Project Management Institute

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and project management

the need for an ADR model for project success


The purpose of this paper is to explore the merits of applying alternative dispute resolution (ADR) techniques to project management conflicts. Facilitation, negotiation, mediation, and a role of an ombudsman are explored, providing a context for when each technique is appropriate to use. These techniques are then applied to common conflicts seen in projects. Each conflict is explained within the project management context, as well as brief suggestions on how project managers could mitigate each situation. The result yields the ADR Project Management Model, a matrix depicting the relationship between the level of conflict, the type of conflict, and the suggested ADR technique to use to resolving the conflict. Case studies are then provided for each level of intensity to guide the readers on application of the model to different situations.


Whether building an electric power plant, a skyscraper, or a telecommunications site, project managers are needed to ensure projects stay on schedule and budget. Project managers also manage communications between and among both external and internal stakeholders. Amid all of these activities, project managers have the defined role of responsibility for the ultimate success or failure of the project, which includes managing conflict when it arises. Their ability to multitask and juggle all of these activities is paramount, and Project Management Institute's (PMI) framework and global standards can help facilitate the successful completion of a project.

Project Management Institute (PMI)

PMI is recognized “as one of the world's largest professional membership associations, with half a million members and credential holders in more than 185 countries (PMI, 2011, electronic source). Being a not-for-profit organization, PMI creates standards and certifications that are globally recognized, providing research, collaboration, and professional development opportunities. The framework and global standards are documented in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (PMI, 2008), which can be used as one of the bases of the certification exam taken to becoming a certified Project Management Professional (PMP)®.

The sixth Knowledge Area, Project Human Resource Management, which falls into the Planning and Executing Process Groups, is where the PMBOK® Guide (2008) addresses standards for conflict. Specifically, Section 9.3 states, “Conflict is inevitable in a project environment (p. 239).” The PMBOK® Guide (2008) asserts that conflict is inevitable; however, it does not provide much guidance to project managers to managing conflict. Project managers are considered responsible for “facilitating resolution,” yet no strategies, techniques, or processes are outlined or explored (p. 239). The world of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and conflict management has existing strategies and techniques..

Research Questions

The assumption that ADR and conflict management can enhance the existing conflict information currently outlined in the PMBOK® Guide (2008) and provide an increased likelihood of project success drives the following research questions. Which ADR technique would be best applied? Would the application of negotiation, facilitation, or mediation as cooperating ADR techniques provide strategies for mitigating and resolving conflict? How would these ADR techniques be incorporated into the PMBOK® Guide's structure and processes? The purpose of this work is to explore the ADR techniques that could be applied to the PMI framework to provide more assistance to project managers to manage conflict within their projects. A strenuous analysis of current ADR techniques available, key characteristics and skills required, and proposed questions to consider for establishing a conflict management system for the project will be explored.

Literature Review

The purpose of this literature review is to provide an overview of the existing literature in support of answering the research questions. The first section will discuss project management research. A description of topics that have been written will be explored, including the paucity of literature concerning conflict and conflict management. The second section will discuss the literature on conflict as it relates to negotiation, mediation, and facilitation. The third section will summarize the literature found in the organizational conflict arena. Organizational conflict addresses conflicts within and among teams. The literature review summary will indicate how the literature review will facilitate answering the research questions and also identify what literature was not found.

Project Management Research

Much of the past literature involving project management is focused in the five Process Groups and nine Knowledge Areas. In 1987, when the PMBOK® Guide was first published, the amount of project management literature available was at its highest in the 1990s (Pinto & Cleland, 2003). The Process Group that generated the most articles was Planning, and the Knowledge Areas that generated the most articles included Project Time Management, Project Cost Management, and Project Quality Management (Pinto & Cleland, 2003). Specific topics that were principally researched included scope development, project cost, and project time management (Pinto & Cleland, 2003).

Over the years, PMI has developed handbooks to assist project managers in implementing standards in the PMBOK® Guide (2008). Pennypacker (1997) edited a consolidated handbook that discusses all five Process Groups and nine Knowledge Areas; it consists of academic research and quick reference information applicable for project managers implementing the standards in the PMBOK® Guide. A few chapters discuss conflict and conflict management topics. Stuckenbruck and Marshall (1997) briefly describe conflict styles and how a project manager's conflict styles can influence the project outcome (p. 162). Adams and Kirchof (1997) developed the conflict management concepts further by discussing the predominant causes of conflict, and how project managers can use different sources of power to mitigate and resolve conflicts that occur on projects (p. 186).

In addition to the PMI handbooks, a small amount of literature is found on conflict resolution, conflict management, or conflicts in general on projects. Most of the articles are general in nature and were found in the PM Network® periodical, which is available to members only. The articles provide consensus that conflict is indeed a pitfall that must be managed within a project, but all talk in generalities. Other journal articles were found that do specify facilitation, negotiation, and mediation as alternative techniques, but none of the articles frames those solutions within the PMBOK® Guide model. Generalities are used, with little reference to how they could be used within the PMBOK® Guide guidelines, tying specifics to the vocabulary known to PMP® credential holders.

