Management by Escalations – the new norm ?

By Narayan Katti

In the past few years, I have seen a new trend – managing projects, programs and related business in IT Services Industry by escalations. This has become the norm than an exception and it is quite a disturbing trend. Unfortunately, this has encompassed customer organizations, as well and not just limited to IT services companies.

This topic might raise few eyebrows and some may brush this topic aside, but I feel it is definitely thought provoking. If one were to look at this dispassionately, it could raise many questions that need attention and answering by the teams and especially the leadership team.

The formal definition of Escalation is “a rapid increase”, “rise” and also “an increase in the intensity or seriousness of something; an intensification”.

Going strictly by this definition and the spirit behind it, one expects that Escalations are created / raised when the matter is very serious. Also, escalations are raised when the resolution of an issue has not happened or the way the progress towards resolution of issue is not satisfactory. But I find that today, the escalations are created / raised with a drop of hat, without proper due diligence, working together to resolve the issue or providing a solution to resolve the issue. Hence I am asking this question – are Escalations becoming a new norm than an exception ?

I am not suggesting, even remotely that escalations should not be raised. I am just questioning the timing and the spirit behind raising escalations. When matters do go out of hand that would cause material impact, one has to raise escalation. Matters and issues that need higher level attention for resolution need to be raised. But before reaching that stage, one should ask this question – has there been enough effort spent to work together to resolve the issues.

Consider the following scenario:

A web commerce implementation project goes haywire due to various issues. The customer IT manager, who is responsible for the project panics, raises an escalation to the CIO through his manager. The customer IT manager blames the IT services organization squarely. The CIO becomes furious. He has a direct connect and rapport with the CEO of the vendor IT services organization and hence escalates this issue directly to the CEO of IT services organization. All hell breaks loose in the IT services organization. The team involved in the implementation till the Delivery Head are taken to task. After a very careful and deep analysis by the team, it is found out that there were configuration issues in the platform which was not under the purview of the service organization. Later on the product company is involved and the issues are resolved. But the damage was done to the team, whose morale and confidence was shattered by this episode.

I have come across many such scenarios, where in the issues are escalated without much diligence and understanding. This creates a panic situation and does not help the situation.  I have often found that the customer organization never understands the vendor organization properly and hence is blind-sighted to these so-called escalations. Many a times the vendor leadership also gets into the haste mode to fix the issues (brazenly?) without deliberating or reasoning with the teams. The erosion of confidence levels of the team is more in this case.

My take

Issues are bound to arise in any IT engagement and depending on the size of the engagement, the number and impact of issues may vary. When issues do arise, we should encourage the teams to do the following.

  1. Encourage the team to bring up the issues to higher management, depending on the seriousness of the issues.
  2. Encourage the team to conduct the root cause analysis, impact assessment and try and rresolve the issues themselves and then reach out to wider organization

The management team instead of reprimanding the team, should understand the issue, provide all necessary help and as needed provide support through wider organization

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One thought on “Management by Escalations – the new norm ?

  1. Good topic and well explained, Narayan.

    I do agree, sometimes PMs escalate event even before it was manged appropriately as Risk and an Issue. Some other, they never brought in to light until they have lost time or customer escalates them through different channel.

    There should be right mechanism and governance framework in place for PMs to manage to resolve issues by handling Risk, Issue and than to resolve through Escalation.

    Like

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