Escalating! We’re Escalating!

It’s never a nice time when a project escalation happens but if you’re involved in a escalation, do you know what to do? Do you know how to handle it? Is your answer to bury your head in the sand? or do you go into hyper-drive mode?

One of the people that I coach recently called me whilst I was driving home from work in a mad panic because there was a massive escalation ongoing in their project and they didn’t know what to do first, what was most important or what needed to happen. This really made me think about how easy it is to go into hyper-drive and not be able to see the next step forward and it’s the basis of this blog post.


  1. Assess the situation
    Take a step back for a minute and work out the current situation and what is going wrong. How do you do this? It will be individually based on how you work, what you need to know and the situation. It could be talking to colleagues, collecting facts but most importantly it needs to be done in a relaxed fashion. Being stressed will not help anyone (and most importantly, not yourself!)
  2. Under the “why”
    This is the next important step -> Why is the escalation happening/ongoing? What’s happened to make it escalate it now? Is it based on stakeholder feedback? Did something blow up (physically or metaphorically). Once you can understand the why, you’re able to see more about the “how” , the “what” etc.

    The most important thing to remember when you’re looking at the “why” are facts. During escalations there will be a lot of emotions and it’s your job to identify the facts and get to the bottom of the situation listing and working on facts rather than hyperbole or emotions.

  3. Make a plan
    When I’m involved in an escalation, I like to take a drive or go for a walk with my dogs. I want to think about the previous two steps and formulate an action plan that I can go through before presenting it to the core team members.

    1. What should a plan involve?
      1. Stakeholder Management -> How to handle your team and what’s going on. This will also include communication to the wider project/organisation.
      2. Triage of activities/ plans for what to do in the next 12/24/48 hours. This will all depend on the criticality of the issue at hand. Consider holding daily meetings for updates if needed and try to avoid overwhelming your team/project/organisation will lots of unnecessary emails.
  4. Communicate! and live the plan
    This is also very important. You need to live the plan that you have created and don’t be afraid to make changes/adjustments if you need to. One thing that I like to do is talk to the involved parties and make sure that everyone is aware of what’s going on, what I need from them and if we need to have any further information/support.pexels-photo-131979
  5. Use your network
    Your network will be invaluable here. Use your Sponsor to communicate to higher management if needed. Use your team to be able to get the facts that you need and use your skills as a Project Manager to resolve this situation

    In summary…

    If you’re struggling with an escalation, I’d recommend reaching out to your peers and asking for support and help. It’s more than likely that they will have gone through something similar and can support you or give you some useful advice to be able to move past the escalation to a successful project.

Let’s discuss how you handle escalation and what you do to manage an issue/escalation when it happens in your project.

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