How to Manage Conflict in an Agile Environment with PM Tools?

October 08, 2014

conflict_management-336x336 How to Manage Conflict in an Agile Environment with PM Tools? project management The benefits of using Application Lifecycle Management tools are diverse and in some cases, a versatile tool can help out in areas you wouldn’t expect. Conflict management is one such topic: this article argues and explains how using an advanced ALM software with built-in Project Management (PM) functionality could be helpful in resolving conflicts in an Agile environment.

Despite plentiful evidence on the advantages of Agile, many development teams remain wary of taking the leap and saying goodbye to their old Waterfall or V-Model methods. Naturally, Agile is not for everyone – however, even companies that could definitely benefit from switching to Agile seem to think twice before making the decision. A prominent reason among the many factors that contribute to this hesitation is the fear of conflict.

The word ‘conflict’ traditionally carries a negative overtone, and as a consequence is generally considered an unpleasant and counterproductive phenomenon that is best avoided in cooperative teamwork. In Agile, however, conflict is natural and can even be beneficial as it helps identify and resolve issues in the organization. To ensure all conflicts are dealt with in a constructive way, they need to be managed responsibly, and a new approach to conflict needs to be adopted in the organization. An advanced ALM tool can help by providing a clear overview of tasks and responsibilities, facilitating the discussion about work-related conflicts.

Where do conflicts stem from?

The transition to Agile, with all the uncertainty and organizational changes involved, inherently carries the possibility of triggering conflicts. The various stages of group development, as per Tuckman’s model, also have their own challenges. Once Agile has been adopted, the decentralization of management via self-organizing teams and of course the time pressure of working in short iterations could lead to further tension every now and again. Transparency needs to be ensured so that tasks and assignments can be monitored – a suitable ALM/PM tool is necessary to track commitments. If these conflicts are left untreated, seething below the surface, that could hinder communication and collaboration, resulting in decreased productivity of your teams, or even worse.

So how does one ensure that conflicts are managed in a constructive way that supports cooperation and drives positive change?

Depending on what Agile methodology you chose to adopt, there should be someone on your team – an Agile coach or Scrum Master – whose job it is to remove impediments to work along the development process. That said, in the self-organized world of Agile, resolving conflicts should be left to team members themselves; the coach or Scrum Master merely supervises the process and intervenes only when it’s necessary to avoid the escalation of the conflict.

Facilitating a constructive solution to conflicts

For autonomous conflict management to work well with self-organized teams, some basic values have to be established. As with most questions related to Agile, the solution lies in reaching back to the principles of the agile manifesto. The importance of basic values such as communication, cooperation, interaction between individuals and responding to change holds true when applied to conflict management.

Issues need to be brought to the surface and analyzed via open discussions with whoever’s involved in the situation. Being open and transparent about problems promotes courage and mutual respect among the parties involved. You don’t want your team to play the blame game: once blaming begins, it’s time for the coach or Scrum Master to step up and revert the conversation back in a constructive direction.

That said, accountability provided by transparency in commitments and tasks is important. A clear overview of responsibilities is vital. Using a suitable project management tool such as codeBeamer’s relevant functions to ensure traceability and transparency of tasks and commitments, you can make sure responsibilities are well defined and understood, and progress monitored, which helps avoid the blame game while facing the facts. Taking an honest and open approach is facilitated by using the appropriate functions of an ALM tool.

Once a resolution has been achieved, you need to make sure everyone agrees with the way the problem has been resolved. Retrospective meetings are great occasions to discuss and analyze the way a collaborative resolution was reached, and finalize the solution of the problem. This lets all members of the team take part in the cooperative solution.

While it’s entirely possible that the Agile method is one of the causes of conflicts in your team, it also offers a toolset and the right approach to resolve any and all problems in a cooperative and constructive way. As a consequence, rather than hindering productivity, the Agile framework can help your team learn to become adept at managing conflict.

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Kristof Horvath

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Kristof holds a BA in Commerce and Marketing and is especially passionate about inbound and content marketing. On the Intland blog, he is covering topics related to application lifecycle management and agile methods.

Kristof Horvath has written 103 posts for Intland Software.

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