Managing conflicts is one of the soft skills every project manager needs to have. By nature, no one likes conflicts. That is why conflict management is not so popular among us. Both young and experienced project managers do not like handling conflicts of any kind.
In real life project management however, many projects have conflicts. Conflicts have to be dealt with properly to prevent escalation. Some projects have internal conflicts (within the project team), some have external (Business-to-Business, B2B) conflicts, and some projects have both. B2B conflicts can have big financial consequences if not dealt with properly. Following are two areas that are often a source of B2B conflicts.
Two Conflict Prone Areas
Many of the B2B conflicts on a project are about money, often about money charged for extra work. Managing such a conflict starts with proper documentation of the agreed upon scope of work. Often the project scope is seen as a document you use to make your schedule and estimate. Of course, that is true, but the scope document should also be use as a reference to detect deviations. Discipline yourself in doing this. Then as you detect a deviation, discuss it. The other party may not see it as you do, but the sooner you address the conflict, the more likely you are to solve it. Resolving an extra work conflict once the work has been done, is very difficult. Once the work is done, the paying party often becomes defensive . Early detection is the key here.
Another area of conflict is late delivery of services or products. These conflicts are often caused by agreeing on unrealistic schedules. If you are the one who is submitting the schedule, make sure it is realistic. With a realistic schedule in one hand and the scope in the other hand, you can easily discuss and defend any deviation on the schedule. Late delivery of services or products can be a big liability. Having a realistic schedule and managing that schedule is the key here. No point in trying to defend an unrealistic schedule.
Be honest with yourself and with the other party. Professional integrity builds your reputation as a trustworthy project manager.
Since we cannot prevent conflicts, and we do not want conflicts to get out of hand, conflict management boils down to conflict mitigation. Do that by detecting and addressing conflicts as soon as possible and by being honest with yourself and with the other party.