Yes, once again I’m going to harp on communications being the backbone of a good project. This post is going to speak to the importance of having a well-defined and understood path of escalation for your project.
Why Do You Need One?
Every project has issues. That is as close to a ‘death-and-taxes’ guarantee that I can make with projects. Some may be small, but you can almost bank on your project facing some issues at some point during planning or execution (or both). While it would be great to be able to plan your project so that you steer clear of any and all issues, it’s vital that you equip your project to be robust enough to deal with issues head on. While you as the project manager can handle the bulk of the issues thrown your way, there are times where you will need executive-level guidance from either your side or the customer side to get through these tougher issues.
By defining a path of escalation you are communicating to your customer – who likely have a project manager and a project sponsor on their side – on how they can find remediation to issues that you as the project manager cannot resolve on your own. You are giving your customer a canned ‘let me see your manager’ option.
Why Is This Important?
This is crucial to your communications plan because it accounts for those uncomfortable situations where you as the project manager are not able to resolve a project issue that the customer needs resolved. It allows you to prep the customer to reach out to your project executive per a pre-defined process. It eliminates the element of surprise for both yourself and your project executive by way of understanding that the customer will escalate to this path given a scenario where there is an issue that needs that level of attention. By having a defined and agreed-to path for escalation it also minimizes the chances of your customer going further up the organizational chart than you would desire in the event of an unsolvable issue at your level. Sure, the customer may know your CEO from college but it doesn’t entitle them to escalate to said CEO every time they need some involvement from your executive (not to mention your CEO is likely not equipped with the necessary information to remedy the issue anyhow).
With a pre-defined escalation path as part of your communication plan, you are telling your customer how they can engage your project executive and under what circumstances and conditions (ideally, in a situation where you as the project manager are unable to provide resolution to a project issue or concern). This gives the customer a sense of stability as well as prepares your project executive to be prepared to handle incoming communications from the customer in those types of situations.