By Marian Haus, PMP
Throughout any given initiative, project managers must deal with issues that are sure to arise. Some are solvable within the project organization, with or without the project manager’s influence. Others however — especially those that could affect the outcome of a project — go beyond a project manager’s range of influence and authority.
Such major issues and risks can lead to escalations, which require special handling and management.
Various project management guidelines and specialized literature insufficiently cover the escalation management domain.
Escalation means trouble — so it’s a word very few people want to hear about. It also means that a higher authority will need to be called up to take action before it is too late.
When necessary, and if done in a timely and appropriate manner, escalation management can help a project manager solve issues outside of their authority or influence.
Here are some tips and tricks for project managers to better deal with escalations.
1. Be Prepared
From the project outset, define a clear escalation path and mechanism. For instance, establish an escalation committee (e.g., your sponsors or upper management board) and agree on escalating major issues when necessary and bypassing certain hierarchy levels in order to escalate faster.
Don’t overdo it! You should not escalate every encountered issue—only escalate major issues that have considerable impacts.
2. Assess and Qualify the Risk
Is it serious enough to escalate? Is there anything else you can do to avoid an escalation? Is it the right time to escalate?
Certainly, in order to be effective, the escalation should be raised in a timely manner. Therefore, neither should you exaggerate with going through an elaborated risk assessment, nor should you wait too long until raising the escalation (e.g., do not wait until the next reporting period is due).
3. Communicate the Escalation
After you’ve done everything you could have to prevent the escalation (you raised awareness, you communicated, you have pushed and pulled), it is time to escalate!
To escalate effectively and efficiently, first keep a calm and clear head. Then, follow these tips:
4. Follow Up
Generally, every escalation requires some resolution time for when the project manager and the project team will implement the decisions agreed upon by the escalation board.
You will need to regularly inform your escalation committee with status and progress updates until the risk and problem are completely resolved. And, after getting back on track, you should conduct a lessons-learned exercise with your project team to learn and grow from the encountered crisis situation.
Would you agree? How are you managing escalations in your projects?
What exactly is value? A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) -- Fifth Edition suggests value is a concept unique to each organization and encompasses the total sum of all tangible and intangible value elements.
Determining the tangible ones is relatively straightforward and can easily be reduced to a financial return. More difficult is understanding the intangible value elements the project can create -- and identifying low-cost options with the potential to create massive intangible value by creating favorable outcomes in the minds of stakeholders.
One simple example is the practice of cutting small viewing windows in construction site fences. The cost is minimal, but the practice delivers value through improved safety because passers-by don't need to stand near the gate to see what's going on. There's also the public relations value of letting the public see the actual progress of the work.
The challenge is finding and tracking these valuable intangibles, bearing in mind most of the value will be created in the minds of various stakeholders. One useful tool is consultant Edward de Bono's Six Value Medals:
Based on those, we can perform a "value scan" when determining courses of action within the project and prioritize actions to achieve the values that matter most.
Take a simple example. The last office refit covered up a duct in the wall of the CEO's new office. Now your project has to rip the sidewall out to access the duct and upgrade the cabling. Where's the extra value? Some possible medal ideas include:
There are probably other possibilities as well depending on the actual project. How do you assess the value of your project to your stakeholder community?