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The Role of Project Manager
Conflicts and communication management approach
The project manager‘s role (PM) has the overall responsibility for the successful planning, implementation, execution, monitoring, control and conclusion of the project (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). The present paper aims to analyse the role of the project manager focused on the challenges that are faced in different projects. Firstly a description of the responsibilities that the project manager owns will be provided. Secondly from the approach of conflict and communication management an analysis of the role of a project manager will be provided. For the purpose of this assignment conflict management and communication management within a project will be analysed using case of studies to link the theory. Finally findings and key issues will be discussed in order to conclude the present report.
The project manager is the person who is responsible for the project success (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). It is involved from the beginning of the project in order to prepare the preliminary budget, establish the times of the project’s phases, select the team members, establish a relationship with the client and ensure that the facilities that the project requires are available (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). However there are cases where the project manager joins the project late or different project managers participate during the life of the project causing disarrangement or that it falls behind schedule.
During the project’s life, the project manager faces different challenges and some of them demand more attention for the success of the project. In the following study conducted by Luthans et all (1985) fifty two managers were considered from three diverse organisations and it shows the most important challenges that a project manager faces. In the Graph 1, each of the bars represents the frequency that a successful project manager performs management activities compared with the least successful project manager. However it is important to mention that the frequency of these activities can vary according to the type of organisation.
Source: Luthans et all, 1985
Graph 1. Frequency that successful PM executes management activities
Interacting with outsider
Exchanging routine information
The successful project managers from the previous study considered to have spent most of the time in managing conflicts activities. This is due the fact that conflicts are an intrinsic characteristic of projects (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). It is the responsibility of the project manager to bring solutions to those conflicts, with the purpose of achieve the goals of the project and satisfy all parties involved in the conflict. In order to resolve those conflicts PM starts negotiation (Taylor, 2006) with the parties involved with the purpose of reach an agreement. However conflicts should not be seen as factors that damage the projects. The conflicts are healthy for the project itself; they provide effective problem solving, creative strategies and operational decision making. In general conflicts open up thinking for new possibilities (Guttman, 2009)
According to Luthans et all (1985), the next relevant activities where the PM focuses its attention during the project are socializing, politicking and interacting with outsiders. In order to perform those management activities the communication plays a significant role in project management (Pinto and Prescott, 1988). According to the study realized by Hyväri, (2006) communication was found as a critical factor for the project success. In Belassi and Tukel (1996) research was found that project team members consider communication as the key factor for a better performance.
It is important to mention that the PM is the link between the project and the outside world (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). Therefore the PM is the information bridge between the client, senior managers, functional departments, team member of the project itself and any other parties interested.
The definition of conflict is cited in Gobeli et all (1998) as the process where one of the parties does not agree and show some concern. March and Simon (1958) argue that conflicts is a breakdown of the common method to obtain a resolution. According to different articles read, it can be argued that conflict is the different perception’s ideas and they are part of the interaction between two or more social entities (Thompson, 1998).
Recent researches have demonstrated that potential risk factors exist within a project (Barki, Rivard, & Talbot, 1993; Moynihan, 1996; Schmidt, Lyytinen, Keil, & Cule, 2001). The role of the project manager is to avoid or reduce the impact of those risks in order to accomplish the project’s goals. In the work of Beccarini, Salm & Love (2004), Charette (1996) and Keil, Cule, Lyytinen, & Schmidt (1998) has been cited that the most common reason for a project failure is due to inadequate management.
The purpose of management conflict is to design an adequate strategy plan to resolve or reduce the impact of the conflict within the project or organisation (Rahim, 2000). At the same time an adequate management conflict strategy will take advantage of the conflicts, with the aim of improve the knowledge and enhance efficiency in the organisation (Rahim, 2000). Therefore management conflict can be seen as open up thinking for new possibilities and improvement in the organisation (Guttman, 2009).
Jehn (1995) suggests that moderate level of conflict can improve the quality and work performance of a team, but not when there are interpersonal relation conflicts. There is a positive aspect related to conflict, it stimulate creativity and innovation in the organisation (Wilson, 2004), helps to look deeper into a problem and provide a better analysis (Gobeli et al, 1998). This is a factor that contributes to the growth of the organisation. Managing the conflict will increase the experience, the empirical and rational knowledge of the parties involved. Therefore this learning experience obtained from the conflict can be used as the base to solve future problems.
According to the research developed by Haizer Taylor (2006), it is suggested four strategies for management conflict
- Control. These are actions taken by the PM from the beginning and through the life of the project in order to maintain the project stable and achieve the goals.
- Negotiation. The objective is to maintain good working relationships with all the parties involved in the project. This strategy is based on change control, trust and relationship-building and managing client expectations.
- Research. This strategy is applied when the situation requires further information in order to take a decision.
- Monitoring. Business environmental problems fall under this strategy. This is due the fact that they are known problems at the moment that the project begins. These problems are part of the context of the project and they can affect the it at any time.
