Conflict Resolution to Project Success

This article examines five strategies for solving common disagreements: confronting, dominating, compromising, accommodating, and avoiding. Pay attention to the literature review.


Framework of the experience

During the first semester of the 2013-2014 course year, students in their last year of various Industrial Engineering fields of study were given the opportunity to carry out a real engineering project, consisting of the planning and design of a sewage water treatment plant. The location, as well as the size of the plant, had to be backed up with a viability plan which needed the prior approval of the sponsor (professor) before properly beginning the engineering project.

The 350 students, spread out among 5 classes, were organized into teams made up of students from the 8 major fields of study offered at the ETSII-UPM (organization, automatic, electronic, energy, mechanical, construction, electric, chemistry and materials), given the fact that the Projects Course is considered to be transversal and a mandatory subject matter for all students in their last year. At the onset of the project, each team, made up of between 6-8 members, had to choose a project leader, whose mission was to ensure the success of the project (the highest grade or qualification), being the sole liaison between the team and the sponsor, assigning tasks and responsibilities to the rest of the team, and guaranteeing that the deadlines were met, all while upholding the required levels of quality.

The projects had to progress in such a way so as to coincide with the classes taught regarding the general theory of project management. The theory included scope management, timing and cost, as well as boosting the use of a series of competencies according to the ABET accreditation project in which ETSII-UPM is involved.

One thing that extremely enhanced the experience from an academic point of view was that about 35% of the students enrolled in the course were already involved in corporate internships. This gave me them a more critical and more authentic vision of project management.

During the second phase of the research, the gathered data was contrasted against a panel of 17 Senior project managers, coming from international consultancies (Accenture, Everis, Management Solutions, BCG, Indra and KPMG), who had a minimum of 6 years' experience in project management, and a maximum of up to 13 years.

Data collection

For the data collection, a weighted matrix survey was developed, including a previous set of questions that served as contextualization for all of the students. This was carried out in an anonymous fashion, with the exception of the PMs who were duly identified. With this contextualization in mind, they were asked about their role, their team, their gender, if the idea of conflicts was something negative or positive in their minds, and about the moment that the conflicts arose.

The matrix consisted of 12 rows in which different conflict sources were proposed (Table 1), all taken from the literature.

Table 1. Sources of conflict.

Related with
People -focused Incompatible values and needs, and differences in personalities.
Unresolved Prior conflict
Unresolved prior conflicts
Issue focused, task issues
Objectives and performance requirements of the project
Goals and priorities
Diverging goals and priorities
Authority based
Not clear authority defined
Administrative/behaviour regulations
Organization management structure
Role incompatibility
Perception that an individual assigned role is incompatible
Organization differentiation
Different individuals perceiving the same thing differently
Task interdependency
Dependency between others to complete one's work
Communication and information deficiencies Poor and ineffective communication
Culture Different cultural values and norms
Environmentally reduced stress High levels of stress as well as unresolved and mounting interpersonal tensions due to high uncertainty

The rows were crossed by 20 columns where four gradual alternatives were disaggregated, applying each one of the five strategies (Table 2) put forward regarding conflict management proposed on the literature.

Table 2. Conflict management strategies.

Conflict management strategy

All data was gathered between June 2013 and March 2014.

Data analysis

In the first phase, we screened the incomplete surveys, given the fact that the format that we needed to carry them out in had to be on paper. That left us with a total sample of 275 students and 17 professionals. After gathering and standardizing the data, we thoroughly collated said data applying descriptive statistics, not only aggregate (strategies and sources) but also disaggregate (roles and first choice).

Afterwards, in order to assess the possible existence of data dependency among the statistics, a contrast of the following hypotheses was carried out:

H0I : The conflict management strategy choice is unrelated to the role.

H0II : The conflict management strategy choice is unrelated to the conflict source.

After this, a contrast was conducted between students and a control group of PMs professionals, to obtain independent assessments that reinforce the conclusions.

And lastly, a multiple regression analysis was carried out in order to determine the possible relationship between the different conflict management strategies and the success of the project. However, it was concluded that an irrefutable result could not be attained (the adjusted R-square indicator), partly due to the weight of subjectivity that the mark suggests.