Categories of Conflict

All stages of the project life cycle appear to be typified by conflict. In Chapter 4, we discussed some of the human factors that require the PM to be skilled at reducing interpersonal tensions. In that chapter we also introduced the work of Thamhain and Wilemon [29, 30] on conflict in the project. These conflicts center on such matters as schedules, priorities, staff and labor requirements, technical factors, administrative procedures, cost estimates, and, of course, personality conflicts. Thamhain and Wilemon collected data on the frequency and magnitude of conflicts of each type during each stage of the project life cycle. Multiplying frequency by a measure of conflict magnitude and adjusting for the proportion of PMs who reported each specific type of conflict, they derived an estimate of the "intensity" of the conflicts (see Tables 4-1 and 4-2). Figure 4-8 illustrates these conflicts and is repeated here as Figure 6-1 for the reader's convenience.

On examination of the data, it appears that the conflicts fall into three fundamentally different categories:

1. Groups working on the project may have different goals and expectations.

2. There is considerable uncertainty about who has the authority to make decisions.

3. There are interpersonal conflicts between people who are parties-at-interest in the project.

Some conflicts reflect the fact that the day-to-day work on projects is usually carried out by many different units of the organization, units that often differ in their objectives and technical judgments. The result is that these units have different expectations about the project, its costs and rewards, its relative importance, and its timing. Conflicts about schedules, intra-and interproject priorities, cost estimates, and staff time tend to fall into this category. At base, they arise because the project manager and the functional managers have very different goals. The PM's concern is the project. The primary interest of the functional manager is the daily operation of his/her function.

Other conflicts reflect the fact that both technical and administrative procedures are important aspects of project management. Uncertainty about who has the authority to make decisions on resource allocation, on administrative procedures,

- Program life

Start -

Figure 6-1: Conflict intensity over the project life cycle. Source: |29|

Toward the end Time of the program

- Program life

Start -

Figure 6-1: Conflict intensity over the project life cycle. Source: |29|

Toward the end Time of the program

—Finish on communication, on technological choices, and on all the other matters affecting the project produces conflict between the PM and the other parties. It is simple enough (and correct) to state that in a matrix organization, the functional manager controls who works on the project and makes technical decisions, while the project manager controls the schedule and flow of work. In practice, in the commonly hectic environment of the project, amid the day's countless little crises faced by project and functional manager alike, the distinction is rarely clear.

Finally, some conflicts reflect the fact that human beings are an integral part of all projects. In an environment that depends upon the cooperation of many persons, it seems inevitable that some personalities will clash. Also, in conflicts between the project and the client, or between senior management and the project, it is the project manager who personifies the project and thus is generally a party to the conflict.

We can categorize these conflicts as conflict over differing goals, over uncertainty about the locus of authority, and between personalities. For the entire array of conflict types and parties-at-interest, see Table 6-1.

The three types of conflict seem to involve the parties-at-interest to the project in identifiable ways. The different goals and objectives of the project manager, senior management, and functional managers are a major and constant source of conflict. For example, senior management (at times, arbitrarily) is apt to fix all three parameters of the project—time, cost, and performance—and then to assume that the PM will be able to achieve all the preset targets. As we will see in Chapter 7 on budgeting, underestimation of cost and time is a natural consequence of this prac-

Tabic 6-1 Project Conflicts by Category and Parties-at-Interest

Parties-at-Interest

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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