A few specific articles do enter into the alternative dispute resolution field. Brown (1998) summarizes how mediation is different from the arbitration seen on television, and how the “controlled environment,” the voluntary process, and the fact that all parties are involved in the settlement help ease the parties' participation, but the article does not explore or attempt to integrate this process into the PMI framework.

Kezsbom (1991) performs a case study analysis of conflict categories that are prevalent in a project framework and ranks them based on project participant input. Her recommendations include more communication, team building, and meetings, but do not touch on any ADR techniques that can be used to prevent and resolve those conflicts.

Thompson (1994) defines conciliation, mediation, mediation-arbitration (med-arb), negotiation, and partnering, and discusses briefly how those processes can be used in construction project conflicts. The article does not provide a final recommendation of which process to use in which particular situation, nor does it weigh the benefits and potential downfalls of each process on the project.

Further detailed articles about ADR and project management surround the construction industry. Anderson and Polkingham (2008) performed a case study on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project recently completed in Washington, DC. Within the case study, the focus was on how conflict resolution skills were used to minimize conflicts during the project, as well as ensuring success of the project itself. The technique that was used is defined as partnering. Partnering provides the parties with a process to follow and conflict resolution skills, while allowing the project to continue on its normal path (Anderson & Polkingham, 2008, p. 170). “The authors acknowledge that these partnering tools helped inoculate the Woodrow Wilson Bridget program from serious conflict, but more particular to partnering success was the use in a remarkably progressive leadership context (Anderson & Polkingham, p. 173).”

Gardiner and Simmons (1992) also wrote on the conflicts associated with the construction industry. “Conflict and change can have a considerable impact on the success or otherwise of construction projects…and the creative management of conflict and change can benefit construction industry clients (p. 459).” Asserting that project conflict is inevitable, accepting that conflict will occur and planning ahead for it is the only way to manage it (Gardiner & Simmons, 1992, p. 460). The article describes the overall construction process, and the types of conflicts that can occur as a result of miscommunication, interpersonal conflicts, quality and schedule issues, as well as design errors and omissions (Gardiner & Simmons, 1992, p. 474). A process or technique is not described to facilitate the management of the conflict, but a mechanism for investigating how conflicts and change affect projects is established. The authors assert that more research must be performed within the established framework to measure the role of conflict in a project.

Conflict Research

A large amount of literature exists on conflict, depending upon the particular interests and topics of the literature that are needed. The topics range from those of Mitchell (1980), who asserted that international and social conflicts can be evaluated by the parties, the parties' subgroups, and the structural system of the country in which the conflict occurs, to Kreisberg (2001), who analyzed the development of the conflict management field. The focus of this literature review is to explore the literature, which discusses negotiation, facilitation, and mediation.

Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991) wrote one of the best-selling books on negotiation, in which principled negotiation is the main theme. The characteristics of principled negotiation include separating people from the problem, focusing on interests not positions, generating multiple options for mutual gain, and insisting on objective criteria (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). Principled negotiation is a technique that project managers can use to resolve conflicts in projects.

Schwarz (2002) developed a comprehensive manual on facilitation that is widely used in and out of the conflict field. Topics include behavior in groups, intervening in groups, groups working together, and the use of facilitation skills at work (Schwarz, 2002.) Projects are often comprised of large groups of people who may not even work in the same country. Facilitation is a technique that allows groups to work together to avoid conflict and can be used by project managers to do the same.

Isenhart and Spangle (2000) developed a whole book solely on collaborative approaches to resolving conflicts. The whole breadth of collaborative approaches is discussed in detail, which includes negotiation, facilitation, and mediation. All three techniques are compared and contrasted, discussing the best scenarios for using each technique.

Crawley and Graham (2010) published a book on mediation, specifically for managers. The book describes mediation, its components, and how to apply the techniques of mediation to daily interactions and conflicts that managers need to resolve. It is important to note that it is not specifically related to project managers and managing projects, but managers in general. A toolbox is created for managers to resolve conflict efficiently and effectively use mediation techniques, which can also be applied to project managers.

Additional conflict books can be found under the organizational conflict context. Runde and Flanagan (2008) explore the sources of conflict, skills to managing conflict, and how to build teams that can endure through conflict (p. ix). Using real experiences, they show how conflict within teams does not need to be destructive. Terms like facilitation and mediation are used as the tools to overcoming conflict, but are not the only techniques discussed. The work environment, mix of people, leadership style, as well as individual past experiences are investigated to determine how all of these aspects of a team can influence the generation of conflict, as well as the ability to manage conflict.


Vast amounts of literature exist for both project management and conflict separately. When searching for the topics together, the number decreases significantly. There is no candid literature that supports project managers in how to manage or prevent conflicts from occurring on projects. Research agrees that conflict can derail a project, but no methods or techniques are discussed. The conflict management field has techniques that can be applied. The next section describes conflict, its elements, and the relevant techniques that can be used.

