Favor bridges over overpasses

After reading the title of this post, you might (naturally) be confused as to its link with project or change management.

Seek and you will find the connection!

In an article which is shortly to be published on ProjectTimes, I’ve written about the benefits of appropriate escalation for timely decisions or resolution of issues.  Unfortunately, I’ve also frequently run across situations where escalation is used as the first resort by project managers, team members or stakeholders for fairly minor decisions or issues which could easily have been resolved through direct conversation between the parties involved.

The dangers of excessive or premature escalation include:

1. The “Cry Wolf” syndrome – senior stakeholders to whom frequent escalation is directed will begin to marginalize the repeated requests for assistance and when a genuine requirement emerges, they may ignore it.

2. Lost in translation – depending on the number of levels of escalation or the diffusion of the original message, the perceived intent and priority of the request can be misinterpreted or mangled resulting in the potential for greater delays to decision making.  In addition, decoding confusing on the part of the targets of the escalation can result in further needless churn.

3. The chasm widens – frequent escalation over minor situations can cause participants to reinforce their positions, strengthen their stereotypes about “them”, and reduce the likelihood of efficient communication bridges from getting built.

Establishing some simple objective criteria for escalation within your project’s Communication Management Plan can bring some consistency to the process, but beyond that, a couple of simple practices can save unnecessary thrashing.

1.  It’s never a good idea to escalate when you are angry.  Allow yourself the time to get some perspective before deciding that escalation is the best option.

2. Explore alternatives to escalation and evaluate the expected impacts of those alternatives on the project’s constraints or objectives.  In conjunction, work through the secondary risks of escalation to reduce the likelihood that you’ll win the battle but lose the war!

If you feel certain that escalation is the only way to avoid measurable impacts to project success, then by all means, go for it.  However, as with many of project management’s soft skills, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Categories: Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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