It is important to mention the credibility that the project manager should own. The technical and administratively credibility build a trust relationship between the parties involved and the PM (Bucero, 2008). This factor benefits the negotiation to resolve conflicts and it has a positive impact in the project performance (Bucero, 2008).
The technical credibility will allow the PM to demonstrate that it posses the enough technical knowledge to lead a project although high level of expertise is not required (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). This factor is relevant for the client, functional manager and the project team members due the fact it is seen as leadership quality (Ford and McLaughlin, 1992; Zimmerer and Yasin, 1998 cited in Meredith and Mantel, 2006 p. 139).
In addition the administratively credibility will allow to maintain the project according to time and cost established (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). The PM will act as a facilitator in order to ensure that the team members have the material needed to perform their activities (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). The actions taken by the PM need to be supported by the senior manager (Meredith and Mantel, 2006). This means the PM credibility is supported by the organisation.
In the case of study “Making a difference? Evaluating an innovative approach to the project management Centre of Excellence in a UK government department” by Tim O’Leary and Terry Williams (2008) the Centres of Excellence PPMCoE and ITCoE were created. Both are new units focused on conflict management and they were supported by senior management.
The PPMCoE unit had success at the beginning, due the fact that it started to implement the PPM techniques and it caused good impression in the projects. But afterwards, project leaders started to wonder about the real value added by PPMCoE. They started to see the unit as a bureaucratic overhead. From that moment several projects issues arise, but he PPMCoE unit intervention was not accepted any more.
In this case, it can be observed the lack of the experience in conflict management. The implementation of changes in the projects was introduced without any negotiation or previous experiences, which could have helped to build a trust relationship. Therefore PPMCoE unit forced the project leaders to change the manner they were managing their projects. In addition those changes involved extra work. The introduction of changes in projects from an external unit requires considerable political skill and sensitivity. This will allow negotiating a satisfactory solution for the requested changes with the project leader.
The other factor to mention is the lack of control of the PPMCoE unit. The control strategy for conflict management is used from the beginning of the project and it continues through the project’s life. In this case of study, the unit did not keep the track of the projects. This caused doubts between project leaders due the fact that those changes represented more bureaucratic procedure. This PPMCoE did not take any action and as a result the unit lost control and credibility over its resources, in this case project leaders.
Carl Pritchard (2004) cited in his book that communication is “the cornerstone of project management”. Francois Chiocchio (2007) argues that communication is the key element for team performance, project success and efficient project manager. These authors agree that effective communication is a requirement for the project success.
Ralf Müller (2002) defines communication management according to Project Management Body of Knowledge as “the process for planning, information distribution, performance reporting and administrative closure, together with social and integrative characteristic of communication, which link people, ideas and information necessary for project success”(ref. 5, p. 117). It is observed in this definition that communication must to be present from the beginning of the project until its closure. In addition, balance should exist between social and technical communication. This is due the fact that social communication is important for negotiation and builds the relationship between the parties involved. On the other hand technical communication creates a value of leadership in the team and fulfils the client expectation (Meredith and Mantel, 2006).
The case of study developed by Irja Hyväri (2006) shown that communication was ranked as number one among project managers in different organisations. The project managers considered communication as the key factor for project success (Hyväri, 2006). Pinto and Prescott (1988) confirm the relationship that exists between effective communication and the project success.
In order to achieve an effective communication, the project management literature review, suggests that a number of formal communication events need to take place between the parties involved in the project (PMI, 2000). This means to establish a reporting frequency in a fixed time or according to certain events in the project, such as: status and achievements, changes to the project, issues and open items list, definition of next steps in the project, analysis of trends, quality and progress measures.
The Media Richness Theory (Müller, 2002) defines the effectiveness of communication media as the medium’s capacity to transmit different signals and obtain fast feedback. It is listed the following media according to the communication effectiveness and complexity of the information: face-to-face, telephone and written communication (Müller, 2002). However according to research developed by Ralf Müller (2002) is demonstrated that project manager prefers written media over personal or verbal communication.
The relationship established between the project manager and the parties involved in the project, contributes to an effective communication (Tushman and Scanlan, 1981). The balance of technical and social content in the communication builds a high level of relationship (Allen et al., 1980).Therefore it increases communication frequency and the face-to-face communication acquires higher importance (Müller, 2002). The technical communication builds a relationship based on credibility and social communication builds a trust relationship; both are key factor for managing conflicts.
In addition Pinto and Slevin (1988) argue that senior management support is required to avoid uncertainty in the project. A solid communication network should be maintained in order to have effective communication and maintain the parties involved informed about what is happening inside and outside the project.
The size of the company is other factor that needs to be considered in order to determinate the impact and effectiveness of communication. It has been found according to the research of Irja Hyväri (2006), that communication in bigger organisations has a significant impact within the project teams than in smaller organisations. This means that communication is a critical success factor in bigger companies. The same happens for higher project risk where communication develops an important factor (Müller, 2002).
