How to Successfully Weed the Garden

It doesn’t matter if the project started out as an apple, or transformed into an orange; the project has conflict in it now. The good project manager employs his or her listening and note taking skills along with probing questions to ferret out the root cause of the conflict between two or more project participants. Now everyone knows why there is conflict, and as they said in the cartoon, “Knowing is half the battle”. The other half is how you move forward, and that will make all the difference in the outcome of the project.

Seeds of dissent grow into choking weeds on a project and threaten to kill off any successes. However, this doesn’t need to be the case. Once a source of conflict has been identified a skilled project manager can work to a resolution that appeals to all parties and makes the project better. This is done by openly laying out the root cause of concern for all parties, engaging all project participants in planning solutions for these root causes, and actively working along with all project parties to implement the agreed upon solutions.

Conflict starts between two or more project participants as a turf way in its most basic form. One group is worried the project will infringe, negatively affect, or adversely change something about how that group works. The other group is concerned the resolution that either appears obvious or was proposed with do the same to them. The first step to allowing conflict to improve an orange project is to make sure all sources of these worries or concerns are openly identified to all project participants. The project manager can know they have identified these root causes of concern because the project manager must obtain agreement from those parties that they have identified the problem before it is presented to the project group.

Laying these seeds of conflict out in an open forum causes accountability to be publicly assigned as the affected groups openly agree what was presented is in fact the source of their worry. This is sometimes difficult to obtain because once the project manager has this any solution that addresses these worries must be accepted or the concerned party will appear unreasonable. For people who are reluctant to accept accountability openly this presents difficult terrain for the project manager to negotiate.

Once the root causes of the seeds of discourse are out in the open the group must now work toward a solution. The solution that is envisioned must keep two things in mind: the solution must solve the seeds of conflict and stay within the scope of the project. These two goals are often at odds with one another. However, any solution presented cannot reduce the project resources below levels that can still accomplish the project goals, but the project will not move forward until this conflict is resolved.

To facilitate solutions all project members must be involved in the resolution process so any resources proposed or committed are understood as used. If any project members are left out they may not be aware of resource shortfalls that might affect them, which could cause them to miss deadlines. Additionally, these neutral parties can help defuse tensions by lending the voice of reason to ideas that solve the problem within the scope of the project but are not ideal to one or more parties. The public forum in which these discussions take place help resolutions move forward, rather than allow the seeds to fester and grow in the dark to the determent of the project.

With the seeds of conflict identified, and a plan agreed to by all parties the implementation of that plan is now at hand. The project manager must keep these plans in the forefront of project discussions as the resolution is worked through. The danger is that groups who may have had to compromise some of the things they wanted in the solution do not work as diligently toward completion as they should. In these cases the project manager avoids this problem by continuing to update everyone with current status on the resolution. When all the project participants see the proposed solutions are kept in the open they are worked as agreed; supporting the project goals as they are resolving the seeds of dissent.

When the seeds of dissent are openly addressed, and resolutions that have been agreed to by all parties in a public forum are implemented, an orange project gets stronger. The project team comes together in unity having survived a difficult process, which gives them a unified feeling of success. The unified project team then takes more ownership of the project outcome because they feel more invested in its success. The successful implementation of the solution strengthens the project by also strengthening the team, which makes for a more positive outcome.

Next we will add The Banana to the Fruit Basket Project Management bowl.