Chartered Project Professional – Competence 3: Conflict Management

If you are already a project professional with a track record of managing complex projects, programmes or portfolios and can demonstrate experience in 10 mandatory and two elective competencies, then you could be ready to become a Chartered Project Professional. You will also require advanced technical knowledge and understanding of the theory of current practices and methods; and be committed to continuing professional development and ethical working practices. Conflict Management is one of the ten mandatory competencies for those hoping to gain a Chartered Project Professional accreditation.

Potential candidates must be able to demonstrate experience that satisfies the specific Professional Practice assessment criteria. They will also at interview need to demonstrate their advanced technical knowledge and understanding against the stated Technical Knowledge assessment criteria.

Chartered Project Professional Practice Assessment Criteria

With reference to the projects you will have described in your project overviews, you will need to demonstrate 4 out of 8 of the following criteria

  1. Take a proactive approach to identify and address potential conflict situations which may impact on a project;
  2. Take an impartial approach to investigate the cause of conflict;
  3. Evaluate and implement conflict management measures including the role of colleagues and specialists;
  4. Monitor the extent to which conflict management measures are successful;
  5. Support others to resolve conflict;
  6. Respond appropriately and promptly to conflict situations where intervention is required;
  7. Resolve conflict giving due respect to the views, opinions and concerns of all parties.

Take a proactive approach to identify and address potential conflict situations which may impact on a project;

Here you need to describe how you identified a situation in which you took preempted prevent the outbreak of conflict. Maybe you realised that the customer or user was not going the be happy about a feature, or access to a site might cause issues with the local residents. Identify how you reduced the level of conflict by managing stakeholders expectations or changing the approach to the project. Maybe by arranging a meeting at which users could prioritise requirements or by organising alternative site access.

Take an impartial approach to investigating the cause of conflict;

Often conflict will divide a project into factions. This is especially true when a contract is involved. Seeing both sides of a situation not only is more likely to uncover the cause of the conflict but strengthened the quality of the overall decision-making process. By impartial investigating the courses of conflict, without taking sides, the project manager is much more likely to reach a sound recommendation and be able to justify this decision to each faction and influential decision makers. In this section you need to describe a situation in which you have impartially investigated a conflict. Possible areas to conder are contentious change control issues or conflicts over the acceptance of products.

Evaluate and implement conflict management measures including the role of colleagues and specialists;

Often conflict needs to be resolved by formal processes. This can include establishing management processes to conder and address conflicts. Typically these might include resources planning meeting in an organisation to resolve conflicts over the resources between projects. Or a change control board to approved proposed changes to the project baseline. Typically these formalised internal processes are chared by senior management who have the authority to take the appropriate decisions. If the conflict is a dispute between two parties who are in contract, then a number of options exist to involve third parties in conflict resolution. These include mediation, adjudication, arbitration or litigation

  1. Mediation is a consensual process off dispute resolution in which a third party mediator, appointed by the parties to the dispute, assists in the negotiated resolution of the dispute.
  2. In adjudication, the decision is the responsibility of a third party adjudicator selected by the parties to the dispute. Adjudication decisions are binding unless and until they are revised by subsequent arbitration or litigation after practical completion, or by agreement between the parties (hence the term ‘pay now argue later’). There is no right of appeal and limited right to resist enforcement. Generally, adjudicators do not have the power to award costs (other than their own fees and expenses). Adjudication must adhere to strict timescales and typically takes up to 28 days.
  3. Arbitration is a procedure in which both sides agree to let an impartial third party, the arbitrator, decide the case. The arbitrator may be a lawyer, or may be an expert in the field of the dispute, or in some cases, an arbitration panel. The arbitrator’s decision, known as an award, is legally binding and can be enforced through the courts; there is no appeal. Arbitrators have the power to ascertain facts rather than just listen to submissions, and to order costs.
  4. Litigation is the process of engaging in or contesting legal action in court as a means of resolving a dispute. The court is able to enforce or determine one party’s rights or obligations.

Ideally, you will be able to describe a situation were you have implement conflict management measures either internally or with third-party suppliers.

Monitor the extent to which conflict management measures are successful;

It may seem that the conflict in a situation has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction and everything is now fine. However, how can you know that this conflict will not re-emerge later, or the resentment caused by a poorly explained decision will not create further conflict later in the project? This is why it’s is important to monitor the situation carefully. Monitoring may include follow-up meeting to determine how the parties are doing, keep your eyes and ears open; listening how team members interact and the language they use can highlight unresolved conflict, monitoring the quality of work can indicate it the people involved have accepted the outcome. Poor quality work may indicate an underlying dissatisfaction with the resolution of the conflict.

Ideally, in your application, you should include situations were you have proactively monitored the success of conflict management measures.

Support others to resolve conflict;

Here they are looking or situations in which you have worked with others to resolve the conflict.  This can involve encouraging parties in conflict to address each other early and directly, leaving conflict to fester is never a good decision. We can encourage the parties to focus on common interests and work to resolve their differences in order to move forward. Taking sides will not help resolve the conflict, in this situation it is important to remain impartial. Most important do not be drawn into conflicts in which you are not a part and do not escalate the conflict by giving it undue attention. Finally, it best to treat both parties in conflict with respect.

