Escalations are inevitable on every project. Things can be planned to the nth degree but there will still be escalations – and that’s ok. There are foundational pieces that you as a leader and project team can put into place to ensure that escalations are minimal but when they do arise, they can be handled properly.
Know your Customer
This seems obvious but unfortunately is not. So many times we get into the weeds of our projects without really taking a step back to understand our customer’s needs and why we are in this project in the first place. This also speaks to developing a strong customer relationship which is infinitely easier at the start of a project when things are exciting, and momentum and spirits are high. Understand the dynamics of your customer’s organization, their tolerance for change or how they work alongside each other. Knowing these “unknowns” will absolutely aid you in times of escalations and being able to lean on a strong relationship and knowledge of your customer is vital.
Strong Project Management
This one is very obvious but is absolutely worth mentioning as a pillar of escalation management. By having strong project management in place you are insulating your project of many escalations that can be handled by strong communication, expectation-setting as well as ensuring that your customer is fully aware of what they are responsible to bring to the table. By having a strong PM presence, your customer will also feel confident that situations will be handled properly and will likely resist the urge to escalate often.
Good fences make good neighbors and good contracts make good customers. Spending the time up front to ensure your statement of work is as airtight as possible (spoiler alert: you’ll still find leaks) will be worth the time investment. If you have any doubts, just ask someone who has worked a project with a loose statement of work and they will gladly tell you the value of a strong contract. Remember – a contract is a set of expectations of what your customer has of you, but also what you have of your customer. Spend the time to make sure it is clear and concise so that your project team can focus on execution rather than contracting.
Escalations are a fact of life when it comes to projects. The better equipped we are to handle them will help make a positive difference in your project. Keep these pillars strong and standing and you will be able to take on the escalations in your project.