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In Progressive Delivery we use the term “Radical Delegation” to describe one of its core tenets. In the spirit of enabling folks to successfully engage in this practice, we need to provide a clear definition and a process, or framework, for implementation, assessment, and improvement.
In the early iterations of Progressive Delivery we just used the word delegation. It was not until hearing Admiral John Richardson speak* at the DevOps Enterprise Summit we decided to improve the term to radical delegation. Progressive delivery is not about passing the buck. The primary motivation for this change was the frequent challenge with leaders conflating the word delegation with abdication. By adding ‘radical’ to the term, we were able to garner greater attention from practitioners. People stopped assuming they already understood delegation and took the time to learn explicitly what we were articulating.
del·e·ga·tion | \ ˌde-li-ˈgā-shən \
ab·di·ca·tion | \ ˌab-di-ˈkā-shən \
The key distinction being the ability for a person that is responsible to successfully enable another person to have authority to accomplish a task, while recognizing that transferring authority does not equate to the transfer of responsibility. Admiral Richardson spoke about radical delegation in the context of the Navy by quoting the US Navy Regulations:
“The responsibility of the Commanding Officer for his or her command is absolute, except when, and to the extent to which, he or she has been relieved therefrom by competent authority, or as provided otherwise in these regulations. The authority of the Commanding Officer is commensurate with his or her responsibility. While the Commanding Officer may, at his or her discretion, and when not contrary to law or regulations, delegate authority to subordinates for the execution of details, such delegation of authority shall in no way relieve the commanding officer of continued responsibility for the safety, well-being and efficiency of the entire command.”
Radical delegation encapsulates both the task and the owner of the authority for the outcome. An important distinction is that this does not transfer the responsibility for the outcome. The separation of authority and responsibility provides greater accountability and control. This separation is increasingly important as the authority is shifted closer and closer to the end user.
Ships at sea— In the context of the Navy, radical delegation allowed a Commander to delegate an objective to a Captain, eg. meet at these coordinates at this time. The authority on the ship belongs with the Captain, but the responsibility for the ship’s arrival still resides with the Commander.