Escalation Process In 4 Steps With Escalation Template

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An escalation process clarifies the boundaries and channels of decision-making throughout an organization to solve a problem quickly and clearly.

Designed around the concept of a core project team with clear project management, this formal process outlines a path that allows the core team to make decisions at lower levels of the org chart while having a predefined way for exception management.

An effective escalation process involves various departments and requires extensive communication. But, when implemented correctly, there are plenty of benefits for the project management team.

This might also be called an escalation plan or escalation workflow that moves a high-priority issue up to a higher level. The escalation plan minimizes the time it takes to escalate decisions beyond the team’s immediate 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, the escalation process is not limited to software development. It can be applicable in other domains as well. It is important to note that when it comes to software development, the concept of escalation should not be assumed to have a different meaning. An exception is an exception regardless of the context, and it is crucial to address and resolve project issues promptly to meet customer expectations.

Keep reading for access to an escalation template.

What Is The Escalation Management Process Diagram in Project Management?”?

Q: How does project management communicate and escalate an issue within a project? A: By planning ahead.

Project management can create the desired communication in a spreadsheet format and easily customize it based on your organizational structure. An escalation matrix should contain the most common escalation scenarios to start.

As you use the diagram over time, you can fine-tune the level of detail based on the project’s complexity. A larger organization with a program management capability or a lead project manager overseeing multiple project managers can develop the Project Escalation Management diagram to ensure a consistent process.

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

Creating an Escalation Matrix: Four Steps for Project Managers to Develop an Effective Escalation Process

Escalation Process in four steps

Project Escalation template

  1. Define decision categories: Finance, staffing, tools, integrations, technical features/functionality, and SLAs (Service Level Agreements). 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. Management should avoid taking too many issues to the next level, which will overburden the process, while 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 management should determine the appropriate escalation procedure by functional responsibility. Project management teams should start at the lowest level in the organization, typically an individual contributor. Some decision categories can have parallel communications (functional and cross-functional), naturally flowing from the project manager. This matrix is to be followed for just about any escalation in product management or program management.
  3. Define the key organizational contributors and their decision-making authority, including the project management team and higher authority. This can vary based on the size and complexity of the project. Sometimes, 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. Management should sign off on the process to raise an escalation – this is most important.

What is the Escalation Process for Customer Service?

The process for the escalation of a customer problem or resolving a customer issue is similar to that of a project escalation. Both involve identifying the appropriate channels and stakeholders to address the situation effectively.

Functional and Hierarchical Escalation: Enhancing SLAs and Customer Satisfaction

But whereas the former is concerned with functional dependencies and cross-functional know-how, a customer escalation involves functional escalation with customer reps or hierarchical escalation through the customer service team to provide an issue resolution promptly.

Customer incident management prioritizes troubleshooting processes, routing the customer’s support ticket to the correct department while ensuring a positive customer experience. Suppose customer support is provided to a business. In that case, there are also SLAs (Service Level Agreements) in place that guide the prioritization and escalation process, incorporating metrics and pricing to measure performance and meet the terms of the agreement. This often includes a communication plan to inform the business customers’ stakeholders of an organization’s ability to prioritize and meet the SLA targets while maintaining a high standard of customer experience.

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 weeks.

What Business Problems Does This Solve?

What two common problems can project management avoid by escalating an issue? Rapid decision-making and increased agility are two of the most common results of clear escalation paths. 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 due to factors such as manual processes, lack of automation, or unclear understanding of the root cause of the issues.

This is most painful when the product development strategy is focused on time-to-market advantage. The diagram documents the decisions around who decides what and the issue of what escalation may trigger communication to the next higher level, given a particular set of conditions for the project.

What Else You Should Know about the Escalation Process

The Escalation Process is only effective if all the levels of the organization agree to it. When a cross-functional team communicates an effective escalation process, 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.

It would be best to have strong team members throughout the organization 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 appear. The escalation process is not just for the development stage.


The Project Escalation diagram depicts the responsibility and communication path for effective decision-making, including follow-up and notifications. The left column categorizes the type of decision. The middle column provides specific types of decisions that map into the categories. The right column shows the escalation path from the 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 essential. 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 independently, 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 implements the escalation process and 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 management team 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 to provide staffing for the new project.

Download the Escalation template and instructions for the Escalation Process diagram.