By Brad Egeland | Follow on Twitter!
Resolving internal project team conflict is one thing. Project managers hate to face it - whether it is their own disagreement of head bashing with a project staff member or two or more team members in conflict with each other. Either way, it's messy and must be handled as quickly and seamlessly as possible so as not to disrupt the project's forward momentum and it is the project manager's responsibility to take that action. Once the project customer senses there is an issue, then customer confidence and satisfaction can take a nose-dive. He or she becomes concerned about team cohesiveness and communication as well as the project delivery team's ability to be successful on the project.
Now consider a conflict between the customer delivery team and the project customer. This conflict is bigger and can't be kept from the customer because it involves them and can very quickly cause issues with the sponsor's perception of the delivery team and their level of satisfaction with the project and delivery team performance.
I'm not going to consider what issues these could be as the possibilities are endless. Let's just say that hopefully these rarely, if ever happen, are going to be project dependent and need to be acted upon immediately. What we will consider here are some generic ways to work with your team and the client to wrong the right or easy the tensions.
Stage a One-on-One with the Project Sponsor
No matter where or at what level on the project team the discourse has originated, you should conduct a one-on-one call or face-to-face discussion with the project sponsor. Give and get as much background knowledge on the issue as you possibly can and then take that information away to determine next actions. Those next actions likely should include one or more of the following three activities...
Conduct a Mid-Project Lessons Learned Session
You can halt the presses and conduct a lessons learned session at the nearest possible pause point in the project. The sooner the better, obviously. It isn't so much about learning lessons as is it as about discussing issues or disagreements, but it may be a good time to review both. As the project manager, be ready to call the session, facilitate the session and drive the session productively. Stay on topic and keep tempers from flaring...the last thing anyone needs at this point is for a meeting like this to make the situation worse...not better.
Offer Something Free
We aren't discussing the circumstances, but if giving something away for free will help smooth the situation over, by all means do so. Every client I've ever worked with appreciates an occasional discount or a bit extra work for what they paid for. It can quickly end a dispute without anyone needing to admit or prove a wrong. You are being the big person here and offering to end it all with a complimentary gesture – whether that's a small change order for no price or a new report the customer is considering. Through it in... case closed.
Provide Backing Documentation
This should be a last resort option. Why? Because no one likes a know-it-all and this one reeks of ‘I told you so’ if it's a situation where you need to present backing information to prove you're right and that your customer is wrong. But sometimes, in order to move forward or to not be held accountable if it is a monetary issue, you have no choice. If it doesn't involve money or a reason the project is failing, then I would not use this option...it can often only serve to deepen the divide between project team and client. Sometimes it is best to leave it behind.
The bottom line is this...damage control is critical because you are in mid-project delivery mode, the customer is upset or you are at odds with the customer and that needs to end now. The only thing that can get the project moving productively forward is to get whatever issue this is behind all of you. And that starts with action from the project manager.
Can you share a specific instance where you've been at odds with the project customer over something...anything...and the steps you followed to resolve it?
Questions or comments? Feel free to share them below!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brad is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.