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Project Management: Resolving Project Conflicts
By Larry Gunter

This posting summarizes a suggested analysis of the failure to create a positive project partnership. The project manager is in the implementation stage of the accounting software installation project. The attempts to re-unit the project team members which are contractors have been meet with resistance. The project manager must negotiate with the stakeholders individually and collectively to get the project back on track. The project manager must also have processes in place to ensure the project stays on track until it is complete (Gray & Larson, 2008, pp. 410-411)

Why does project partnerships sometimes fail?

One of the primary reasons project partnerships appeared to fail is the auto-pilot mentality of project manager who set the course of the stakeholders, but then stop monitoring the various stakeholder gauges to determine if the personnel were still working within the guidelines that were originally agreed upon. The challenge with people teams and tasks is that touch points along the project schedule are required in order for the project task to be completed without delay.

A lack of reading and reacting to the signs along the way by the project manager also attributed to the build-up of the team inefficiencies. Frequent reviews and status updates are part of the best practices that are helpful in every outsourced project partnership (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 392). It is the project manager’s responsibility to do something when communication or sequential tasks are not being completed on time. This partnership failed because Karin failed to fulfill the role of mediator for the stakeholders with conflicting issues throughout the time observed. This role is critical like a coach who needs to get a team through a close game with lots of emotions.

The response given to the team by the time things had reached a critical stage should have been given much earlier in the time line (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 411). The failure of the project manager to manage effectively the early signs of conflict between the stakeholders was the primary reason for this project partnership breakdown.

What responses get projects back on track?

The art of negotiating is necessary to get all partners back in line with what was originally agreed upon at the beginning of the project. The project manager must redirect the focus on the problems stated and not on the personalities involved or the preferences stated. The problems must be broken down to the lowest common denominator and addressed by the parties directly involved or other resources if needed. The interests of the stateholders must be identified by listening with intent to understand completely to all sides then determining where any real conflict exists. Once the issues are identified then all parties should agree on what is not conflicting and work to formulate a plan on the next steps that will address any outstanding obstacles to getting the project tasks done on time (Gray & Larson, 2008, pp. 400-403).

Re-evaluating the dependency tasks is necessary. This project went off track when stakeholders determined that other project team tasks were holding up the project flow by not finishing the required task which prevented other tasks to be started and completed on time. This evaluation will help determine if the tasks in question are really dependent on each other or if each task can be done simultaneously to prevent the risk to the timeline (Mochal, 2008).

Re-evaluating the timelines and project tasks assigned is necessary. The project manager should confirm that the project stakeholders can still achieve the output necessary in the time allowed. This project was two months behind schedule when the conflict came to a boiling point. The timeline needs to be reajusted with either a recommendation from the stakeholders to supply additional resources to achieve the original timelines agreed upon or a re-commitment to achieve the objectives with the current resources assigned (Gray & Larson, 2008, pp. 410-411). Another option may be to split the tasks between the various teams to achieve the timeline necessary (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 250).

Process improvements are necessary if a breakdown in communication is still evident after all parties are back to work. The project manager can make adjustments to the communication process to help shorten the time needed to get responses to time sensitive tasks (Mochal, 2008).

Progress tracking using a Gantt chart is an activity that is necessary is to manage the steps agreed up by the stakeholders on a daily basis so that progress can be tracked closely until the project returns to the original completion timeline (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 422). This would include calls and personal visits to project task locations and stakeholders as the work is done. As project manager it would be necessary to manage a change log to track the task variations needed to push the project forward to return to the original timeline (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 397).

The project tasks may require overtime for all stakeholders to gain time back on the project schedule, this would increase the cost of the project and change the overall budget figures, but the cost overrun might be a negotiable aspect to regain the time needed to complete the project (Mochal, 2008).

If the project is too far of track and the resources and budget is non-flexible, a contingency plan should be considered to determine how much of the project can be salvaged. This may require the project team to determine streamlining the project output requirements based on an absolute deadline. This would allow the project to be competed in phases over a longer calender period as the budget would allow (Ponce, 2010).

What actions are necessary to keep a project on the right track?

A collective agreement is necessary around an escalation process that will address future conflicts without derailing the project timeline. A straightforward plan of communication and accountability to a task deadline will help keep a project on track.

Re-allocating flexible tasks to future milestones in the project may help alleviate the requirements on the stakeholders and allow the teams to concentrate on larger tasks that need all the resources allocated to finish by the next project milestone (Brooks, 2010).

Co-locating project stakeholders to facilitate easier handoffs of similar task requirements will help eleviate the conflict around priority task requirements. If not previously agreed upon, having completion incentives for the stakeholders to complete their tasks on-time would help create a sense of urgency (Gray & Larson, 2008, p. 397).

The conflicts noted in this case study are common with projects that are not closely monitored. Quicker response to the indicators noted would have allowed the project manager to address the disharmony among the stakeholders earlier without the more severe consequences that followed. Steps like the re-evaluation of the tasks required, tracking progress daily on a Gantt chart and scheduling overtime will help to restore the project timeline. A clearly defined escalation process, re-allocating tasks to future milestones and co-locating stakeholders with adjoining or similar tasks when possible will help the project stay on task to completion (Gray & Larson, 2008, pp. 410-411).

References:
Brooks, F. (2010). Ketura Tour Step 5: Keeping Projects On-Track.
Gray, C., & Larson, E. (2008). BUS 517: Project management, The managerial process: 2009 custom edition (4th Edition ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Mochal, T. (2008, October 30). 10 ways to get a slipping project back on track.
Ponce, R. (2010, July 7). Project Management: 4 Steps to Get Flagging Projects Back on Track.

Larry Gunter, MBA is a Training Development Consultant at Verizon Wireless. You can read more from Larry on his blog, and you can contact him via his LinkedIn profile.

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