We Asked the Project Management Community: How Do You Determine When It's Necessary to Escalate Decisions to Project Sponsors?
FOLLOW THE RULES
“I escalate decisions when it's outside of my area of control or the agreed tolerances or boundaries I have with my sponsor—even if these are informal and undocumented. For example, on a recent project to deliver a process change, we realized that a particular solution that had already been approved by the sponsor wasn't going to work in every situation. We knew we had to go back to the drawing board. But, because that meant a change in approach for the project and deviating from the approved solution, that was a decision the sponsor needed to make. Once the project board and sponsor had reviewed the new solution and approved it, the team was able to keep the project moving forward.”
—Elizabeth Harrin, director, The Otobos Group, Horsham, England
READY FOR RESOLUTION
“I never want sponsors and key stakeholders to be surprised. If something does need to be escalated, they usually know it's a risk and we've talked about possible mitigations. But when surprises do pop up, I will work quickly with the team on options for resolution and then bring our official recommendation to the sponsor. My conversations are short but factual, and I don't place blame or point fingers. Their job at that point is to help resolve the problem.”
—Jason Orloske, PMP, manager, project management, Aldevron, Fargo, North Dakota, USA
“First of all, the project manager should gain the trust of the sponsor and sustain it from initiation through closure. This helps ensure that he or she can escalate the issue at the right time. But you can't escalate every decision to the project sponsor, or else you will lose their attention when it's really necessary to escalate. Project managers should escalate decisions to the project sponsor when the following issues occur:
■ The problem impacts the ability to procure funding, commit resources or achieve project success.
■ There is no project support throughout the organization.
■ The decision requires authorization to change scope.
■ The decision will resolve a go/no-go situation.”
—Ipek Sahra Özgüler, PMP, project manager, Halkbank project management office, Ankara, Turkey
PLAN FOR DISCUSSION
“I have a biweekly management attention call with the sponsors where we only talk about blockers and decisions—or how to address risks and problems. These meetings are typically when I'll escalate an issue—unless a risk is so big that it can't wait until the meeting. I'll escalate only those issues or risks that heavily impact the timeline, budget or scope. Every item is analyzed and categorized as high-, medium- or low-risk, and we analyze the impact analysis and mitigations plans.”
—Fernando Perez, PMP, regional project manager, Citi, Buenos Aires, Argentina
“Any decision that can impact business value in terms of cost, schedule or scope should be escalated to the sponsor. To get the immediate attention of the sponsor—and a quick response—the escalation should be requested face-to-face or via phone. Then, a follow-up email can include a request for a decision within the subject line.”
—Charanjeet Singh, PMP, project manager, Wawanesa Insurance, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
WORTH THE RISK
“I escalate only when a key stakeholder deliberately hinders the implementation of something specific in the project management plan. One example is a client refusing to formally accept deliverables during the validate scope process even after the deliverables passed through the control quality process. Before I escalate, I would identify each risk associated with these stakeholders and prepare responses to these risks in the plan to recommend to the sponsor.”
—Talal Benothman, PMP, general manager, design, Dar Al Riyadh Engineering and Architecture, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
What other approaches can help project managers know when it's time to escalate decisions with project sponsors? Share your tips on the PMI Project, Program and Portfolio Management LinkedIn Group.
Having actively engaged executive sponsors can help remove roadblocks and clear the path for improved project performance.
of projects have actively engaged executive sponsors.
of organizations say that inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects.
of projects and programs are assigned executive sponsors in champion* organizations.
*Champions: Organizations with 80 percent or more of projects being completed on time, on budget, meeting business intent and having high benefits realization maturity.
Source: Pulse of the Profession®: Success in Disruptive Times: Expanding the Value Delivery Landscape to Address the High Cost of Low Performance, PMI, 2018