Conflict and its Elements

Why is Conflict Prevention in Projects Important?

As discussed previously, projects are ways for new things to be created, whether it is a power plant, skyscraper, or a new bridge, such as the Woodrow Wilson. A project has an enormous amount of resources, which include materials, people, and equipment. Materials, people, and equipment have a cost impact immediately once the project starts, even if they are not being used to further the project. So, to effectively manage those resources is paramount to the financial success of a project.

Adams and Kirchhoff (1997) recognize the need for managing project conflict to ensure an efficient and effective use of resources for financial success:

Conflict needs to be effectively managed, especially in a project environment, because of the imminent time, cost, and performance constraints imposed on the project effort. The primary responsibility for conflict management lies with the project manager. If the project is to be successful, the project manager must cope with conflict and develop profitable resolution. Conflict management is a critical issue for project manager(s), for uncontrolled conflict can literally tear the project apart. (p. 173)

Project managers are an integral part of the conflict management process. Looking at conflict in detail, and understanding the components will shed some light on how project managers can implement conflict management techniques.

Cooperative Third-Party Techniques

If conflict styles are not an effective technique for managing conflict within projects, what other options are available? Essentially, the PMBOK® Guide (2008) is partially correct in that collaborative methods are the ways to manage conflict effectively, but it is not the whole story. Negotiation, facilitation, and mediation are techniques available to managing conflict collaboratively.

Isenhart and Spangle (2000) list the collaborative approaches to resolving conflict as: negotiation, mediation, facilitation, non-binding arbitration, binding arbitration, and judicial process (p. 25). As one moves down the list, the participants lose influence in the outcome, increasing their cost for resolving the conflict and decreasing their ability to preserve a lasting relationship with the other party.


Negotiation is a process in which two or more parties have a conflict and choose to “give and take” to search for common agreement (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, Essentials, pp 6–9). A distributive negotiation assumes a winner and a loser, whereas integrative negotiation assumes a win–win solution by “expanding the pie” (Lewicki, et al., Essentials, p. 61). The strategy selected is often dictated by the relationship with the other party and the importance of the outcome. Choosing a strategy based on both will dictate how the negotiation is played out. Negotiation can be implemented without a third-party neutral, but third-party neutrals can also use this technique.

Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1991) wrote one of the best-selling books on negotiation in which principled negotiation is the main theme. Characteristics of principled negotiation include separating people from the problem, focusing on interests not positions, generating multiple options for mutual gain, and insisting on objective criteria (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). Separating people from the problem is a way of recognizing the other party as human beings, empathizing with their stories, and agreeing to recognize those facts that are important to them (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). Focusing on interests places focus on what individuals want from the other person or group. Interests drive position, so talking about positions does not get to the heart of the issue that needs to be resolved. Focusing on interests downplays the emotions that may be associated with the interests and focuses on something tangible that can be discussed and agreed on.

Once the parties recognize each other as human beings, and understand the underlying interests, then multiple options can be discussed to potentially resolve the interests (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). Multiple options “enlarge the pie” and increase the likelihood that both parties' interests can be satisfied (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). Without discussion about interests and options, lasting resolution may not occur.

Last, once multiple ideas have been generated, objective criteria can be developed with the other party to identify the best solutions for resolving the conflict (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991). It is important to be open about creating objective criteria and frame them accurately so that decisions on agreement can be made (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 1991).


Like negotiation, facilitation is “a process in which a person whose selection is acceptable to all the members of the group, who is substantively neutral, and who has no substantive decision-making authority diagnoses and intervenes to help a group improve how it identifies and solves problems and makes decisions (Schwarz, 2002, p. 5).” Unlike negotiation, facilitation is used in groups to create consensus by using ground rules and a defined process (Isenhart & Spangle, 2000, p. 107.) Being substantively neutral involves having no opinion on the outcome, and not asserting influence or opinions on the content of the discussion (Schwarz, 2002, p. 41). The goal is to focus the group on productive conversation and exchange of ideas, but not to add bias. A third party is often essential to ensure neutrality can occur, but the key to facilitation is grounded in the process.

The process of facilitation includes the following: observing, inferring, deciding how and when to intervene, describing behavior, sharing inference, and helping the group on whether and how to change behavior (Schwarz, 2002, p. 108). The facilitator is an observer and guide, assessing what is happening, and suggesting the parties look at the topics observed. Facilitation can be a regularly scheduled meeting, or a meeting that is pulled together only when needed.


