Conflicts

Introduction

In discussing the project environment, we have purposely avoided discussion of what may be its single most important characteristic: conflicts. Opponents of project management assert that the major reason why many companies avoid changeover to a project management organizational structure is either fear or an inability to handle the resulting conflicts. Conflicts are a way of life in a project structure and can generally occur at any level in the organization, usually as a result of conflicting objectives.

The project manager has often been described as a conflict manager. In many organizations the project manager continually fights fires and crises evolving from conflicts, and delegates the day-today responsibility of running the project to the project team members. Although this is not the best situation, it cannot always be prevented, especially after organizational restructuring or the initiation of projects requiring new resources.

The ability to handle conflicts requires an understanding of why they occur. Four questions can be asked, the answers to which should be beneficial in handling, and possibly preventing, conflicts.

• What are the project objectives and can they be in conflict with other projects?

• Why do conflicts occur?

• How do we resolve conflicts?

• Is there any type of preliminary analysis that could identify possible conflicts before they occur?

7.1— Objectives

Each project identified as such by management must have at least one objective. The objectives of the project must be made known to all project personnel and all managers, at every level of the organization. If this information is not communicated accurately, then it is entirely possible that upper-level managers, project managers, and functional managers may all have a different interpretation of the ultimate objective, a situation that invites conflicts to occur. As an example, company X has been awarded a $100,000 government contract for surveillance of a component that appears to be fatiguing. Top management might view the objective of this project to be discovering the cause of the fatigue and eliminating it in future component production. This might give company X a "jump" on the competition. The division manager might just view it as a means of keeping people employed, with no follow-on possibilities. The department manager can consider the objective as either another job that has to be filled, or a means of establishing new surveillance technology. The department manager, therefore, can staff the necessary positions with any given degree of expertise, depending on the importance and definition of the objective.

Projects are established with objectives in mind. Project objectives must be:

• Specific, not general

• Not overly complex

• Measurable, tangible, and verifiable

• Appropriate level, challenging

• Realistic and attainable

• Established within resource bounds

• Consistent with resources available or anticipated

• Consistent with organizational plans, policies, and procedures

Unfortunately, the above characteristics are not always evident, especially if we consider that the project might be unique to the organization in question. As an example, research and development projects sometimes start out general, rather than specific. Research and development objectives are reestablished as time goes on because the initial objective may not be attainable. As an example, company Y believes that they can develop a high-energy rocket-motor propellant. A proposal is submitted to the government, and, after a review period, the contract is awarded. However, as is the case with all R&D projects, there always exists the question of whether the objective is attainable within time, cost, and performance constraints. It might be possible to achieve the initial objective, but at an incredibly high production cost. In this case, the specifications of the propellant (i.e., initial objectives) may be modified so as to align them closer to the available production funds.

Reestablishment of objectives occurs most frequently during the definition phase of system/project development. If resources are not available, then alternatives must be considered. This type of analysis exists during the initial stages of feasibility studies, construction, design, and estimates, and new facility and equipment purchases.

Once the total project objective is set, subobjectives are defined in order that cost and performance may be tracked. (This procedure will be described in later chapters.) Subobjectives are a vital link in establishing proper communications between the project and functional managers. In a project environment, employees are evaluated according to accomplishment rather than according to how they spend their time. Since the project manager has temporarily assigned personnel, many of whom may have never worked for him either part-time or full-time, it is vital that employees have clearly defined objectives and subobjectives. In order to accomplish this effectively, without wasting valuable time, employees should have a part in setting their own objectives and subobjectives.

Many projects are directed and controlled using a management-by-objective (MBO) approach based upon effective project/functional communications and working relations as stated above. The philosophy of management by objectives:

• Is proactive rather than reactive management

• Is results oriented, emphasizing accomplishment

• Focuses on change to improve individual and organizational effectiveness

Management by objectives is a systems approach for aligning project goals with organizational goals, project goals with the goals of other subunits of the organization, and project goals with individual goals. Furthermore, management by objectives can be regarded as a:

• Systems approach to planning and obtaining project results for an organization

• Strategy of meeting individual needs at the same time that project needs are met

• Method of clarifying what each individual and organizational unit's contribution to the project should be

MBO professes to have a framework that can promote the effective utilization of time and other project resources. Many organizations, however, do not utilize the MBO philosophy. Whether or not MBO is utilized, project objectives must be set.

• If you do not have the right objectives, you may not have any idea of whether you are on the right road.

• Without objectives it is difficult to measure results against prior expectations.

• Objectives are utilized to determine individual goals that will provide maximum effectiveness of the whole.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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