How Do You Handle Conflict in Project Management?

Project conflict resolution. At some point or another, it’s something every project manager has to deal with. After all, when time is short, budgets are tight, and expectations are still high, there’s bound to be conflicting views and opinions among project team members. Even the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) recognizes that “managing conflict is one of the biggest challenges a project manager faces.” 

So, how do you handle conflict in project management, and what are some best practices for project conflict resolution? Read on to find out!

What is project conflict?

Before we get into strategies for project conflict resolution, it’s important to understand what we mean when we talk about conflict in project management. 

Although we often equate the term “conflict” with a physical battle between armed forces, the truth is that we encounter conflict in our everyday lives. Collins defines the term as “serious disagreement and argument about something important.” That means that any dispute, debate, or contention between you and a spouse, a child, or even a co-worker can be considered a conflict. 

Based on this definition, conflict in project management can take many different forms. In-fighting between team members who disagree on a creative vision, arguments with upper management about expectations and timelines, or even spats with third-party vendors are all prime examples of project conflict. 

What are the common causes of conflict?

Typical causes of conflict within project-based organizations include:

  • Opposing stakeholder interests
    Project conflict can arise at the highest levels of the company before the project ever gets off the ground when stakeholders have opposing views and interests. For instance, the production manager may advocate for a simple, easy-to-manufacture product, while the marketing director pushes for a more complex product that offers extensive customization by customers. This type of conflict must be resolved in order to get a unified vision of the project before work can even commence. 
  • Shifts in project scope
    One major source of project conflict is a surprise shift in scope. Nothing is more frustrating for project managers and their teams than putting in long hours on a new project only to receive word that the scope has changed, thereby negating some or all of the hard work that’s already been done.
  • Schedule changes
    Much like a scope shift, last-minute schedule changes can throw a major wrench in pre-planned project timelines and lead to stress, frustration, and conflict between PMs and stakeholders or the project sponsor. 
  • Declined requests
    Another common source of conflict in project management is declined requests. When a team member's change request for additional support or resources is denied, it can greatly impact morale and lead to conflict that carries forward into future projects as well. 
  • Personal differences
    Oftentimes, conflict is simply born from clashing personalities. We’ve all worked with someone who rubbed us the wrong way, which makes it all too easy to disagree with their point of view or dismiss their opinions outright.

How do you handle conflict in project management?

Knowing the root cause of the conflict is half the battle; the other half is resolving it. Let’s now look at some strategies for conflict resolution in project management.

  • Confrontation
    While confrontation may conjure negative connotations, in this context it’s more about face-to-face communication and problem solving. Here, the parties in conflict sit down to hash out their differences in order to come to a resolution. Confrontation is a viable strategy when there is sufficient time and a baseline level of trust between the parties experiencing the conflict. 
  • Compromise
    Compromise, or “give and take,” involves both parties bargaining in order to reach a mutually acceptable resolution. Compromising is typically a better option when you don’t have the time needed for confrontation. 
  • Accommodation
    According to the PMBOK, accommodation involves “emphasizing areas of agreement rather than areas of difference; conceding one’s position to the needs of others to maintain harmony and relationships.” Put another way, the accommodation strategy is akin to “choosing your battles.” 

    Sometimes, when time is of the essence and the resolution does not put the project in jeopardy, simply accommodating the opposing party to resolve the conflict is the best way forward. 
  • Authority
    In some circumstances, the best option is to exercise your authority as project manager in order to move past the conflict for the sake of project delivery. Then, post-project, you can revisit the conflict and seek a more positive and permanent solution. 

How Wrike helps avoid causes of conflict in project management

Of course, avoiding conflict in the first place is easier than dealing with conflict once it has reached a boiling point. Because it’s built for effective collaboration, Wrike helps project teams avoid common causes of conflict by making it easy to communicate with team members, stakeholders, and sponsors throughout the entire project life cycle. 

At the end of the day, conflict within teams and organizations is bound to happen. But you can prevent unnecessary conflict with clear communication, strategic planning, and full transparency along the entire project chain. To see how Wrike can help you streamline projects, improve communication and transparency, and avoid conflict wherever possible, give it a try starting today with a free two-week trial!

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