There are often times when escalation of an issue to a higher-up stakeholder is the right call, but project managers are often reticent to do so, for fear it might reflect badly on their ability to handle situations. This is an unhelpful attitude, both for the project manager and the project as recognizing when something should be escalated can be a vital tool in issue management. Here we look at some scenarios where an escalation is necessary:
- Uncommunicative teams
Siloed teams can be a great idea for increasing communication and completion speeds on their relevant tasks. However, problems arise when these teams need to communicate with project members outside of their silo. For example, if an education game is being developed but the designers, programmers and educators are holed away in separate locations and won’t communicate expectations and possibilities in an effective manner, the project manager has a problem.
If, after attempting to resolve the issue by organizing regular meetings, designating responsible persons and communicating clear targets there is still a major gap in collaboration, it may be necessary to begin the escalation process and ask a more senior stakeholder for advice or direct assistance in resolving matters.
- Resource gaps
Success or failure of a project can often depend on the resources it is afforded. These can be in terms of human inputs, money, technology or outside expertise provided. Often a client may put significant pressure on a project through ignorance of a project’s needs or a desire to save on costs or time. The responsibility for spotting and communicating these resource gaps to a client lies with the project manager at the outlining of the project scope.
If a client makes doesn’t make the necessary efforts to fill these resource gaps it will naturally increase the possibility of project failure, despite the best efforts of the team. When you see a project careening towards possible disaster due to the non-provision of resources then you must consider bringing attention to those further up the chain of command.
- Responsibility uncertainty
In all project management, but especially when parachuted in to a project already in progress, it can often be difficult to get certainty on where responsibilities and final sign-off lie. This can cause serious issues when mixed with project politics or team members who might be looking to shirk responsibility. The answer would normally be to simply ask who the appropriate decision makers are, but if things are still unclear or there are discrepancies in opinions then the escalation process may have to be engaged.
By taking the matter to a superior as part of the issue management process then a project manager can achieve clarity in who has the final say on various project elements, avoiding delays and making communication clearer.
- Stakeholder overreach
From time to time every project manager will come across a client or senior stakeholder who likes to get a bit too involved in the project outcomes. While it’s generally helpful to have input and feedback from these sources, it can become an issue when they strongly suggest or demand changes outside of the project scope. Apart from spreading resources thinner it can also affect team morale and cause unnecessary friction.
If this is happening and you are finding it difficult to politely but firmly request that things be kept within the agreed project scope, it may be necessary to engage the escalation process and bring the matter to a superior.
No project manager ever wants to have to get involved in the escalation process but in certain scenarios, like the ones laid out here, it becomes a necessity. Effective issue management means using all the tools available to you so don’t be afraid to take things up the chain if you feel a project is being put at risk.