Mediation is a third process used in which two or more parties have a conflict and use a third-party neutral to guide parties to a resolution to their issue (Isenhart & Spangler, 2000, p. 72.) Mediation differs in facilitation by having the goal of resolution. The resolution is often in the form of a written agreement by both parties summarizing the main points of the agreement. Like facilitation, it is important for the mediation to be neutral and not drive the communication of the parties. During the process, it is often helpful to allow parties to tell their sides of the story, which in essence will allow emotions to be let go. Letting go of emotions allows the participants to release what has happened, and move forward to thinking about how to resolve the conflict. Ground rules are often set, establishing boundaries for tone, conduct, and respect. The mediator sets basic ground rules and often requests of the participants what other ground rules may be important to them. Crawley and Graham (2010) believe strongly that all managers need mediation skills (p. 3)


An ombudsman is also a third-party neutral who uses negotiation, facilitation, and mediation in order to do his or her job. Slaikeu and Hasson (1998) assert that an ombudsman provides a neutral, confidential, readily available resource (usually available in person, by telephone, email, or some other direct means) to assist parties in self-help, troubleshooting (via coaching), informal shuttle diplomacy, and some time convening of the parties to help them select from options, such as information mediation or higher-authority resources (p. 94).

Cavenaugh (2000) further describes that an ombudsman “Serves many of the same functions that arbitrators, mediators, judges, and attorneys do…has an affirmative duty to seek out and actively encourage resolution of dispute [and]may even undertake dispute resolution procedures for parties on their own initiative (p. 42).” Ombudsmen have a unique role in that they do not report to anyone in particular, but have the role of intermediary between employees and management, creating trust with both, as well as supporting both when conflicts arise (Cavenaugh, 2000, p. 43.) So, an ombudsman has no direct role in the organization, team, or project that may be having the conflict.

Conflict System Design

Conflict system design uses collaborative techniques to build a conflict framework. As part of the process, potential or existing conflicts are evaluated to determine the sources of conflict. A framework of collaborative conflict techniques are then designed, resulting in a conflict system design. Constantino and Merchant (1996) are the prominent experts in this area, and assert that “conflict is an expression of dissatisfaction or disagreement with an interaction, process, product or service…and is often ongoing, amorphous, and intangible…(pp 4–5).” The design of the systems involve understanding the stakeholders, understanding the problems or disputes, deciding the best process for implementing, proposing the process to the stakeholders, and then going through the process of establishing the conflict management system. One of the keys to the system design is that there is a feedback loop, which details how the process is working (Constantino & Merchant, 1996, p. 25). These data are used to modify and monitor the process and impose changes if necessary.

In each of these sections, a technique or resolution path for conflict was discussed. In each case, the cooperative or problem-solving style was further defined by a process in which to resolve conflict. These data will now be used to formulate a process for resolving conflict in projects for use by project managers.

Application of Techniques to Conflicts that Arise in Projects

As stated previously in the literature review, Kezsbom (1991) published her findings on requesting information from a sample of 285 managers and project specialists who support technological projects for a number of Fortune 500 companies (p. 388). The study was continued from Thamhain and Wilemon (1975), who categorized seven primary causes of conflict encountered in projects. Unlike the previous studies that have been performed, Kezsbom's questions were open ended, creating six additional conflicts, which were not previously identified by Thamhain and Wilemon. A total of thirteen categories (seven original and six new) were then ranked and analyzed based on the size of the project, the organizational structure, technology, and types of projects (Kezsbom, 1991, p. 390). The top seven conflicts will be discussed within the body of this work.

Goals and Priorities

Goals and priorities were the number one conflict generator, regardless of the size of the project, structure of the organization, or type of project. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements arising from lack of goals, including disagreements regarding the project missions and related tasks, differing views of project participants over the importance of activities and tasks, or the shifting of priorities by superiors or customers (p. 389).” Within the framework of the PMBOK® Guide (2008), this type of conflict would most likely occur in the Initiating or Planning Process Group at the beginning of the project.


Personality or interpersonal conflicts are the second type of conflicts most seen on projects. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements that focus on interpersonal differences rather than on “technical” issues, which include conflicts that are ego-centered, personality differences, or caused by prejudice or stereotyping (p. 389).” Further, Runde and Flanagan (2008) assert that personality conflict is often associated with poor performing teams (projects) (p. 22.) When building the project team, people will come together with different cultures, education, preferred ways of doing things, as well as their own uniqueness, such as traits like being shy, outgoing, or dominant. When these differences come together, particularly when there may be time crunches or deadlines looming, it is these types of characteristics that may force conflicts to the forefront. Clashing interests, unspoken rights, and power struggles may result from the different personalities within the project. It is the ultimate responsibility of the project managers to bring the team together towards one goal, regardless of the personality differences that may exist.


Communication is the third top cause of conflict within the project environment. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements resulting from poor information flow among staff or between senior management and technical staff, including such topics as misunderstanding of project-related goals and the strategic mission of the organization and the flow of communication from technical staff to senior management (p. 389).” The challenge with communication and conflict is that it can occur at any time. Communication is essential during a project at all levels. Clear, concise communication and its understanding are imperative for meeting the goals of a project, as well as ensuring tasks are carried out efficiently and effectively.


