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How to be Comfortable with Escalating When Work is Not Being Completed

FEATUREJune6Getting the Most from Your Project Staff
Part 2 of a 3 Part Series


As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others. It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality.

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects. It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager. This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

In this three part series you will learn techniques that will maximize your ability to get the most from those individuals assigned to your project. The strategies presented will provide a solid approach that can be used immediately with your team.

  • Part 1: Tips to gain commitment from your project team
  • Part 2: How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed
  • Part 3: Strategies to improve communication and follow-up to team members

This article should really be titled ‘How to be comfortable with escalating when work is not being completed or not completed as expected’

Good news! You’ve already started! If you’ve followed the strategies in Part 1 of this series, “Tips to Gain Commitment from Your Project Team”, you already have agreement on expectations for your project resources. In a perfect world, everything will go according to plan, but it is not a perfect world and there is a chance you will run into ‘imperfect’ situations involving team members.

This may include such things as work not being completed on time (particularly critical path tasks, issue resolution, and those that are predecessors to other work), status not being reported, meetings not attended as expected, or lack of participation.

The steps outlined below will help to guide you through the escalation process.

STEP 1: Determine the impact

1. Judge the degree of impact

  • Is it behavior or actual work not being completed?
  • Is this an early warning sign of things to come?
  • What significance will this have to the project?
  • How will this impact other team members?

2. Obtain clear examples and impact to the project

  • Be specific to the project work and not to the person.

STEP 2: Discuss the situation and impact with team member

  1. Review the agreed upon expectations
  2. Determine, with the individual, if there a reason and how you can help initiate change to rectify the situation.
  3. If the reason is related to the person being overwhelmed with other work, offer to change expectations to accommodate, if the individual can agree to meet requirements and it is acceptable. Indicate that you will help by discussing the situation with their manager so that the manager can initiate change
  4. If you are not having success resolving with the team member, let them know you are concerned with their availability and that you will be discussing the situation with their manager.

STEP 3: Escalate

1. Formulate and document examples and the results of your discussion with the individual.

2. Contact the manager

  • State the examples and recommend actions (corrective and preventative).
  • Utilize the schedule to demonstrate tasks and dates and the staffing plan for the individual’s responsibilities.
  • If work needs to be completed, state dates and be clear that the manager is responsible for seeing that the work is done by that date.
  • If there is a resource availability issue, expect the manager to resolve this by replacing the individual, freeing up other work, offering a backup, etc.
  • If behavior needs to change, communicate your expectations.
  • Follow up any conversation immediately with an e-mail stating expectations and dates.

3. Follow-up

  • Follow up if change has occurred or work has been completed, be gracious!
  • If work not completed escalate to the project sponsor or senior leader of the project.

4. What? You want me to tell on someone?

  • No, it is not telling! Your job as a project leader is to assure the work is completed on time and as expected. It is your responsibility to judge when this will not occur and make every attempt to keep the project on track.
  • You have no choice but to escalate if work is not being completed on schedule.
  • Using leverage from your project leadership can help resolve staffing problems, or recognize the issue and adjust the project expectations or deliverables.
  • If the team member is burdened with other work, you will be helping them by trying to elevate the problem. Make that clear to them.
  • Setting this standard will help build future commitment and expectations.

5. Rules! Yes, there are rules… sorry.

  • Business policy is primary, then project policy.
  • Only discuss the problem, not the person.
  • No surprises: Notify those involved as to your next steps.
  • Notify your management before you escalate to a team members manager.
  • Document your examples, conversations, and resulting commitments.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.


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