Why do we escalate problems?

This is an answer to a question submitted to the "Ask me anything (AMA)" program. This AMA channel is designed to support you get clarity to business/tech questions you may have. Periodically, I select a particular response that we feel can benefit the broader community.

Escalating challenges involves raising awareness of the context of a situation so that people with more knowledge, resources or decision-making remit can take action to resolve a challenging problem.

There are various situations you may want to escalate problems:

Proper governance of a risk-management process lets you help leadership be aware of issues and risks that can impact the overall success of a piece of work. There are various factors that you may want to escalate across:

  • Scope clarity or introductions of new unplanned work
  • Unclarity, unknowns and detected assumptions that may put the project at risk
  • Budget - are you on track, behind, and by what %. E.g. we are 40% through the budget but only delivered 20% of the work.
  • Legal - are there any legal constraints or situations that may cause us to run into legal issues with a partner or customer. Using an example:
  • You may have a piece of work that was agreed to be implemented, but you found it cannot be done without massively breaking the budget limit or delivering within the timeframes agreed.
  • You experienced an unintended data leak.
  • There is a condition of work that would see us break an agreement with a partner/customer.
  • Technical - Are there any technical issues we are meeting/being limited to. Maybe some better tools or approaches may need to be considered to achieve success.
  • Team stability & engagement - are we all humming as a team, or is there a particular conflict or resource loss that needs to be addressed?
  • Customer responsiveness to areas that need their input - is customer responsive and delivering to obligations to enable us to deliver the work required.
  • Customer satisfaction - we deliver the work, but the customer is unhappy with the overall progress/or has different expectations.

Issues may be escalated when:

  • There is an issue in the project not meeting scope, the progress of technical deliver (as above).
  • There is an issue that is causing team members to work significantly beyond what was expected (risking burnout and loss of personnel).
  • You have already tried to manage or fix an issue but were unsuccessful.
  • You have exhausted all reasonable options within your remit to address a problem (person, technical, budget, environment etc.).
team work

The benefits of escalating are:

  • Raising awareness of the situation to management.
  • Enabling collaboration and cross-functional engagement to find a resolution.
  • You may be allocated additional resources to address the issue.
  • Highlighting areas where the business can do better and improve.
  • Helps team stay the course and deliver the required work on time and within the scheduled timeframe and expectations.
  • Improves relationships as it eliminates surprises.

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Why do we escalate problems?

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