Effective incident escalations

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, every organization must confront its fair share of incidents. Regardless of the sector or size, one common thread weaves through them all: the need for effective incident management. A crucial part of this management is incident escalation, a topic on which we've had many discussions with various companies.

A primer on incident escalation

But first, let's lay the groundwork. What do we mean by incident escalations?

In the realm of incident management, escalation is the process of routing an issue or incident to the right people, typically driven by a change in scope, understanding, time, or severity. For example, an incident being managed by the platform team might need to be escalated to the payments team when they realize bank transfers are delayed, or what was previously considered to be a low severity issue superficially impacting your website actually turns out to be preventing users from logging in, and needs to be escalated to the CTO.

When we talk about incident escalations, we often jump to the concept of escalation policies, which can be thought of as a guide or set of rules, steering each incident to the right people, whether that’s frontline engineers, senior leaders, or folks elsewhere in the organization.

Its primary purpose? To ensure that every incident gets the attention it warrants and is resolved within an acceptable time frame. A well-structured escalation policy can reduce downtime, improve customer communications, and reduce the cognitive load on folks responding to incidents.

The place of incident escalation in your response process

Having cleared that up, you might be asking how this all fits within your current response process.

This plan is a conductor orchestrating various sections of the symphony that makes up your incident management system.

Your incident escalation plan serves as the backbone of your incident management system. It ensures that incidents don't sit unattended or bounce aimlessly among teams without resolution. In essence, this plan is a conductor orchestrating various sections of the symphony that makes up your incident management system. And just like a symphony, the more harmonious your process, the better the outcome 🎵

Broadly speaking, there’s two places where incident escalations will fit into your overall response:

Escalations at the point of declaration

When an incident is first declared, it’s common for the person raising the alarm to be different from the individuals who need to look into the issue. For that reason we require an escalation process to find the right people.

What makes escalations challenging at the point of declaration is that we need to find the right people based on what the person reporting knows, and make a decision about how to find the right people. For example, a customer support agent might know that users are struggling to log in to the website, but have no idea who’s best placed to investigate and therefore who to escalate to.

For this reason, our escalation policies need to encode a kind of ‘routing logic’ that helps. In the simplest case that might look like a document with a list of entries, or if you’re using something like (and if not, why not? 😉) you can encode this in a Catalog that can be navigated automatically.

Escalations during an incidents

The other side of escalations comes during an incident, when something like the severity or scope changes or the elapsed response time exceeds a pre-defined threshold. Much like declaration escalations, having a robust process here relies on you defining the rules you’d like your organization to follow.

With your set of rules defined, the tricky part is actually making them easy to follow. A document can be helpful, but it relies of responders reading it, and when it’s 2am and the database is on fire, very rarely do people think to consult the manual 😅

If, on the other hand, you’re using a platform like, Workflows can be used to either trigger your escalations automatically, or nudge folks to consider escalating when it makes sense.

Some best practices for effective incident escalation

With that understanding, let's delve into five best practices to streamline your incident escalation process:

  • Define clear escalation paths: The first rule of embarking on any journey is to know your destination. The same applies to your incident management journey. An effective escalation plan outlines who should be involved at each incident stage, providing a clear path to resolution. This clarity minimizes confusion, facilitates collaboration, and accelerates response times.

    It’s important to remember that escalation paths should route from things that people know, to people that need to be involved. If your customer support team needs to understand the structure and topology of your engineering team, you’re probably doing it wrong. Instead, define paths that connect tangible business services they know and understand, to the teams that support them.
  • Set thresholds for escalation: Not all incidents necessitate executive intervention, and not all incidents should be escalated immediately.

    Establish severity levels for incidents, defining the appropriate response and escalation protocol for each level. By doing so, you ensure incidents are handled at the right level, freeing higher-level resources for truly critical issues.

    And when it comes to time-based escalations, consider how long it’s reasonable for incidents to remain in certain situations before escalating more widely.
  • Embrace helpful automation: Manual processes can be time-consuming and prone to human error.

    Leverage automation wherever possible, from incident assignment and escalation to notification delivery. Automation can significantly speed up your response time, allowing you to focus on resolving the incident rather than managing the process.

    And when it comes to automation, it’s perfectly acceptable (and often desirable) to have a human in the loop. Rather than automatically escalating when the severity is set to Critical, perhaps you want to automatically post a message that nudges the incident lead to consider escalating? Both approaches are entirely valid.
  • Learn and adapt: Each incident presents a learning opportunity. Post-incident analysis, while often overlooked, is essential to improve your future response. In the context of escalations, understand what worked well, what didn't, and why.

Use these insights to enhance your escalation process, prepare for future incidents, and continually improve your overall response strategy.

The role of in incident escalations

If you’re curious as to how we might be able to help, read on! If not, thanks for visiting, and feel free to ignore everything from here on 🙂 is not just another tool; it's your trusted partner for incident escalation. With native functionality to notify people by phone, SMS, email and Slack message, and with direct integrations into systems like PagerDuty, it can be used to fully orchestrate the escalation process.

Here’s how enhances your incident escalation processes:

  • Streamlined incident creation: With a single command, anyone in your Slack organization can trigger an incident, drawing the right personnel into the loop in seconds. With Catalog, we can easily map your organization, allowing for a simple escalations at the point of reporting.
  • Automated escalations: With Workflows and Catalog, you can encode all of your escalation rules in one place, so you can be confident the right things will happen, every time. No more consulting that written manual!
  • Learning and improving: With our fully automated incident timeline, retrospect on the escalations that occurred during every incident to understand what’s working well, and where there are opportunities for improvement.

By integrating tools you already use into one robust response platform, smooths out the kinks in your incident escalation process. You'll find that not only is handling incidents a more efficient and well-orchestrated process, but dare we say it, even enjoyable.

Check out what our customers are saying about their experience, or sign up for a custom demo here.

Picture of Chris Evans
Chris Evans
Co-Founder & CPO

I'm one of the co-founders and the Chief Product Officer of I've spent my whole career working in engineering.

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