When the same road takes you to different places

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on June 01, 2009 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Project Management

Here are a couple of scenarios you might be familiar with:

SCENARIO 1: You co-own a business with a partner. You both are actively involved. You both want to do well. Unfortunately, you each have different ideas about what will make you successful.

SCENARIO 2: You’re on a multi-member project. Things look like they’re going okay until a few dissenting voices raise some concerns. Now, the project is mired in confusion and debate and people are taking sides.

SCENARIO 3: You’re bringing a product to market. Some are sold on marketing it in one way while others are convinced that a different strategy will be more effective.

When projects or businesses or products sputter, it can be because of competing ideas: Different parties within the situation each have their own idea about how the project should proceed. If that is happening in your project right now, or if you’re about to start something and want to mitigate it if it does happen, here are some ideas to help:

  • Sweat the small stuff! Get a detailed agreement as early as possible to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Don’t be afraid to get into  the “nitty gritty” because that is often where the roots of dissension appear.
  • Schedule review periods (and build in a little extra time) throughout the project and encourage people to use those times to voice challenges and work through them. This will help to make sure issues are voiced at the right time, in the right place, without creating hurt feelings or surprise because someone felt blindsided by someone else’s viewpoint.
  • When disagreement does occur, determine what is actually being disagreed on. Is it a methodology issue (but the project will still arrive at the same end-state)? Is it a vision issue (where the project is likely to take divergent paths, depending on whose vision succeeds)? There could be other reasons for someone to raise a concern or voice disagreement with the initial plan, but these are two common reasons. Methodology issues can be easy to solve as long as the end-vision remains the same. Vision issues are trickier to solve and the dissenter needs to discuss why they agreed with the initial vision but have since changed their mind
  • Remember that not all projects (or product developments or business start-ups) are run as democracies. It can be easy to let the loudest person in the room determine the path of a project but a good project manager recognizes that a project is rarely a democratic situation and they need to accept everyone’s input and seek out the decision maker(s) to make the final call.
  • Remember that all work is based on a “best guess” principle: We move forward based on the best information we have at the time. If new information arises later, it could change the project and you need to engage the team to determine how critical the new information is.

It seems like conflict is embedded into the nature of projects. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does need to be managed carefully and decisions need to be made about how mission critical the conflict is.

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