The fourth contributor to conflict is politics. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements that center on issues of territorial power not-invented-here (NIH) attitudes, or hidden agendas (p. 389).” Politics is comprised mainly of power struggles. Mayer (2000) describes the different types of power: formal authority, informational, association, resources, reward, nuisance, procedural, moral, perception, and definitional (pp 55–58). In any power struggle, it is important for project managers to use their formal power and bring parties together to resolve the conflict by focusing on the interests and balancing the power between the participants.


Procedural processes are the fifth contributor to conflicts on projects. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements that develop over how the project will be managed; that is, the definition, or reporting relationships and responsibilities, interface relationships, project scope, work design, plans of execution, negotiated work agreements with other groups, and procedures for administrative support (p. 389).” This type of conflict may occur when a process is planned at the beginning of the project, but the people who need to implement the procedure struggle with and question the procedure itself.

Resource Allocation

Resource allocation or the use of resources is the sixth contributor to conflicts. Kezsbom (1991) defines this category as “Disagreements resulting from the competition for resources (e.g. personnel, materials, facilities, and equipment) among projects members or across teams, or from lack of resources or downsizing of organizations (p. 389).” From the previous table, resource allocation can be a power struggle. Staffing is a resource, which can become limited, especially if the resource is technical and critical to a project. It is the role of project managers to ensure that a project can meet its goals with the correct resources, but not to the detriment of other projects and programs that are occurring within an organization.


Kezsbom (1991) defines the seventh contributor to conflict as “Disagreements that develop around timing, sequencing, and duration of projects and feasibility of schedule for project-related tasks or activities (p. 389).” A large emphasis is placed on Scheduling and Planning, as in the PMBOK® Guide. Scheduling conflict can occur when difficulties are experienced, extending the time necessary to completing a task. In addition, the planners and the executers of the plan may not agree on the sequential steps of completing a project. Project managers have the role of working out the differences and getting the project completed on schedule.

Proposed ADR Model for Project Management

In each of the above causes of conflict, project managers have the ultimate responsibility to manage the conflict. Conflict is usually sparked by an event, but then can grow in strength and evolve if not addressed. Runde and Flanagan (2008) define levels of conflict intensity, asserting that the level of intensity will drive the needs for technique of management and resolution (pp 78–86). This author has used Runde and Flanagan's conflict intensity scale and associated a corresponding conflict technique that could be used to potentially resolve the type of conflict, resulting in a Proposed ADR Model for Project Management (Table 1).

Level Definition Type of Conflict Conflict Technique
1 Differences Goal/Priorities, Personality, Communication, Procedural, Resource Allocation, and Scheduling Facilitation
2 Misunderstanding Goal/Priorities, Personality, Communication, Procedural, Resource Allocation, and Scheduling Facilitation
3 Disagreements Goal/Priorities, Personality, Communication, Politics, Procedural, Resource Allocation, and Scheduling Negotiation Mediation
4 Discord Goal/Priorities, Personality, Communication, Politics, Procedural, Resource Allocation, and Scheduling Negotiation Mediation Ombudsman
5 Polarization Goal/Priorities, Personality, Communication, Politics, Procedural, Resource Allocation, and Scheduling Mediation Ombudsman

Table 1: ADR model for project management (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 78–86).

Differences are those situations in which participants do not agree on something but they understand each other's opinions and interests, and feel no discomfort in the situation (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 78–79.) The role of project managers would be to facilitate a discussion, setting the ground rules and ensuring that open communication occurs to resolve the differences. Runde and Flanagan (2008) consider this level of conflict healthy and beneficial, raising interests that may affect the project in a positive manner (pp 78–79.)

Misunderstanding is the next level, and that occurs when two or more participants have different understandings about a topic or situation (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 80–82.) Misunderstandings occur often, but when it can lead to discomfort to one of the parties, it can be difficult to resolve. The role of project managers would be to facilitate a discussion, once again setting ground rules and ensuring communication channels are open to resolving the misunderstandings. The risk of not facilitating conversations would be escalation to the next level or throughout the project team.

The next level of conflict, disagreement, involves participants that see a situation differently, understand each other's positions and interests, but feel discomfort that there is disagreement (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 82–84.) The role of project managers would be to create a safe environment for both parties to tell their stories, explore, and understand each other's interests, and come up with a unique agreement that is a win–win situation for both sides.

Discord is the next level of conflict, and Runde and Flanagan (2008) describe this level of conflict as a distraction to the project team, which prevents the project tasks and goals from being achieved (pp 84–85.) This deters the project team from being successful at the project. Negotiation is the starting point when discord is occurring. Separating the people from the problem and focusing on the interests can provide understanding about the root causes of the conflict. Mediation can provide a safe place for participants to share views and opinions and reach the point for jointly brainstorming unique solutions for resolution. When negotiation and mediation are not successful, an ombudsman would be the next effective technique to use to resolve the conflict. An ombudsman may provide the additional neutrality, providing participants with the added comfort of a third-party neutral.

