Defining the Project Escalation Process

Written by lewsauder

February 10, 2017

Project Escalation Process

It has probably happened to you at one time or another. You’re sitting in a meeting with your boss present when an issue comes up.

You’ve been trying to resolve that issue for a week. It’s the first time your boss is hearing about it. He asks why he wasn’t made aware of the issue. If you had defined a project escalation process, he might have already heard about it.

Having a project escalation process can help guide a project manager through the decision-making process to communicate effectively to leadership to ensure that they are informed in an accurate and timely manner. It is a matter of knowing the what, when, how and why of issue escalation.

What to escalate

Certainly the project manager shouldn’t escalate every single issue that occurs on a project. It is the PM’s job to track, manage, and resolve issues.

Major issues though, need to be brought to leadership’s attention. Some define major issues as those that require leadership to step in and make a decision.

This is definitely an issue that should be escalated. But it should not stop at that. Some issues can be resolved without leadership’s involvement but should still be reported.

This often depends on the management style of the manager that you report to, but some managers like to be made aware of important issues even if they have been resolved.

An example is if a major hardware system goes down overnight and your team is able to resolve it before business hours. It no longer requires the manager to help resolve the issue. But the manager should be made aware of it to avoid being surprised in a later conversation with someone else.

When to escalate

There should be a weekly meeting where status is reported to management. This is usually the ideal time to report issues and risks that require management attention.

Occasionally, an issue can be too urgent to wait until the weekly meeting. Again, this depends on the manager’s management style, and how informed they like to be. But the project manager should consider whether an issue warrants an update that is more urgent than the standard meeting.

How to escalate

As mentioned above, the project escalation process is generally done through a weekly status meeting. This can be done through a written status report or a personal meeting.

More urgent issues are done outside this formal process and can be done through an ad hoc face to face conversation, an email, a phone call, or a text. Again, this is driven by the manager’s management style and their preferred form of communication.

If the issue is technical in nature, the project manager should summarize the issue so the manager understands why it is an issue and the business implications involved. If possible, provide the options being considered to resolve the issue.

Why to escalate

Issues are escalated primarily for two reasons: to get management assistance to get a decision made, or to keep the manager informed of major issues that have affected a project.

Regardless of the purpose, the project manager should make it clear to the manager why they are escalating the issue. If a decision or further escalation is required, that should be one of the first things provided to the manager.


Issues come up in every large project. Many are small and can be resolved within the team. Some are much larger and impactful on the project. A formal project escalation process should be defined to make sure that management is made aware of critical issues in order to enable sound decision making.

How do you manage the project escalation process?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.
Image courtesy of sheelamohan at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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