Project managers, team members, and other stakeholders have disagreements, some heated, some not. What’s important is how you respond to project conflicts? Conflicts can be beneficial if handled in an open, transparent manner.
Successful project managers do not run away from conflict; they run toward it. They call it out by name in a neutral and unoffending manner. And they quickly engage the appropriate stakeholders in order to discuss and resolve the issues.
Furthermore, the best project managers are risk managers constantly mitigating conflicts. How? First, these leaders communicate well—they tell the team where they are going, how they will get there, and when things will occur. Second, they clarify goals, priorities, and requirements. Third, these project managers work with their teams to break down the project and make activity assignments clear.
In his book—Principles of Project Management—John R. Adams highlights a study by Thamhain and Wilemon where they studied categories of conflict issues. They found that schedules, project priorities, and manpower resources caused 50 percent of all conflict in the seven categories. But conflict exists in all seven areas:
With this knowledge, wise project managers give their attention to the schedules, priorities, and human resources first. These areas will have the greatest impact in reducing conflicts.
Whenever you face strong differences in opinions, determine how you will manage the conflict. Here are five common conflict management techniques:
Of these techniques, withdrawing and smoothing are easiest and least effective. Sooner or later the stakeholders will make their opinions known. Compromising is certainly better and can bring about positive results. Forcing may move things forward quickly, but it can be risky.
My personal favorite is problem-solving if time permits. Why? Problem-solving, a collaborative effort—often results in a better understanding of everyone’s opinions, analysis of the solutions, and long-term buy-in and support. There’s less likelihood of stakeholders undermining the decisions later.
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