In the case of study by Tim O’Leary and Terry Williams (2008) the second Centre of Excellence created (ITCoE) was a successful unit. The ITCoE was created with the intention of implement ‘best practice’ PPM processes. Its success is due the fact that the skilled managers of the unit were working closely with project leaders for a period. The objective was to address the project issues and after that the unit will sustain an intervention capability with the project.
It can be observed in this case of study that ITCoE managers were involved in the low performance projects. Therefore they were fully communicated with the project leader in order to address the issues. The ITCoE manager was involved in the day to day activities and it caused a better project performance. This happened under the context of highly committed and skilled individuals. The ‘best practices’ PPM processes were introduced under an environment of sensitivity, supported by senior managers and open to discussion in order to negotiate with the project team.
In addition the ITCoE unit sustained a continue communication with the projects. This helped to build a relationship and increased the frequency of the communication between the parties. At the same time it allowed the unit to be aware of any possible project issue in the future. These practices created changes inside the projects such as: the personal intervention of the IT director in some problematic projects and the creation of a weekly project issues. This constant communication allowed the IT director to decrease the level of issues in projects and improve the teams’ performance.
The project manager uses the systems approach (Meredith and Mantel, 2006) with the purpose of match all the components required to manage a project. For the purpose of this paper the project management is a set of interrelated factors that are used between them selves to achieve the goals. The conflict and communication management that have been analysed in the present report are key factors in a project. Therefore it can be argue that communication has an important role in conflict management as well as conflict management in project management.
The strategies used for conflict management are in charge to fulfil the client expectation and have a positive impact in project performance. This needs to be supported by its technical and administratively credibility. This credibility is obtained by a balance between social and technical communication. At the same time communication builds a trust relationship between the parties. Both, communication and a trust relationship are used for negotiation in conflict management with the aim of resolve conflicts. This needs to be considered in the context of highly committed and skilled individuals.
The effective communication is achieved by building a relationship with the parties and increasing its frequency. It allows maintaining the parties outside and inside the project informed. The communication is considered as a key factor for the success of the project (Pinto and Prescott, 1988).
It can be argued that conflicts within the development of a project can make it fail. However, it is the purpose of conflict management to use conflicts as an opportunity for creativity and innovation within the project (Wilson, 2004). The adequate level of conflicts improves project performance (Jehn, 1995).
The conflict and communication management are responsible to build a solid network between the parties involved. These factors are relevant for the project success in a context of skilled and committed team members.
Project Manager Activities and Behavioural description
- Settings goals and objectives
- Defining tasks needed to accomplish goals
- Scheduling employees timetables
- Assigning tasks and providing routine instructions
- Coordinating activities of different substitutes to keep work running smoothly
- Organizing the work
- Developing job description for position opening
- Reviewing applications
- Interviewing applicants
- Contacting applicants to informed them whether or not they have been hired
- ‘Filling in’ when need
- Orienting employees, arranging for training, seminaries, etc.
- Clarifying roles, routines, job descriptions
- Coaching, acting as a mentor, ‘walking’ subordinates trough tasks
- Helping subordinate with personal development plan
4. Decision making/problem solving
- Define problem
- Choosing between two alternatives or strategies
- Handling day to day operational crises as they arise
- Weighing trade off, making cost/benefit analysis
- Deciding what to do
- Developing new procedures to increase efficiency
5. Processing paperwork
- Processing mails
- Reading reports
- Writing reports, memos, letters
- Routine financial reporting and bookkeeping
- General desk work
6. Exchange routine information
- Answering routine procedural question
- Receiving and disseminating request information
- Conveying the results of meetings
- Giving or receiving routine information over the phone
- Attending staff meetings of an informational nature
7. Monitoring/controlling performance
- Inspecting work
- Walking around and checking things out, touring
- Monitoring performance date
- Preventive maintenance
- Allocating formal organisational rewards
- Asking for input participation
- Conveying appreciation, compliments
- Giving credit when due
- Listening to suggestions
- Given feedback on positive performance
- Increasing job challenges
- Delegating responsibility and authority
- Letting subordinates determinate how to do their own work
- Sticking up for the group to superiors and others, backing and subordinate
- Enforcing rules and politics
- Nonverbal glaring, harassment
- Demotion, firing, layoff
- Any formal organisation reprimand or notice
- ‘Chewing up’ a subordinate, criticizing a subordinate
- Giving feedback on negative performance
10. Interacting with others
- Public relation
- Contacting customer
- Contact with suppliers, vendors
- External meetings
- Community service activities
11. Managing conflict
- Managing interpersonal conflict between subordinates or others
- Appealing to a higher authority to resolve a dispute
- Appealing to a third-party negotiator
- Trying to get cooperation or consensus between conflicting parties
- Attempting to resolve conflicts between subordinate and oneself
- Nonwork-related chit, chat
- Informal ‘joking around’
- Discussion, rumours, hearsay, grapevine
- Complaining, griping, putting others down
- Politicking, gamesmanship
Source: Luthans and Lockwood (1984, p. 122)
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