Managing conflicts in projects
Ulhas Samant focuses on the causes of conflicts and
how they are viewed in the current working environment.
manager Rita had asked Rahul, a senior programmer, to plan on working a couple
of overtime hours the following Thurs-day and Friday evenings. Rahul refused.
She wondered if Rahul did not yield to her because she was too kind when she
asked or because she was a female or because Rahul was envious that she got
the project-leader position for which both had competed. Rahul also was uncomfortable
with this interaction. The seeds of conflict are planted when disharmony is
felt by any one of the participants. Rahul had no clue that Rita is upset. Next
time Rita approaches Rahul she may change her approach. She may be more abrupt
and Rahul may then, in turn, react negatively to Rita, thus escalating the conflict.
Individuals sometimes encounter stress and negative emotion out of an interactionwhether
or not they ever confront each other about their feelings.
Wherever choices exist there is potential for disagreement.
The question is how they should be handled. Before going into a detailed discussion
on different conflict management approaches let us discuss how conflicts are
viewed in a current working environment and what can be the causes of a conflict.
Here is a comparison of traditional and contemporary views (Fig. 1).
||Conflicts can be beneficial
|Conflicts make the
||Conflicts are inevitable in any organization
|The best way to avoid conflict is physical
separation of individuals or the management intervention
||Identify root causes and use problem
solving approaches; involve people
Can conflicts be beneficial? Yes, when they make you raise and address a problem.
They can motivate the people to participate. They also energize the work because
most appropriate issues are worked upon.
Project organizations are major sources of conflict and project
managers need to have conflict management abilities. That is because there is
a concentration of professionals of different disciplines for a limited time
and these people may be having divergent interests. Const-raints like cost and
schedule may add to the problem. In a large team lack of communication can also
be a handicap. Personality can be one of the reasons, though hardly all the
conflicts can be attributed to it. (See Fig. 2).
|I do not want work with that lady
|Her project estimates are not realistic
||Cost and effort estimates
|"The suggested architecture is not suitable
for this problem"
|The project-schedule is aggressive
|The approval process is tedious
does not allocate resources to my project"
Conflict management approaches
The primary responsibility of resolving conflicts in a project lies with the
project manager. He should be able to asses the situation and pick up a suitable
approach to resolve the conflict. There are five approaches to resolve conflicts.
- Withdrawal (avoidance)
- Problem-solving (also known as confronting)
There are a few situations to explain different approaches
Of all, problem-solving is the best approach in many situations.
This involves collecting and analyzing the information and deciding on the best
alternative. The first two of these five i.e. withdrawal and smoothing, offer
temporary solution and fail to resolve the problem. The next table (Fig. 4)
compares various conflict management approaches. The last two columns tell about
the kind of consideration for performance objectives and (employee) relation,
in each of these approaches.
|"The real problem seems to be not the
lack of skills in people, but lack of understanding of what needs to be
done. Refer this detailed study, which should help you find the reasons"
|We cannot decide about outsourcing this
work. We will wait until our next meeting
|Rakesh, what if we get new ERP software
for new product development and use existing PDM package for maintaining
| "Change the architecture, the way he
said.I do not want any discussions"
|"Madhav and Meena, you agree that our
department needs this project badly.
With that in mind, can we work together something"
Is there anything a project manager can do to reduce conflicts? These are the
approaches they can take when conflicts occur:
- Ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly
defined for all positions and no tasks fall in a crack
- Meet sub-ordinates and discuss about the challenges
- Conduct regular training on topics like communications,
- Encourage use of suggestion-box (many organizations
have it nowadays in the form of an e-mail account)
- Hold management meetings to discuss about new projects,
etc. (to some extent this may depend upon an organizations policy)
- Work the issue, not the person
- Take the help of a third party to mediate
Conflict management approach
|Problem-solving (also known as confronting)
By utilizing project management principles and applying conflict
management approaches properly, you must be able to establish an environment
where creativity and innovation are encouraged and project goals are met.
Ulhas Samant is a project management trainer from Pune.