Escalation Process For Projects: Escalation Management in Four Steps

The Escalation Process clarifies the boundaries and channels of decision-making throughout an organization in order so solve the problem quickly and with clarity. Designed around the concept of a core project team with a clear project manager, this process outlines a path that allows the core team to make decisions at lower levels of the org chart while having a predefined path for exception management.

This might be called an escalation plan, or escalation workflow that moves a high-priority issue up to a higher level. It minimizes the time it takes to escalate decisions that are beyond their scope of authority. It is among the essential tools for an agile product development process. Though it is used extensively for customer support, customer service agents, and managing SLA timeframe, it can also be an essential tools for an agile product development process.

What Is The Escalation Management Process Diagram?

The project manager can create the desired communication a spreadsheet format and easily customize it based on your organizational structure. As you use the diagram over time, you can fine-tune the level of detail based on the complexity of the project. For larger organizations with a program management capability or a lead project manager who is responsible for overseeing multiple project managers, can develop the Project Escalation Management diagram to ensure a consistent process across the organization.

There may be exceptions to the process on a project-by-project basis, but in most cases, a consistent application of this escalation procedure will yield fast decision-making and be a useful tool for all project managers and their project management duties. This is an excellent process for problem solving and risk management.

A project manager creates the process (or escalation matrix) in four steps:

Escalation Process Template
Escalation Process Template
  1. Define decision categories: these can include areas such as finance, staffing, tools, and technical features/functionality. When defining the categories, the project manager should be mindful of the right balance in the number of categories based on the complexity of your organization. Project managers should to avoid too many issues to take to the next level to overburden the process, and too few will not provide a meaningful escalation path. This is especially important in new product development, where there is inherently more risk.
  2. In each category, project managers should determine the appropriate escalation procedure by functional responsibility. Project managers should start at the lowest level in the organization, typically an individual contributor. Some decision categories can have parallel communications (functional and cross-functional) and typically this flows from the project manager.
  3. Define the key organizational contributors and their decision-making authority including the project manager. This can vary based on the size and complexity of the project. In some cases, there will be dual communication paths (functional and project) to ensure rapid decision-making.
  4. The project manager then reviews with management to get agreement on the categories, decision authority, and escalation procedure. It is the decision authority and the process to raise an escalation should be signed off by management – this is most important.

What Are The Benefits of the Escalation Process for Project Managers?

  • Minimizes delays in delivering products to market.
  • Drives accountability in the decision-making process.
  • Saves time and energy by providing a clear escalation path for decision-making.
  • Educates new team members on how to make decisions quickly.

In general, the escalation should be resolved in hours/days not days/weeks.

What Business Problems Does This Solve?

One of the biggest obstacles to improving time-to-market is finding a way to make decisions when teams along with their project manager, are stalled. This is most painful when the product development strategy is focussed on time to market advantage.The diagram documents the decisions around who decides what, issue of escalation may trigger a communication to the next level, given a certain set of conditions for the project.

What Else You Should Know about Escalation Process

The Escalation Process is only effective if all the levels of the organization agree to it. When a cross functional team communicates a project escalation, the next level of the management team needs to be prepared to provide guidance quickly. In addition, the quality of the team determines the effectiveness of the escalation procedure. You need to have strong team members throughout the organization, who are willing to take responsibility for driving decisions and have the good judgment to carry them out within their scope of authority. Note, companies will need to escalate issues in their product portfolio management activities if and when they arrive. Escalation is not just for the development stage.

Visualization

The Project Escalation diagram depicts the responsibility and communication path for effective decision-making. The left column categorizes the type of decision. The middle column provides specific types of decisions that map into the categories. And the right column shows the path the escalation follows from Individual Contributor to the C-suite. Not all decisions will go to the top of the organization. The scope and impact of the decision will determine what level of authority is required.

Case Study

NetCo is working on the next release of their flagship product, which will be available at their annual conference in seven months, and time to market is obviously important. The hardware team is in the early stages of the design phase and is making progress. Although NetCo has assigned two members from the firmware team to the project, they have yet to begin work. One of the hardware engineers, Frank, is concerned that if they don’t get engagement soon, they will fall behind. In a conversation with one of his colleagues in firmware, he learns that they are still working on an update for the last release and will not be available for another three weeks. Frank can’t resolve this issue on his own, so he relies on the team’s Project Escalation diagram to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

By using the diagram above, Frank determines that this is a staffing issue that is about to impact the project schedule. He escalates the issue to his functional lead, Sharon, who is also a member of the cross-functional project team. She doesn’t have authority over the firmware engineers, so she informs the project manager of the resource conflict. She also takes the issue to her functional director, Jack, who manages all of the engineering teams in the business unit. Jack decides to keep one of the firmware engineers on their current work and to split the time of the second engineer in order to provide staffing for the new project.

Download the template and instructions for the Escalation Process diagram.

Product Development Checklist

The fastest way to destroy an Agile implementation is to let functional silos get in the way. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. And it happens because many companies underestimate the organizational implications of a successful Agile implementation.

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