Escalation in Incident Management

This is a continuation of the earlier ‘Incident Life Cycle’ post.

I’ll start by talking about Escalation. This is a term that seems to mean different things for different people. For some, it means the Helpdesk or Service Desk assigning an Incident to a more expert team (or third party supplier) when the nature of the Incident and the skills in our specialist groups dictate that we must do so.

For some, it means adjusting the priority of the Incident (usually upwards).

For others, it means changing the Incident and alerting staff as it becomes possible the resolution will be late.

Fortunately ITIL provides us with some useful definitions – Functional Escalation, and Hierarchical Escalation.

  • Functional Escalation refers the process of assigning an Incident from one team to another based on the skills required to resolve the Incident – for example, assigning an issue with a database backup to the DBA team.
  • Hierarchical Escalation refers to a process whereby we take action to avert the resolution of an Incident being unsatisfactory or late.

These two types of Escalation are not mutually exclusive: you may, as part of your Incident Management process, do both.

A number of strategies are used in Functional Escalation. Some of those I’ve encountered being used successfully include

  • An ‘open’ system, whereby any Agent wishing to reassign an Incident assigned to them can do so. This assumes that staff work diligently on Incidents, and will not needlessly re-assign Incidents for no other reason that they want to focus on projects of most interest to them. Generally ‘open’ approaches like this work best in smaller groups, where expertise and responsibility is very clearly defined.
  • A ‘refer and request’ system, whereby any of the specialist teams who wish to have a reassignment can reassign the Incident back on the Helpdesk of Service Desk only, with a request for assignment to another teams (for instance, it turns out after diagnosis that a different team needs to become involved). This stops a ‘pass the hot potato’ mentality developing, helps the Service Desk team keep involved, and is one of my preferred approaches.

The ‘open’ and ‘refer and request’ methods of Escalation are by no means the only possible approaches, but they are two that are used very frequently in Incident Management.

Please note that both of the approaches I’ve discussed above are supported by Serio, as are other variations.

I’ll continue this thread in future posts this week, and also discuss Hierarchical Escalation.