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I am sure you have experienced them … the short periods of time where you really do have too much work, and you need to delegate some in order to meet all of your deadlines. If you are like most organisations, your co-workers are also fully loaded with their own obligations, so the only way to delegate is to outsource.

I have found an interesting demographic to receive some of my surplus tasks … Mothers that are engineers that are also on Maternity Leave. Now … this is a special demographic in many ways, but I have found them to be an excellent option for many tasks.

The key is flexibility. While many organisations talk about the need to be flexible, the flexibility requirements of Mothers on Maternity Leave is much higher. Consider some of these issues:

+ She cannot come to you for a meeting. You must go to her home for a meeting. This means there is the potential for the meeting to be cancelled because baby does not “cooperate” (baby does not go to sleep for nap-time, baby gets sick, baby does not like you and cries, etc). At the workplace, work is often the highest priority, but with a Mother on Maternity Leave, baby is always the highest priority.

+ She cannot give firm time commitments to deadlines. Some days she can find some time to do constructive work, other days (again because of the requirements of baby) she cannot.

+ She has had her world changed, and her confidence may be different. Her technical skills will not suffer during maternity leave, but her confidence to do the work might.

There are other issues, but the key is to recognise the ability of the person receiving the task. While it is no different from any delegation or outsourcing, there are some differences.

I have had success in the past for a variety of reasons, and here is one examples.

+ I am in the process of developing a training course, and needed a course booklet to accompany the course. The Mother on Maternity Leave that I approached was in her late 20s with one child. She had about 6 years of experience (the target audience would have 3-10 years of experience, so she was the correct demographic). I provided her the course slides, images, etc, and a description of how I wanted the course notes. We agreed on a lump sum price with a long schedule. The result was a 130 page booklet that was a couple of weeks late but of good quality. It was very easy for me to check her work – she had done a good job for me.

+ And there are several times I have used Mothers on Maternity Leave to check my written reports.

There are other examples, but I think I have had a high enough success rate, and I will share some of my key things that I think have made this successful.

+ Negotiable scope. Give her something that she thinks she can do. Challenge but not overwhelm. If possible, have her write the job scope based on her understanding of what is needed.

+ Communications by phone and email. Very rarely have I needed to go to her home, and the one time I did I was invited, instead of me insisting on a face-to-face meeting.

+ Flat fee. A $/hour payment structure will not work because she will have many distractions.

+ Very flexible and long deadlines. While this is not always possible, she will probably only be able to give you 6-15 hours per week, and the time will vary from day-to-day and week-to-week.

+ Include her in as many decisions as possible. This will help her deliver a finished product to you.

+ No means no. Remember, you are asking her for help, not the other way around. If she cannot help you, that is that. It may be because the job is too hard, or because of baby, or because of her health.

+ Advance notice is vital, more so than other people because of her reduced potential to work.

+ Be prepared for her to not deliver because of a variety of reasons – for example, baby goes to hospital. With baby in hospital, your little project will be the last thing on her mind, and you may find out when it is too late. Thankfully, this has not happened to me yet.

And … the Mothers have a chance to convince themselves they have not lost their engineering skills. It keeps their confidence up, making the return to the work force easier for them. Truly a win-win.