Respond appropriately and promptly to conflict situations where intervention is required;

Here you should describe a situation in which you had to act quickly to resolve a potential conflict. Early intervention can often prevent a conflict escalating. The steps in early intervention involve understanding the context for the conflict because first impressions can often be misleading. Explore the source of conflict, trying to establish the source of the conflict or problem. Once this is identified we can seek a resolution, many conflicts result from a simple misunderstanding which can be easily resolved with further information or guidance. For example, a stakeholder may have misinterpreted a risk analysis for a project as indicated the project is likely to fail. However, some have a more fundamental impact on the project objectives and need to be considered carefully. For example, a user may have a fundamental issue with the requirements specification for a project. You should be ready to discuss a situation in which you have acted quickly resolve a conflict.

Resolve conflict giving due respect to the views, opinions and concerns of all parties.

This objective repeats the theme of acting impartiality when faced with conflict. They are looking for examples where you have dealt with parties with respect, even though you do not agree or accept their point of view or opinions. It is all too easy to become emotionally engaged in one side of a conflict and disrespect the other parties. This results in the other party feeling that their point of view is not being listened to and often results in a further escalation of the conflict. Here you need to identify situations in which you have worked with other parties, even if you disagree with their point of view, to resolve the conflict.

Chartered Project Professional Technical Knowledge Assessment Criteria

For Route 3 candidates, potential candidates must be able to demonstrate their ability to:

  1. Evaluate positive and negative conflict in the context of a project;
  2. Critically evaluate the causes of conflict;
  3. Analyse ways in which to effectively manage conflict in the context of a project;
  4. Evaluate the extent to which conflict could be a tool to improve performance;
  5. Evaluate the methods and techniques which could be used to manage and resolve conflict including monitoring their effectiveness;
  6. Evaluate the importance of objectivity and impartiality when resolving conflict.

Considering each of these in turn

Evaluate positive and negative conflict in the context of a project;

Conflict is not just negative. Conflict can lead to creativity and increased motivation, provided it resolved in a satisfactory way. Un-resolved conflict can be very corrosive to team motivation. By this objective, they mean that you can identify and assess the impact of conflict on the delivery of a project. For example, disagreements over a design may result in a new approach that is a better overall solution.

Critically evaluate the causes of conflict;

Critically evaluate means to understand the root cause of the conflict. Whilst the root cause of conflict is often pressure related to the project success criteria (time, cost, scope, resources) it takes people to generate conflict so it can often be triggered by different working styles, unspoken assumptions, conflicting perceptions, differing personal values, emotions such as stress, fear and uncertainty, conflicting roles, miscommunication.

Analyse ways in which to effectively manage conflict in the context of a project;

Literature (Pinto 1995) recognised the four stages in the conflict resolution process as frustration that the conflict has emerged by either party, conceptualisation and orientation including understanding the context for the conflict what are the environmental triggers for the conflict, this could be some external political pressure or constraint imposed on the project. Interaction involving exploring the conflict from different perspectives and discussion of the conflict between the relevant parties. Finally, outcome in which the conflict can be resolved or not with varying degrees of satisfaction. There five conflict-handling styles which are recognised and these include competing, accommodating, avoiding, compromising, and collaborating as described by the Thomas and Kilmann (1974) model.

Evaluate the extent to which conflict could be a tool to improve performance

Conflict, if carefully managed can improve the performance of a project. For example clearly communicating dissatisfaction at poor progress can lead to motivation to do better next time. Likewise reporting bad news to senior management is never a welcome task, but it’s a necessary step to get the organisation to concentrate on what needs to be done to deliver the project,

Evaluate the methods and techniques which could be used to manage and resolve conflict including monitoring their effectiveness;

Pinto also describes three main methods for resolving conflict: avoiding the conflict because it’s not vital to the performance of the project and can be avoided without too many issues, defusing the conflict by implementing an alternative approach so for example giving into to small request from a customer in order to focus a negotiation on the main point, or using confrontation to draw out the causes of conflict, usually through the use of problem-solving meetings

Evaluate the importance of objectivity and impartiality when resolving the conflict.

Objectivity is the ability to be truly independent of the situation and free from the subjectivity caused by emotions, perception or imagination. In many projects, it is hard for the project manager to remain objective in the face of conflict. They are often emotionally and financially invested in the success of the project. This lack of objectivity can get in the way of conflict resolutions. Impartiality means having am evenhandedness or fair-mindedness approach to the conflict. In principle, decisions should be taken based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons. Again this can be very difficult for project manages because they often have a vested interest in the views of one of the parties involved in the project. Nevertheless, the principles here are that good decision taking in a situation of conflict is based on a fact-based and unemotional point of view.

Learn more about how to apply for chartered project professional at one of our application workshops.

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