Browse All Articles

Or filter by News, Views or Tips.

Management by Exception

In May we looked at techniques for delegating, and touched on Management by Exception, this month we are going to look at it in more depth to see how it can help you relax while on holiday.

Management by Exception

Management by Exception is a project management technique that can be applied to any task you have delegated.

It is an important principle of the PRINCE2 project management method where it helps keep busy managers in control.

But you don't have to be working in a project environment to get it to work for you. Whenever a job is delegated Management by Exception will help make the team feel empowered and in control of the work, but at the same time the manager is confident the work is going to plan, will be told when a deviation is foreseen.

Planning Delivery

When a job is delegated it should be agreed what is to be done and how long it's going to take.

In fact there may be as many as six aspects to completing the job successfully:

  • Time
  • Cost
  • Quality (specifications)
  • Scope (how much is to be done)
  • Benefit (what the result will be)
  • Risk (how much risk to take)

When delegating a job you may have objectives for many of these.

Target Limits (Tolerances)

It is unlikely that any targets you set will be hit exactly, so what is an acceptable deviation?

For example, if you need a short-list of four job candidates at the end of the month, would it matter if it was ready a few days early or late? How about one candidate more or fewer.

Targets are more effective if you accompany them with the acceptable deviation limits, because you don't need to keep your eye on things so closely and the team doesn't need to refer to you about every little variation.

Teamwork Within the Limits

Targets with an acceptable range to achieve gives your team freedom to get on with their work and make some judgements, without referring to you all the time and without you breathing down their necks.

But they've not got a carte-blanche because you have given them limits.

Teams are really motivated by this ability to make their own judgements. For example, if they think a fifth candidate deserves to be on the short-list, that's fine by you.


In order to get this freedom of operation, the team has to promise you one thing:

As soon as they think they are not going to be able to finish within the limits they must tell you.

For example, if there are so many applicants that it's going to take too long to vet them all, then the team should tell you as early as possible.

They must not wait until it's happened but as soon as they foresee a deviation from the limits you have set.

You can then decide what to do before it's too late. E.G. do you only vet the first applications or do you allow more time?

Who Has Authority?

So, you grant the team a degree of freedom, but they loose authority as soon as it can be seen that the target won't be achieved. Then it is still your decision.

You'll probably find you can give some people more freedom than others. Those with less experience would often be given narrower limits so that an exception situation, to bring you in, is triggered sooner.

Checklist for Management by Exception

Both you, as manager, and the team or person you are delegating to, need to understand their responsibilities when using Management by Exception.

  • Brief the team about the job required
  • Agree realistic targets with them (otherwise they'll be reporting an exception almost straight away)
  • You, the manager, then set the acceptable deviation from those targets, for the task to run without your intervention
  • The team promises to notify you the moment they foresee that the task won't be finished within the limits agreed
  • The team can start work while you, the manager, can concentrate on other things, knowing that you will be notified as soon as there is a problem

For long, complicated tasks it may be appropriate for the team to report on progress every so often.

But regardless of the size of the task, a lot of management time can be saved by granting the team acceptable limits at the start, safe in knowledge that if they can't keep it within those limit, you will be brought in before the situation deteriorates too far.

So, you can go on holiday, safe in the knowledge that your colleagues know what is required, and that you will be notified if there's a problem. Depending on your attitude to mixing work and holidays, you may choose to set wider limits temporarily, so that you are less likely to be contacted while you are away!

← Go back to Articles


Post new comment

Your email address will be kept private.

It’s Easy to Follow Us