The escalation procedures: when the risk gets big

escalation procedures

The escalation procedures are the ways in which the PM communicates certain changes, with respect to the project forecasts, at the board of directors of the company.

The projects can fail for the most disparate reasons, but probably the main one is the failure to correctly monitor the project.

Beyond the risk management plan and the change control process, escalation procedures are essential in order to manage potentially dangerous situations. They are procedures that can work both during the project, as soon as the problems are identified, or upon completion before the closing declaration of the project.

Having a well-structured project escalation process is essential for a project manager. This process can help him to communicate effectively, accurately, and promptly, in case of problems. The more effective and timely the communication will be, the better the results of the decision-making processes will be.

Structuring an effective escalation process consists of knowing what, when, how, and why taking certain actions to face certain situations.

What is the project escalation

The general meaning of the term escalation is the progressive increase in intensity or spread of a phenomenon – in this case a risk.

In the context of the project, the escalation process is generally a formal process to highlight the problem in question to a higher authority.

For example, if a particular project participant is unwilling or unable to perform a certain activity for which he is responsible, it is necessary to explain the problem to the superior in order to find a solution.

Risks or problems relating to Project goals, resource conflicts, ambiguous roles and responsibilities, disagreements in the field, third-party dependencies… these are just a few known situations that require an escalation procedure.

Such problems require a higher level of intervention because many times the authority, the decision-making process, the resources or the efforts required to solve them go beyond the horizon of a project manager.

Understanding the correct use of the escalation technique is therefore vital for project managers.

The escalation should be treated as a professional act and should be carried out effectively. A project manager should not hesitate to implement an escalation process when dealing with a performing organization.

Proactive escalation and risk communication are far better than unpleasant surprises that can require costly corrective maneuvers to the project.

Moreover, when used correctly, escalation is a relatively simple technique to use most of the time.

Elements of an escalation plan

Here are the five elements that a project manager needs in an escalation plan:

1.  Responsibilities of the team: If it is necessary to rely on the team to inform a stakeholder in case of the discovery of an area at risk or problem, every member of the team must be considered reliable to communicate the problem to the interested parties.

2. Plan management: As project manager, the project manager cannot leave the project when a risk is identified, but must be able to manage it with the established guidelines.

3. Documentation: The escalation plan should have a register similar to a risk log in, which keeps track of the problems, the way they are managed and the priority of each one.

4. Timely reaction: Project managers and leaders must collaborate promptly with teams and stakeholders to ensure that risks are addressed in order to recover from any mishaps or reduce the problem.

5. Communication: Effective communication to and from the team is the key to an escalation plan. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the communication plan is accessible to all during the whole project.
the escalation procedures

How does an effective escalation procedure work?

First and foremost, the project manager must ensure that the necessary analysis and data are performed.

Many impatient project managers, in fact, are too quick to implement an escalation procedure. This causes more inconvenience than those that are solved.

Here are some ways to effectively use the project escalation mechanism:

  • During the initial phases of the project, have a correctly defined escalation matrix, that is based on different areas and levels of escalation. Explicitly document this escalation matrix for the project.

Ensure that project stakeholders are well aware of the escalation process. They need to know what issues should be raised, to whom and within what time frame.

  • Create a culture in which people sincerely believe that it is right to communicate problems promptly to the next level of management without fear of an aggravation of the problem.
  • As a project manager, avoid creating a tense and stressed environment.
  • Avoid frequent and unnecessary escalation. If this happens, in fact, a project manager could be seen as an incompetent and the escalation, when real, may not receive the attention it deserves when it really needs it.
  • Involve only the right – and not all – stakeholders without distinction.
  • Keep the meeting, call or email escalation focused on the problem and not communicate personal and private information.
  • Communicate the escalation describing the context, highlighting the correct data, the gravity of the situation (high / medium / low) and the suggested solutions.
  • Document the escalation and mark all necessary actions.
  • Search for lessons learned provided by similar escalations from past experiences.
  • When the vertical escalation – towards leadership – does not work, it is possible to try to use an horizontal, indirect or innovative method, until the solution or attention required to solve the problem is obtained.
  • Take strong measures only if no escalation procedure works. For example, a strong measure could be the closure of the project.

The escalation procedures: Conclusions

Problems can emerge in any type of project.

Many are small and can be solved within the team, but others can be much larger and have a strong impact on the project.

This is why a formal project escalation process should be always defined, therefore ensuring that management is aware of critical issues in order to enable correct decision making is essential.

The escalation of the project is both an art and a science that also presents a certain amount of risk. If handled badly, in fact, an escalation can lead to violent clashes even on a personal level.

Identifying project situations where escalation is the only way out and having the courage to face these situations professionally by following a structured escalation procedure is the key to helping the project.

We have the tools, we have the culture.

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