Last, polarization is the strongest level of conflict, and is described by Runde and Flanagan (2008) as having three main themes: “inability or unwillingness to see the other party's side of the story, active recruiting of others for supporting one's position, and differences between the parties so severe that accusation, attributions, and even outbursts are common (pp 85–86).” Team members often suffer as a result of the conflict and, in most cases, a safe environment cannot be created by a project manager. In this situation, it is best to have a third-party neutral outside of the project group or a company ombudsman work with the participants and resolve the conflict.

Case Studies

Application of the model to several case studies will be discussed below. Due to the difficulty in finding one situation that would show each application of an approach, several case studies will be used to capture the true interpretation and application of each stage of the model.


Runde and Flanagan (2008) describe an example of differences at a corporate training center. The project team was updating the facilities of the classrooms, and an outside vendor came in and provided presentations on new projectors that could be selected. Everyone on the team liked the presentation, but there were differences among each team member on how many should be ordered, how many rooms to outfit, and the compatibility of the equipment with the existing facilities (pp 79–80).

It is in this situation project managers could use facilitation in helping a group identify the issues and help make decisions, either at the time of the meeting or after a follow-up meeting. Project managers would diagnose, intervene, and continue until the group fully looks at the topics being discussed. The issues in the example include the type of equipment, the number of units, as well as the technology of the equipment. The facilitator would help each participant talk about their choices, discuss why they thought they were important, and give the opportunity for all participants to have an understanding of all the group's comments and choices. The use of facilitation by project managers creates a dialogue zone free of bias, judgment, and allows clear communication to be made and heard. This often prevents conflicts from escalating to the next levels.


Table 2: Case study for misunderstanding.

A division manager, Michael, and his department heads meet regularly to solve division-wide (sic) problems. Michael has specific recommendations in mind but is concerned that if he shares his views early on, the department heads won't share their true opinions or buy (sic)in to his recommendations. So Michael asks the department heads a series of questions about the problems, while withholding his own opinions. The department heads begin to feel that they are being quizzed and that Michael is looking for certain answers. Uncertain what the answers are, the department heads grow careful, giving their views in vague terms so they do not commit to a position that might be at odds with their boss. Frustrated with what he considers an (sic) inadequate response, Michael reacts by telling the group how the problems are to be solved. The department heads reluctantly agree, but they are not committed to the decisions, which end up being poorly implemented. After the meetings, the department heads discuss privately how Michael is not sharing decision-(sic)making authority as he had agreed. Down the hall, Michael confides to his assistant that he will be reluctant to give his department heads more say on (sic) decisions if they do not demonstrate clearer reasoning in these situations(sic). No one ever discusses in the full group the concerns aired after each meeting (Schwartz, 2002, pp 3–4).

Taking a step back and analyzing the situation, there appears to be a communication issue between the division manager Michael, and his department heads. Michael has the understanding that the department heads will play an active role in solving the division's problems and is looking to the department heads to share information, provide insight, and help develop resolutions. Michael seeks their input through a series of questions. Conversely, the department heads have the understanding that Michael is going to share decision-making authority with them but they view his questions as probing. This misunderstanding could be resolved by project managers using facilitation.

It would be the role of a project manager to be a third-party neutral and create an environment where there is clear communication. In this scenario, a project manager would lead a staff or status meeting discussion. Within that status meeting, the project manager would diagnose, intervene, and continue the meeting until the group fully looks at the topics being discussed. In this example, the diagnosis is a misunderstanding between Michael and the division heads. Each party has an understanding, but does not recognize how the other party is interpreting their actions. The project manager using facilitation could observe the tension between Michael and the department heads, and suggest that all participants look at what was happening. The project manager would create a safe environment in which each party could talk free from judgment, bring out the interpretations and feelings of both parties, and clear up the communication differences and misunderstanding. This process creates opportunities to gain insight and perspective from the department heads and allow for group consensus making and resolution of the misunderstandings. In summary, project managers can facilitate discussions between parties within a project team, providing a safe environment for misunderstanding to be resolved before escalation occurs.


Table 3: Case study for disagreement.

A seventeen-member research team was sent to Antarctica on a (sic) scientific expedition. In order to conserve fuel, team members were permitted to bathe once every seventeen days. The process of bathing had several steps: digging snow, melting it, heating it, and then filling a tub with warm water. The bather would immediately get into the tub, wash, and then dump his or her dirty laundry into the warm, soapy water. The dirty laundry would get “done” by stepping on it, rinsing it, and then hanging it to dry.

During the course of the expedition, one team member began knocking on the bathroom door every evening asking the bather for a favor: “Could you do this pair of socks for me?” Or, “I spilled coffee on a shirt today; can you rinse it for me?” In time, the sixteen other members discovered the selfish behavior of their colleague. The ensuing confrontation and disagreement over how to resolve this situation were (sic)cited by most team members as the key reason the team expedition ended the expedition early and returned to the mainland (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 83–84).

