written by: Cayden Conor
• edited by: Donna Cosmato
• updated: 10/2/2011
Conflicts in projects come from many avenues, including differences in personality; personal issues, such as racial issues; communication issues and leadership issues.
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For a project to be completed by deadline and with the best quality, a project manager must control conflicts, including leadership conflicts that he or she may inadvertently cause. Other causes of conflict may be easier to resolve, but leadership conflicts could be difficult, especially if the manager does not realize that he or she is the direct cause of the conflict. A guide to managing project conflicts is a handy document for a project manager to keep on hand, helping him or her identify and resolve conflicts.
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Project Management and Conflicts
A project manager has to work with several factions during a project including the delegation of tasks and the resolution of conflicts. Several conflicts inevitably arise during a project, whether from communication issues, slackers, diversity because of race or other prejudices, or conflicts of interest.
No matter what the conflict is, it impedes the project's progress; sometimes enough to cause a missed deadline. A missed deadline does not sit well with supervisors or clients so all conflicts must be ironed out as soon as possible. It is better for a project manager to anticipate conflicts before they happen and head things off at the pass.
If a group is assigned to a project and a manager, but the manager knows that some people in the group have communication issues, he or she should edit the documentation for the project to include end-of-day emails with a status report. Or the manager could have meetings every few days. Staff meetings allow each member of the team to update the manager and all other members of the status on his or her task.
If the manager realizes that two people do not get along but is forced to work with this specific team, he or she should separate the two as much as possible. Don’t give them tasks that are closely related because this only gives the two people with differences reason to keep the conflict going. Pick tasks for these people at each end of the spectrum so that communication between the two is limited.
Conflicts of interest are a bit harder to work with and are usually between a client or a supervisor and the project manager or a team member. Be firm in your actions and knowledge and know what will work best for the project. Look at suggestions and talk them over with the rest of the team. The conflict of interest arises when another person tries to influence you to do something that could be detrimental to a project, but benefits the person making the request.
A project manager may have several way to manage conflict and the manner in which it is handled depends on the players and the scenario. You might try to compromise the two conflicting positions. You might force the person creating the conflicting position to either conform to team standards or leave, or you might even try to ignore the whole thing by withdrawing from the conflict.
If you have a scenario where one of your managers is bullying other team members, you might want to have a private discussion with that person to talk about attitude and the feelings of others. Bullying is not going to get the project done and causes other team members to dislike the job. Eventually, if this type of situation is ignored, you won’t have a team left to complete the project or the work quality will be poor. If that doesn’t seem to work out, you may try other avenues, but if the bullying types do not respond, it may be time to find another manager.
Other conflicts may be easier to handle with scheduling changes. If two people do not get along, work out the schedule so that those two have minimal contact. If you have interpersonal conflicts, you may try to resolve it with better communication between the people with the conflicts, or try to work out a compromise, especially if its something as petty as “I can do it better because I’m a man [or woman."
You should have a management plan in place that will eliminate most conflicts before you start on a project, but in the event that you don’t or that a conflict arises that is not covered in the plan, you need to know how to resolve it. There are several ways of resolving conflict once you’ve determined what the root cause is. You can manage the conflict, but that doesn’t always lead to a resolution.
Sometimes, you may try conflict management, and it seems as though the parties involved have come to terms with their differences, but three days later, the conflict is back. Other than firing the instigator, you may try other methods.
If the conflict is of a legal nature, and the victim agreed to a compromise, but that is not working out, you may try formal arbitration or other legal avenues. These are normally used for things like racial prejudices or other interpersonal conflicts.
You could do something as simple as moving one person to another department or group. One of the big things that causes conflict in a team setting is when a manager tries to micromanage everything.
If you know you, as a manager, have a problem with micromanagement, nip it in the bud at the beginning. Ask your team members to send you a status update at the end of the day or end of the week. Hold status meetings every week or every couple of weeks, depending on the length of the project.
In other words, let your team members manage your micromanagement disability for you. This works for other managers as well by just having team members check in frequently. It keeps the micromanaging to a minimum, people are happy that managers are not constantly bugging them, and work gets done on time and with quality.
Conflict management and resolution is an important part of a team manager’s performance in keeping the team on track, able to meet deadlines and working smoothly. Feedback from team members is important. It keeps conflict at a minimum and helps the project manager ensure a successful project.
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