yourself, and is instead all about the teams you work with. This might seem obvious in hindsight, but for people who enjoy being in the weeds, this is remarkably difficult to internalize. Ask yourself: do you trust your direct report in the role? How might you demonstrate that you trust them? What would you want to see them improve upon so that you trust them more? The last question yields the topics you’ll want to cover off with your direct report, to establish their expectations.

In addition to setting expectations for yourself to be open to delegation, I have also found it useful to consider what decisions I would be open to giving over to my direct report and team. I take that idea, and then try to expand on it with "and why not more?". You may find that pushing yourself to give up more is uncomfortable. That’s a good thing! Try it out.

Collaborating to foster delegation

Oftentimes, I have worked with other people managers in order to figure out what to delegate and to whom. To do this successfully, you need buy in from others, and clearly stated principles, motivations, and desired outcomes. The idea is to avoid talking about tasks and timelines if possible. For an experienced product owner, this should sound incredibly similar to user stories. Here, the technique works equally well to establish the value of the thing to be delegated, and to bring others on board.

Other methods I have used include encouraging your direct report with brainstorming and nudges (how might we) to foster creative problem solving. It can be easy to fall back on experience to “just get it done” but it prevents the lessons or work from sticking to the person or team. It is important to give runway to your direct reports or teams before intervening. You will be there to catch them if they fall, or to help them get back up. And helping them understand that it will be okay, will help them grow, is part of creating that culture of psychological safety that makes this all work.

Influencing teams with empathy to delegate successfully

Using a classic motivation theory framework (Herzberg’s two factor theory), evaluate the motivating factors for your teams, and other teams in the organization. When you work with the team, whether it’s your team or a stakeholder, there are opportunities to match up the thing-to-delegate with the appropriate factors to tailor your approach. I’ve found success when speaking about how joint work can achieve outsized impact as long as I'm clear about which factors I'm focusing on.

In line with the prior action about collaborating with peer managers to facilitate delegation, also consider connecting with peer managers to affirm the hygiene factors and motivating factors at play for the different teams involved. Talk about and trade notes on where the teams are capable, where they are still growing. This can be a mutually beneficial opportunity for both of you, to help you scale successfully together!

Lessons Learned

  • The changes I made to my own perspective allowed me to discover more things that made me happy, namely mentorship! As it turns out, the same listening and problem-identification skills that I pride myself on can be applied to help mentees with their problems.
  • I found that in cases where my direct reports were achieving outcomes that I pushed for, I was even prouder than I could imagine of their accomplishments and effort! It’s both a weight off my shoulders and a big pat-on-my-back because I now pride myself on identifying and coaching talent, as opposed to focusing on my own skill development.
  • Doing these things is crucial to scaling yourself.

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Andrew Tsui

Director of Product at CNN


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