In this example, the seventeen members had made procedures and priorities for conserving energy during the expedition regarding bathing and laundry, creating a seventeen-day rotational schedule. One team member continuously violated this schedule, playing on the camaraderie of the other members to “help them out.”

Before the expedition returned to the mainland, project managers could have mediated an agreement or solution to the conflict. The project manager could have spoken with each member separately, and then brought all team members together for mediation. Ground rules would be important in this case, because it appears that there were strong emotions involved among the members of the group. The project manager would have needed to create a safe environment, which would have been challenging. Each member would have the opportunity to tell his or her view and release his or her feelings and attitudes about what was happening on the project. It appears that many of the group felt violated by one person in the group not adhering to the agreed on procedures and rules.

By each party participating and sharing their views, the motivating interests of all parties could be understood by the group. The project managers, acting as the mediators, could gently ask questions like “How did that make you feel when you heard one person was continuously asking for favors?” Each person could voice his or her feelings, validate his or her feelings, and release the anger and negative feelings possibly preventing the possible ending of the expedition. Without being able to discuss this in a safe environment, such as mediation, there is no vehicle for emotions and views to be safely discussed and understood. The expedition could have taken a different turn if they had used mediation as a cooperative tactic.


Table 4: Case study for discord.

Bryan was recruited into Environmental Projects (EP) as a new manager a year ago. He had worked in the retail industry and town planning and had recently earned (sic)an MBA, specializing in performance management.

Victor has been a project officer for 11 years. He worked in the former East Germany as a technical adviser to the petrochemical industry and built up a portfolio of impressive publications on river pollution. He is used to working for a regional manager, Betty, who largely left it to up to (sic)him to organize his own work schedule.

Four team members have independently reported to Betty about the (sic)friction between Bryan and Victor. Betty had not previously thought that this was a significant problem, although she had expected initial tension between them, because (sic)Victor had hoped to get the team leader's job himself. Two team members [witnessed] (sic) Victor and Bryan in a bitter exchange in a team meeting….and Victor and Bryan had a heated discussion in the team's open office plan about Victor not showing up to a key site meeting. The team members all believed that the friction was seriously affecting the working spirit and sense of unity in the team. (Crawley & Graham, 2002, pp 58–59).

The discord between Victor and Bryan is a personality focus brought about by Bryan receiving a position for which Victor had applied. Victor may view Bryan as an interloper, stealing the position that he thought was his. Bryan may view Victor as the person who goes out of his way to not do what is required just to make waves. In this situation, it is unclear if each understands and acknowledges each other's interests.

Project managers could bring both Victor and Bryan together and use negotiation to focus on each other's interests, separate the emotions from the real issues, and come up with options on how to resolve their differences. Another technique that could be used in this scenario is mediation. Betty (who is playing the role of the project manager) would have a discussion with Victor and Bryan separately. Then, in a joint meeting, Betty would set ground rules for the discussion. Mediation may be best suited in this scenario because it would provide both Victor and Bryan an outlet for their frustrations in a safe and closed environment. Betty would also use the fact that both parties have a shared interest in having a successful company. Building on shared interest allows both parties to explore unique solutions to their conflict. The role of the project managers would be to create a safe environment for both parties to tell their stories, explore and understand each other's interests, and come up with a unique agreement that is a win–win situation for both sides.

Betty would use specific techniques, such as reframing and reflecting, to assist Victor and Bryan in understanding each other, with the goal of creating rapport between the parties. By understanding the backgrounds of Victor and Bryan, Betty could reflect and reframe for each side, getting to the point at which both Victor and Bryan feel that they are being heard and understood. At that point, Victor and Bryan could work together to develop unique solutions and strategies on how to work together.

This interaction could take several meetings to come to a unique solution. It would be important for Betty (as the project manager) to remain unbiased and create an environment in which the parties are not forced into a resolution. Even though the goal of mediation is resolution, the resolution should be built by the parties, not by the project managers. It is when the parties take ownership of the agreement that lasting conflict management occurs.


Table 5: Case study for polarization.

The director of operations, Winifred Li, is responsible for securing resources, managing contracts, and developing the organization, and spends a great deal of time out of the office, liaising with other agencies, client's families, and local authorities. Agnes, the unit manager, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization and supervising the staff who delivers (sic) the care.

Winifred and Agnes stopped communicating several months ago. At staff meetings, Winifred barely looks at Agnes, and Agnes treats Winifred as though she is invisible. They work together when necessary, but mechanically and without real communication or consultation, on issues of mutual concern. Winifred works strictly to her role, focusing on contract negotiation and maintenance, client liaison, (sic) and strategic issues. Agnes gets on with day-to-day work and supervision. If a client wants to speak about a contract issue, (sic) they speak with (sic)Winifred, and a staffing or care issue is directed to Agnes.

