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Escalation plans

When you can show how decisions are made and resources are allocated, your promises become more believable

An escalation plan provides a series of levels.  If the purpose of the escalation plan is to resolve problems or issues, then if an issue is not resolved at the first level, it moves to the second level, where more resources, expertise, capabilities, authority, etc., are applied to resolving the issue.  If it is not resolved at the second level, it moves up to the third.  It continues to move up until it reaches the highest level.  The number of levels and the triggers for moving from one level to another are usually determined by the person writing the escalation plan.

ApproachesIn addition to resolving problems, an escalation plan can be used to ensure that something is accomplished on schedule.  If milestones are not met, additional resources can be assigned.  Escalation plans can also be used for moving decisions up the chain of command, controlling expenses, rewarding good performance, etc.  

An escalation plan is really a way of documenting how you will make decisions.  They describe when you will react and how you will react.  Having an escalation plan tells the customer what you will do.  They can inspire confidence and build trust by showing that you’ve anticipated things and will react in a way that is appropriate.  They are also a way of saying that your reactions will be controlled, so that you won’t expend too many resources on small issues, but have a way of applying whatever resources are necessary when the circumstances merit that kind of response.

Escalation plans work best when the triggers are objective and the responses are automatic.  If the trigger from one level to another is a person’s action or authorization, then you don’t know for sure that the plan will be followed.  You can use an escalation plan to provide authorization to staff to expend resources and act when certain criteria are met, without having to get permission.  When you do this, the customer knows that your staff can react decisively to issues and the risk of a problem disappearing within the bureaucracy is much lower. 

Escalation plans can also be useful to generate metrics.  You can see what things are happening at what level, and adjust criteria and resource allocation as necessary.
Questions to Answer in an Escalation Plan

  • When does a problem get additional attention, oversight, or resources?
  • How long should it take to escalate an issue?
  • Are there any circumstances or events that should trigger an escalation?
  • Is approval or action required to initiate an escalation?
  • How do you ensure that escalations happen?
  • Can something significant skip steps in the escalation process?
  • What are the criteria or considerations at each escalation step?
  • What additional authority, resources, or capability does each escalation step bring to resolve the issue?
  • Is escalation only for issues?  What about recognition or positive circumstances?
  • How many escalation levels should be provided?
  • What gets it all started?
  • Does the topmost level provide sufficient resources and authority for the customer to be confident that their issues will always be resolved?
  • What additional information will you request and/or track at each level?
  • How will you track, assess, and analyze the performance of the escalation system over the life of the project?
  • Will customers be notified of each escalation step?
  • What is the priority of your escalation system (delivery of appropriate resources, authority, expertise, speed, cost control, communications)?

Sample Escalation Themes

When you operate transparently, you can make statements like these:

  • You can count on us meeting deadlines, because our approach to escalation ensures that resources are added until all goals are achieved.
  • Our approach is efficient because additional resources (or higher levels of expertise) are only used when needed.
  • Our staff will be able to react quickly and decisively, because our approach to escalation automatically grants authorization in advance when certain criteria are met.
  • Our company will be responsive to your needs because our approach to escalation ensures the right people get involved at the appropriate times.
  • Our approach to escalation ensures that no problem will ever languish while “waiting for approval.”
  • You will get the right mix of low cost and high cost resources applied to your project because our escalation plan gets them involved at the appropriate times.
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