Monday, September 19, 2016

PMP Protein: Conflict, Conflict Management and Conflict Management Techniques

By Saurabh Singhal, PMP

As per the Oxford dictionary, conflict is “A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one”.  Going by the definition, it looks like conflict is something which should be avoided and can cause serious damages if not done so. 

On the contrary, conflict is good in a project environment since it brings different perspectives of dealing with things! It assists the Project Manager to analyze the things better and help him or her do certain things like decomposition, time and cost estimation etc. in a better way. However, if the conflict is not handled in a proper and smooth manner, it could jeopardize the project and its objective. 

It leaves us with so many questions like how much of conflict is good for the project, who is responsible for dealing and resolving the conflict, and what are the ways to deal with the conflict. Let’s take them one by one in a question-answer format.

1)    Is conflict good for the project?
Conflict is good for the project if it is managed properly. Successful conflict management results in greater productivity, positive working environment and healthy relationships.

2)    Can conflict be totally avoided in a project?
According to the PMBOK® guide 5th edition, “conflict is inevitable in a project environment.” It is bound to happen in a project since project is supposed to be completed within the constraints of time, cost, scope, quality, risk and customer satisfaction. 

3)    Who has the responsibility to resolve the conflict?
Project team members who are engaged in the conflict are initially responsible for the resolution. However, if the conflict escalates, it is the responsibility of the Project Manager to facilitate and resolve the conflict.

4)    What are the consequences of improper conflict resolution?

  • Proper conflict management has its advantages. In fact, improper management has its own consequences, few of which are:
  • Low team morale
  • Impact on authority of the project manager
  • More personal clashes
  • Low productivity and efficiency
  • Low quality work

5)    What are the sources of conflict?
There are various sources of conflict starting from the most common source i.e. Schedule to the least common i.e. Personality. This is shown in the figure below. 

Figure – Various Sources of Conflict

6)    What are the methods to deal with conflict?
PMBOK guide 5th edition suggests five methods to deal with conflict.
  • Withdraw/Avoid:
    In this conflict resolution technique, the Project manager tries to avoid the conflict or simply retreat. He will wait for the issue to be resolved either by the involved parties themselves or within some time itself.

    This method can be applied when the stakes are low or when the issue is not worth investing the PM’s time or when the issue is likely to disappear on its own after sometime.
  • Smooth/Accommodate:
    In this technique, the project manager tries to smooth the situation by finding the areas of agreement. The project manager concentrates on what is agreeable to those involved in the conflict and avoids getting into too many details.

    This method can be applied when there is lack of time and the manager may need a temporary resolution with less time.
  • Compromise/Reconcile:
    The project manager takes input from both the parties and tries to make a compromise. Both the parties gain something and lose something. In other words, compromising is a “Middle Path” chosen by the manager as a resolution.

    This method can be used when both the parties involved in the conflict want to win or when both the parties are equally important or when a temporary solution is needed quickly.
    This method is a Lose-Lose situation for both the parties involved.
  • Force/Direct:
    Here the manager pushes one’s viewpoint onto the other. This is a Win-Lose situation and it may demoralize the team.

    This method is good when stakes are high and an immediate solution is required or when the relationship is not that important.
    It is always advisable that the project manager should follow up with the team and explain why that particular solution was taken. This may alleviate the situation to some extent.
  • Collaborate/Problem Solve:
    In this method, the project manager listens to multiple viewpoints, discusses the issues with all the parties involved and come to a solution agreeable upon by all. This technique is considered a Win-Win approach and it enhances team’s commitment towards the project.

    This method is good when the people involved in the conflict are important or when the issue requires time and multiple viewpoints or when the team members are comfortable with each other.
7) What are the factors that influence which method to choose to deal with conflict?
There are several factors that influence the conflict resolution technique. Some of them are
  • Importance of stakeholders involved in the conflict
  • Magnitude or intensity of conflict
  • Time available for investing in resolution
  • Motivation to resolve conflict on a long-term or short-term basis

So, which is the best method to deal with conflict?

PMBOK guide does not recommend any specific technique to be used in all the situations since it depends on the situation and the stakeholders involved in the conflict. However, collaborate or problem solving is the most preferred technique as it emphasizes on open discussion, rationale thinking and consensus among those involved.

For the PMI®-PMP® exam, conflict management is an important topic and questions frequently come on it in the exam. Also, you can apply these techniques in live projects. 

Written by Saurabh Singhal:

          Saurabh Singhal is a Business Analyst in ERP domain and works with CGI, India as a Lead Analyst. He is a certified PMP from Project Management Institute (PMI). He is passionate about various aspects of project management and loves a good debate on topics that varies from Project Management to Business Analysis to Software Development methodologies. Currently he is leading the business analysis and project management efforts for an upgrade project to use a standard Human resource system across all its geographical locations. In his free time, he loves to travel, and in fact, maintains a blog on it. He can be reached at  and connected via LinkedIn.

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    Footnote: This is a new initiative taken to share the PMP exam topics and tips by fellow professionals and colleagues who have cracked the exam. The series will cover a range of topics on the PMP exam and various aspects of project management. I am thankful to Saurabh in writing the first article in this series, which I believe will enrich others in their journey for the PMI-PMP exam. 


    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    2. Thank you for sharing useful information on Conflict Management


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