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The role of conflict & negotiation in the complexity of projects

By S Gul


Projects are pervasive and disparate spanning a plethora of domains. Most projects are unified by certain characteristics regardless of the sector or industry to which they belong i.e. time &amp; budget limitedness, a concern for quality, and a goal orientation. Although, projects have been around for a longtime, the phenomenon of conflict in projects gained interest around the 1960s with the introduction of the matrix form of organization. However, out of all the research papers on project centric conflict between 1960 to 1980 time period, only one is empirically grounded and that too focused on IT projects. Surprisingly, the findings put forward during this time period are to date considered valid and propagated by most project literature as universally true. Several other studies have contributed peripheral contributions to the project conflict literature, however, no study has focused on building an understanding of why and how conflicts arise on projects, how they are managed, and affects they create within projects.<br/><br/>Recent concerns pertaining to project failures, despite the existence of well-defined problems and toolsets, gave birth to an ESRC funded research network named `Rethinking Project Management'. Whose members in examining the ontological groundings of project management identified several areas of interest for future research in project management; one of which is complexity. The present study therefore focuses on integrating the concerns of conflict &amp; negotiation within the context of project complexity.<br/><br/>Every research has its philosophical bearings. This study is ontologically objectivist and epistemologically subjectivist (consequently the axiology is subjectivist as well). This study accepts a Critical Realist view of the world and perceive the conceivable knowledge about this world to be subjective in nature. As the study is concerned about understanding the processes through which conflict &amp; negotiation reify and interplay within a project the objective is not to find generalizations but rather to seek out patterns of occurrences and to build explanations. The methodology followed in the study is mixed, borrowing from both positivistic and constructivist ideologies. The survey methodology is used to, in loose terms, cast a net and capture the status quo. Results of the survey supplement the literature review driven a priori assumptions and seek out context embedded variables that the literature has not touched upon. Findings from the survey contribute to the succeeding case study methodology, which inquired into their detail through the use of interviews.<br/><br/>Data for the study was collected between March through August 2010. During the first phase of the study 86 questionnaires were filled from 73 different projects. The survey data was analyzed using aggregate statistical techniques and a thesaurus based automated coding software named Leximancer. Results of the survey indicate that all projects surveyed had experienced some form of conflict and used at least one type of negotiation technique. A large number of projects faced conflicts related to land access, political pressures, time, interdepartmental relationships, and availability of resources. Project behavior when experiencing conflict exhibits a theme of delay, slowness, and work stoppages; there are also negative effects on group cohesion and productivity. The respondents described projects experiencing conflict as challenging, time consuming, delayed, and difficult. The data also revealed several useful patterns within projects experiencing conflicts. Additionally, baseline data for project complexity was captured using Shenhar and Dvir's Diamond Approach from all the projects surveyed. Findings, from the survey contributed to the study by providing preliminary answers to each of the research questions asked. Data gathered as a result of the survey contributed significantly to the design and orientation of the case study interviews.<br/><br/>The second phase of the data collection involved implementation of the case study methodology. Personnel at various levels of nine projects, one government consultant, and a tribal elder were interviewed, for a total of thirty interviews. Additionally, six meetings on one of the projects, and two movie filming sequences were observed. Published and non-published reports on all the projects were examined. Interviews were captured using causal-maps (a cognitive mapping technique) and short notes. The causal-maps were captured using Banxia Decision Explorer and later refined using Cmap (an open-source mapping software). Each project's complexity measurements were taken and compared against the complexity baseline developed as a result of the survey.<br/><br/>Results from the case study reveals certain patterns of behavior on the projects, specifically in the interactions taking place between a project and its principle organization, peers, and subordinates. Additionally, I find that quality plays the most active role in project conflict &amp; negotiation and contributes significantly to project complexity because of its interconnection to other concepts and the recursive nature of the connections it spawns. Some factors that were reported by the survey as contributing significantly to project complexity and project conflict &amp; negotiation were disqualified and a foundation laid for further inquiry into the role played by conflict &amp; negotiation in project complexity.<br/><br/>In concluding the study the data is first discussed through the lens of Jurgen Habermas' (1984) Theory of Communicative Action (TCA) and is followed by a general discussion on the data. The study concludes with a discussion on the possible future work that could result from this work

Topics: HD61
Year: 2012
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Provided by: e-Prints Soton

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