Seven questions fostering efficiency – assigning tasks

Managers, how many times after assigning tasks have you been disappointed by the results / the lack of results? Before scolding people, reflect about what you asked them to do and the way you assigned the task.

It could be the way you pass the task over is the cause of your disappointment. Having to redo or rework something is not efficient. Having it done right first time is.

This post is the second of the series about the seven questions. The first one is >here<

Here are seven questions for efficient delegation:

1. What?

What is the task you want to pass to your subordinate, a less senior or less experienced person?

Take time to state it in a full sentence that makes sense and be as precise as possible in your description.


  • Ambiguity may be useful in some case like telling grandMa “The cat is gone”, which either means the cat escaped or was flattened by a passing truck, but for the sake of efficiency in business you better mind any possible ambiguity. Most often ambiguity leads to misunderstandings and bad decisions.
  • Very few people, if any, can read your mind. Do not expect people to catch what you don’t say. Explain in a concise but complete way and assume what remains unspoken remains unknown.

If relevant, a sketch, a picture or a diagram is worth a thousand words as you know. Consider taking time for a little drawing to make sure your description is understood.

2. Who?

To whom do you assign the task? Is this person able? Does he/she have the necessary skills and experience, the authority to carry it out?
If the person you first thought of or the one available is not the best fit, can you postpone until a better fitting staff can do?

If you hesitate, hesitate twice.

  • If you think the subordinate will take too long or may not be able to carry it out, hesitate to do it yourself. Ask yourself if you do yourself if the task is what is awaited from you/from your position.
  • May be you can do it better and faster, but next time you’ll face the same dilemma, you’ll still do yourself and your subordinates will never improve their skills.

Who is also about who will benefit from the task you delegate. Tell it your subordinate. Every adult needs to understand the purpose and for whom the efforts are made.

3. When?

When is the task to be done, when is the outcome due? Give a precise indication and remember it, or better write it. Your staff will hate if you come to early for results or if you forgot the whole thing.
If you plan to check in between, tell it. People don’t like unexpected controls but can understand the manager or the boss wants to check the progress in between.

4. Where?

Where is the task to be accomplished? Is the location important? Are some confidential matters be kept in secluded location? Is the outcome to be shipped, sent somewhere? If yes, any special action like custom clearance or any other regulation point to care about?

If a product is to be prepared and sent to some special / unusual spot, maybe it needs to be protected against sand, dust, heat, cold, drought, moisture, shock, salty mist…

5. How?

How comes in two different forms:

  1. if the subordinate is a professional, you won’t prescribe how to do what you assign him. It will be a waste of time for you manager and be vexing for him/her. Chances are he/she knows far better than you. You are welcome to ask how he/she intends to proceed, except for something simple and basic. People usually like to talk about their expertise, skills or job. If you ask then listen truly or don’t ask.
  2. if the subordinate needs direction and more how-to indication, give it in a way the subordinate will improve his/her skill and will be able to do it him/herself next time. If you don’t develop your staff, keep in mind you surely remain indispensable but at the possible expense of your own promotion!

6. How many?

What ever can or should be expressed in numbers should be expressed in numbers.

Time, units, resources, costs, distance, weight, temperature…

It is harder to misunderstand numbers and easier to assess results based on numbers.

7. Why?

When assigning a task be “generous”, don’t give minimum explanation but explain the purpose of what you ask for, if it isn’t obvious by itself.

Telling why or what for adds a bit of motivation compared to plainly order execution. Furthermore, understanding what for and why may help people to do more than required, for instance preventing some risks, some undesirable effects, do it differently according to the purpose, etc. If they are left without knowing why and what for, they cannot anticipate what may happen or what can be done better, differently and so on.


At this point you realize they are many more questions than seven, but the seven are key to structure what you want have done and are easy to remember.

The seven question foster efficiency because they increase significantly the chances to have the things done right first time. It can save a lot of disappointment from both sides, manager and subordinate, save a lot of time and precious resources, increase satisfaction.

You may also say these are the famous 5W2H, famous since the heyday of Total Quality Management in the 1970-1980 and you’re right.

I didn’t promise anything new, just wondered when you used them last time.
Feel free to answer in a comment.



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