This compartmentalization is making the organization function clumsily, duplicate work, and work reactively. Staff members (sic) are (sic) unsure of who to go to if they have a joint issue involving contracts and day-to-day care. Some clients have also experienced (sic) difficulties in raising long-term issues to do with their care: for example, what is covered and what is not, because it is often difficult to get contract information from Winifred.

The day-to-day running of the organization has become stressed and difficult. Staff members have different allegiances and divisions are beginning to appear (Runde & Flanagan, 2008, pp 142–143).

This is a polarization between Winifred and Agnes and encompasses all three themes that Runde and Flanagan (2008) identified, such as the unwillingness to see the other side's story, active recruiting for people to support their position, as well as tension and stress within the workplace (pp 85–86).

Due to the power of both individuals, as well as the severity of the conflict, the path forward to resolving this conflict would be best suited for a third-party neutral ombudsman who is not associated with the project. An ombudsman would have the flexibility to troubleshoot the issues, perform informal shuttle diplomacy, and convene meetings between the parties and use facilitation, negotiation, or mediation as techniques. Most of all, addressing this conflict will improve the working environment for the staff on the project.

An ombudsman would start by meeting with both parties and trying to understand the issues and potential causes of the conflict. An evaluation of the strength of emotions would be noted, and after the first meetings, the ombudsman would then decide on the next step. In this situation, it would probably be best suited for mediation in which there are ground rules, as well as a specific time for each party to describe, in their own words, their views, opinions, and interests. The ombudsman would be challenged to ensure that both parties understand that they have the same underlying interest in the company's success. It may take several sessions, but once that point is understood, and the parties realize that they need each other to meet their interests, the ombudsman could lead the parties through unique solutions to resolving the conflict and moving the relationship forward. In extreme cases, if the parties determine they cannot work together and do not recognize they have shared interests, it may be time to move one of the participants to another project or program to ensure the success of the project that is being affected.

Potential System Design

As described in the cooperating processes, designing a conflict management system for organization and or projects can ensure that the project is ready when conflicts arise. The ADR Model for Project Management can be a good framework to start with. Conflict system design is a detailed and thorough process, which cannot be adequately captured in this body of work. The purpose of this section is to provide a brief introduction and application of the ADR Model for Project Management.

Use of the ADR Model for Project Management is recommended during the planning stages of the project in which a more tailored and concise plan can be established for managing conflict within the project. It is recommended that the cooperating techniques to resolving conflict would be based on the level of intensity of the conflict, as shown in Table 1.

Buy-in from all parties in the planning process would be necessary for this model to work or for a conflict management system design to be successful. It is essential that everyone is involved, because it will take a 360° view of all the stakeholders within the project team to ensure success. If the plan is established during the planning stage, a training plan can also be documented to ensure all team members are knowledgeable about how conflict will be resolved. Within the training plan, it would be important to teach project team individuals basic conflict methods for them to attempt to resolve their own conflicts when they are in the disagreement stage.


Conflicts are commonplace in projects. Research and the PMBOK® Guide (2008) support this statement. The PMBOK® Guide does not provide techniques for project managers to manage conflict within projects as they arise; it only suggests using a cooperating style. The conflict management industry has cooperating tactics to arm project managers with the techniques to manage conflict within their projects. Those techniques include negotiation, facilitation, mediation, and the role of the ombudsman.

Table 1, ADR Model for Project Management, was developed by this author using Runde and Flanagan's conflict level of intensities and associating a cooperating technique with an intensity providing a framework for conflict management systems for project managers. Five levels of intensities are outlined, and the suggested cooperative techniques to potentially resolve the conflicts are suggested. Case studies were used to provide examples of the levels of intensity and the application of conflict management techniques for resolving project conflicts.

The ADR Model for Project Management can be used as the basis for a conflict management system design in projects. Conflict management system design is a method of creating a conflict management system at the beginning of a project and receiving buy-in from project team members. Although this body of work does not discuss this topic in detail, the ADR Model for Project Management can be used as the initial framework for conflict management designs in projects. Challenges to developing the conflict management system for projects may include cultural differences, time zone differences, and technical understanding. Project managers hold the responsibility for facilitating the project teams through those discussions and preparing them for how to resolve conflicts on the project. Overall, the use of a conflict management system design will ensure that a project and project managers are ready to handle conflicts in projects at any intensity level.

Projects involve conflicts, and project managers are responsible for managing those conflicts. Managing the conflict will not only ensure project success, but will ensure that the resources, costs, and efforts for projects are used efficient and effectively. Conflict management and its cooperating techniques are necessary for a project to be successful.

This body of work is just the beginning. There is more work to be done to further establish the relationship between ADR and project management. Is one collaborating technique more successful than another? Is a separate conflict management organization needed within a project? What does the training for team members include? Is the ADR Model for Project Management effective enough to apply to each project? Is a conflict system design necessary for each project or should it be based on size and dollar value? Further research and studies should be performed to answer these questions, developing the knowledge further between project and conflict management techniques.


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