How Agile Methodologies Can Help Reduce Conflict Levels

Teams are used for their synergy capabilities, to produce a quality result for the project on which they are working. An effective team is usually made up of people from different backgrounds, often with differing views and opinions that can help inform decisions from many perspectives and arrive at a truly quality conclusion. The support system and motivating factors of a team are invaluable to project management. However, there is always scope for conflict to occur which, if managed incorrectly, can lead to the detriment of the project rather than a positive outcome.

A controlled amount of conflict is healthy in project management. It promotes healthy arguments and improved idea generation among other benefits such as team building and addressing any doubts or worries. The type of conflict project management teams should avoid is negative or unhealthy conflict such as angry outbursts, defensiveness and manipulation which can delay decision making and lower team morale. This is the type of conflict that agile methodologies help to emit from teams.

Agile methodologies used in project management can positively affect conflict and allow project managers and team members to deal efficiently with inevitable conflict and effectively reduce the negative conflict levels of a project team. It is not surprising that agile teams are the teams consistently delivering the highest business value at the fastest rate, according to versionone.com.

Agile Methodologies

There are various agile methodologies applicable to project management software such as Agile Scrum methodology, Lean and Kanban, Crystal, Extreme Programming, Feature Driven Development and the Dynamic Systems Development method. These various agile methodologies share a similar philosophy. The work on the principle of dealing with and anticipating change, delivering value at every stage and continuously improving.

Break it Down

Each release in agile methodologies is made up of various iterations which are treated as micro-projects within the whole project itself. Releases are organized and the iterations within them are prioritised. Firstly, this allows for a clearer visualisation of the project components which benefits understanding of what is to come and what is expected. Secondly, breaking up tasks into prioritised iterations helps to break down what otherwise would be large and complex tasks that could be perceived as more difficult than they are.

The potential for conflict to occur is reduced as the project and its tasks are more organised and clear, allowing team members to understand in a stronger sense what is to come. Due to the more effective roadmap to follow, it will be easier for members to pinpoint potential doubts that they may have and to resolve them before beginning the iterations. Being sure of what you are doing and of what is expected will lessen anxiety levels and produce a more constructive working environment.

Feed Me with Feedback!

After each iteration, feedback is provided. Feedback is essential to lowering conflict levels. Without feedback on performance, there is a lot of room for ambiguity that can negatively impact motivation levels. According to globoforce.com, 43% of highly engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week and 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback. Feedback is a motivating factor in any area of an organisation and is especially important to the realm of project management.

Feedback also serves as a preventative measure for future mistakes or errors. Having completed each iteration, feedback allows team members to understand what they are doing well and should be continued and what is not working as well and should be changed. This means that the likelihood of repeating the same mistake in a future iteration is greatly reduced and in turn, reduces the probability of conflict occurring later in the project.

Due to the highly visible and commonly tight deadlines of iterations and the need for constant planning, testing and delivering, team communication and collaboration is key. Everyone is focused on the deadlines. Communication of any kind helps to build and develop relationships and collaborating efforts to make the deadlines on time gives scope to develop trust and confidence among team members. This has a positive effect on any potential future conflicts as a relationship has already been developed meaning there is less scope for defensiveness and more scope for resolving the conflict through a healthy discussion.

The working, tested features further increase the scope for improved team collaboration and even customer feedback. The continuous cycle of feedback given iteration by iteration from both the project manager and the external customer allows teams to focus on what they are getting right, improving team morale and reinforcing the fact that working together is benefiting the process, and increases certainty across the board, both for the external customer who can see what is happening with their product at each step of the way and for the project team.

The main focus of agile methodologies is a demanding focus on delivering value, not solely at the end of the project, but at each iteration. From the beginning of the project, the project team is value-driven. This allows for consistency throughout the project and greatly improves the potential for an overall valuable outcome of the project. Team members that feel they are delivering value results from the outset have a more positive attitude in turn, creating a more positive environment meaning that the potential for conflict is, as a result, reduced.

Plan as You Go

Probably the most evident feature of agile methodologies in reducing conflict levels is its focus on continuous and adaptive planning. The insistence of the fact that planning continues throughout the project in agile methodologies is what differentiates it from others. One way in which Sinnaps, the project management software, focuses on the need for continuous planning and improvement through the provision of Test-Mode, a feature that allows project managers to test out potential plan changes to see how they would affect the project before actually implementing them.

Each iteration receives its own plan as the ‚Äòmini-project’ that it is. Every iteration followed is planned and modified along the way. This benefits conflict levels in several ways. Firstly, teams can focus on developing a more specific and detailed plan for each iteration, leaving no stone unturned rather than planning a large and complex project that will inevitably face many changes that heighten the potential for negative conflict.

The recent and fresh data gather by project teams after each iteration are essential to take into consideration in the planning of future iterations. Planning out smaller, more concise chunks is more effective than trying to plan a large project whole. It allows for a more relaxed collaborative environment where team members are not bogged down by information over-load.

The Bigger the Better – Not the Case

The small and cross-functional teams used in agile methodologies are another key aspect to the potential of agile methods to reduce conflict levels. It is widely accepted that smaller teams are more effective than larger teams. Take the Ringelmann effect for example. Maximillian Ringelmann, a French professor of agricultural engineering found that when one person is pulling on a rope they give 100% of their effort. However, each time a person was added the individual effort went down.

More people leads directly to a need for more communication and more people to manage and to keep happy. It is difficult for both team members and project managers. Teams need to be able to decide together on how to best utilise and take advantage of one another’s skills. This is difficult to do when a lot of people are involved, increasing potential for exclusion and sometimes a simple resort to the dreaded Groupthink.

Agile methods focus on smaller teams, even when the project is large-scale and consists of 500 people, the focus is placed on having ‚Äòscrums of scrums’ and breaking up the large group into individual teams. It allows team members the opportunity to get to know one another and to develop a relationship, the base upon which they can collaborate their efforts and skills and talk through any problems in a constructive manner, evading negative outbursts and decreasing the potential for negative conflict overall.

A Final Word

Agile methodologies are increasingly being used in project management, especially by project management software such as Sinnaps. The emphasis is placed on the recognition that change is a constant and should be approached in a positive and organised manner, rather than trying to create a static plan with which teams feel under pressure to follow. Uncertainty is a great foundation upon which conflict grows. Agile methodologies focus on keeping everyone involved up to speed in terms of how the project is going, individual and team performance and what is to be expected. These methods lead to teams and individuals feeling recognised, valued and creates a positive and motivating environment where there is little scope for negative conflict.

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Maria Dowling

Maria Dowling is a content writer for the Sinnaps project management software blog. She is a Business studies and Spanish final year student in Trinity College, Dublin. Having a great interest in how people form the base for good project management, Maria enjoys exploring conflict prevention and resolution, change-management and exploring the best ways to optimize project management processes.