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PM Essence

Escalation !

Anant, PMP

‘Running any project or process/system for a long time on an “Escalation Mode” is like running the engine of a vehicle with maximum acceleration while the brakes are applied, perhaps on reserve fuel and with extensive usage of the clutch’.

Escalation is that one word has the power to instantly wake up managers everywhere. Escalations are a part of daily life and all of us handle them every day. Your home, workplace, a planned vacation, even your own body can throw up unforeseen situations that require attention. Being able to handle them in a calm manner is what leads to quick and efficient solutions, be it in one’s personal or professional sphere.
Escalations in the Workplace

Most often it is misunderstood as ‘making noise’ about something unimportant or even an expression of anger when things don’t go as expected. The aim of any escalation is not ‘whistle blowing’ or ‘making noise’, but finding an optimal solution for the deviation or issue at hand. Running any project or process/system for a long time on an “Escalation Mode” is like running the engine of a vehicle with maximum acceleration while the brakes are applied, perhaps on reserve fuel and with extensive usage of the clutch. Sounds disturbing, doesn’t it? An engine would not last long under such strain. It is equally disturbing to be part of an escalation for a long time. Projects need to seek logical and optimal resolution(s) in a reasonable amount of time, or it can take a toll on the people, the process or the project and sometimes the system as well.

Almost all escalation processes have common parameters such as: a tolerable threshold beyond which an escalation is triggered, significant points of contact, a tracking mechanism for the escalation which can provide it’s current status to concerned parties, and a logical closure which is routed back to the starting point of the escalation – either a person or a process that started it all.

It is important to keep in mind that the escalation resolution process itself should not become a bottle neck for moving onto the next logical step in achieving a solution.

If escalations are not handled well within time, an upward spiral (i.e. in terms of the chain of command) is created and the process becomes more complicated as it goes up. With increase in intensity, the inherent conflicts can reach extreme conditions with people and departments blaming each other for a lapse or the issue at hand. This can result in unnecessary rifts and down times - in each round of communication, people can become more aggressive and hostile towards one another. Managers can do well by keeping an open mind with a view of resolving the issue instead of blaming another person, party or process.

The Need for Escalations

An individual or team should have well defined expectations for themselves for any given amount of time, and there should also be a ‘Tolerance Boundary’ for acceptable deviations from these expectations, beyond which an escalation is triggered.

An escalation should ideally be made when :

(a) A predefined set of services are unable to deliver the desired result using the accepted or standard
operating procedure,
(b) If a deliverable obtained by the predefined process is not satisfactory, adversely impacts the business
(c) Or any other reason(s) as laid out by a system, specific and limiting to it.

Scenarios that can trigger Escalations

Inability to handle the given situation at it’s present level A situation or an issue needs to be escalated to the concerned people, if the current set of people (or) process is/are unable to handle things at the current level of action.
2. A show stopper in an otherwise smooth process, which negatively impacts business interests.
3. Lack of technical knowledge on how to move ahead.
Proactive measure(s) taken when it is suspected that the project may run into trouble in the foreseeable future.

Minimizing escalations

The best way a process or an organization matures in terms of handling escalations is by having a proactive approach by learning from past history, thinking ahead, involving subject matter experts, brainstorming and conducting good what-if analyses. A robust base process with early warning systems will help in recognizing potential problems early on.

Do not escalate if:

- You have not read the FAQs.
- You have not conducted a basic investigation of the problem at hand
- You can solve it within your peer circle.
- You are suggesting an improvement measure
- You think ‘time’ can improve the situation, and it is ok to allow that time.