Delegation Poker to improve decision processes in finance innovation areas


In agile finance innovation areas like from my employer PPI AG, it is often neglected to create clarity as a newly assembled team and as an organization about which topics decisions are made on a regular basis and when which decision-makers are required. De facto, according to an analysis by the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, people make up to 20,000 decisions a day. This creates a high time pressure with at least a 60 percent probability and of course the quality of the decisions also decreases.

The practice: Short explained

After more than six years of experience as an agile coach, the Delegation Poker Format offers a solution component. This format can be used as a playful element within a corresponding workshop between the relevant manager (management) and the team in order to identify both the regularly occurring crucial issues and to identify those involved in decision-making, see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Delegation Poker to promote the transparency of relevant decisions and participants

In addition, this promotes the function of the managers as servant leaders and potentially relieves them at the same time, as more responsibility (delegation poker level 5 to 7) can be given to the team or teams. Further information on Servant Leadership is described in the corresponding books by Hunter, Watts, and Greenleaf (see chapter “Literature”).

What is each letter about?

The cards show two heads: The head of the manager (M) and the head of the employees. The cards from 1 to 3 show a bigger head of the manager (M) — this means, in that case, the manager will decide about the topic in the first line. 4 shows to equal-sized heads (M plus employee) that means that there will there is a consensus necessary for a decision between both parties. The cards from 5 to 7 show a bigger-sized employee head — this means the employees will decide in the first line. Read also the white letter in the black boxes on the cards for more details.

Why did I decide to use this practice?

The question often arises as to who makes which (architecture) decisions in an innovative, scaled finance software development team, or whether these have to be specified from outside by a development manager. Related topics and decision-makers are also made transparent through a delegation poker workshop. It helps a lot to ensure a fun and a high focus on serious decision-related topics together.

How did I use this practice?

To show how I used the practice I wanna show an exemplary sequence of my delegation poker workshops:

An exemplary sequence of delegation poker workshops from my experience:

  1. In an initial first workshop (depending on the number of participants 60 to 90 minutes with 6 to 10 participants), the relevant topics are identified and the 10 most important topics are jointly prioritized, e.g. by assigning five votes per participant to the identified topics.
  2. In preparation for the second workshop, in my experience, it makes sense to give the management representative (e.g. unit lead) a helpful orientation in the form of a 45-minute unit lead to agile coach one-to-one discussion on the ten highest-priority topics that could potentially be submitted to the team to be pokered. In my experience, this is advantageous because the management representative avoids hasty decisions and, if necessary, has a suitable sparring partner through the respective agile coach to promote his own servant leadership. In my experience, the Eisenhower Matrix has proven itself here, as it enables the 10 most important topics identified by the participants to be classified according to urgency and importance from a management perspective.
  3. In the second workshop (depending on the number of participants 90 to 120 minutes) the delegation poker level can be played out together and suitable decision-making techniques for the topics with level 4 to 6 suitable decision-making techniques can be coordinated.
  4. Repeat steps 1 to 3 every two to three months in order to play out new topics and corresponding prioritization by the team and the respective manager, if necessary, and to filter out less relevant topics that have already been played out.

Who determines the relevant issues? What if a manager is unwilling to delegate or discuss that topic?

From my experience, it is reasonable to determine the issues together in brainstorming to foster collaboration and alignment from both parties to the topic and the delegation poker about the topics. In case a manager does not like to discuss a topic, I would use facilitation techniques like voting for topics and delegation levels to make the point obviously, that the majority of the team sees a high urgency to discuss the specific topic. Furthermore, I also run one-on-one speeches with the managers, if they are stressed to discuss some specific topics from which I know that they will be raised up during the workshop. Otherwise, it is reasonable from my experience, to speak after the workshop in a one-on-one speech with the manager about his doubts and ways how to speak about this critical topic with the team.

Is there an example of a decision and what was the way to change it and its results?

Examples of delegation-level + decision-makers who have been played out:
As an example, Figure 2 shows six poker topics with associated delegation poker levels that were published by one of my customers as part of a Servant Leadership Service catalog. In this case, it becomes very clear that the manager (unit lead) has almost exclusively, with one exception, delegated responsibility to the team (at least as an expert lead) or that an agreement was reached on level 7 during delegation poker.

Figure 2: Initially assigned delegation-level + decision-makers

How is the dynamic of delegation poker carried out?

The decision making for example in the case of the first topic (team membership of new colleagues) was significantly faster and the team alignment increased because now instead of the unit leader, the Skill lead and team were making the decision together and the unit lead was not influencing their own made decision by high energized and accelerated way of finding the right team for the new colleague depending on the team's needs, the new colleague's skills, and his personality. This had also a positive influence on the motivation level of my team, which I measured every week with a survey. It was increasing from 7 to 9 because the team felt a new level of transparency and trust which was showed by the management. Like this, the team dynamics during the workshop and after the workshop were fostered in a strong way.

My learnings as a facilitator

After the experience to use delegation poker as a facilitator, it is a powerful element in the context of agile transformations and team-building measures. In particular, this creates transparency of the topics relevant to the team members and at the same time promotes the servant leadership of the manager/executives. In my experience, delegation poker is a “must-have” for self-managed teams. Right at the beginning, the opportunity is offered to give the team, together with its manager, a meaningful orientation with regard to the decision-making areas and thus also an important part of leadership or the necessary framework for good cooperation through a suitable workshop to accomplish. The manager also benefits from time savings as soon as the submitted topics are independently decided and implemented by the team.

From my experience, it is important here that the team facilitator and the manager continue to be available as enablers in order to be able to appropriately remove obstacles in the decision-making or implementation of the submitted topics in the sense of a servant leader or to create the appropriate framework conditions for them. I will go on with my chosen way how to use this very helpful Management 3.0 element. The feedback/return on time invested from my colleagues was very good and the outcome was directly visible in the context of the team's accelerated collaboration.

What did the team learn?

During the next retrospective, the team gave the feedback that they learned how to collaborate and communicate stronger together and with the management. They wished to play more practices like delegation poker so that serious topics like delegation can be processed in a collaborative and gamification way. Also, the management gave positive feedback and the level of transparency for relevant decisions as well as the level of trust was fostered between both parties.

What would I change about my facilitation? What would I do differently next time?

Next time, I will use at first the already pokered topics as input for the workshop and will give the participants the opportunity to review the topics and highlight where they see the necessity to poker again, rename or delete (if now irrelevant from the eyes of all participants) the existing topics. Then, I will call for new topics and let the parties poker again as described above.

What experiments can I think of doing with the implementation of this practice?

I plan a team-building weekend with different team-building activities. There will be also games with different roles and responsibilities. In this, not work-related environment, I wanna let my team members and two representatives from the management play one another around delegation poker to accelerate their decision-making and improve their collaboration during the team building games. This will foster during our team-building weekend a good atmosphere and positive energy level because the delegation poker practice helps according to my experience and the experience, the experience of our management and of my team to improve the communication and interaction.


James C. Hunter: The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership

Management 3.0

Rebecca Watts: Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership

Robert Greenleaf: Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness



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