Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on Conflict

I have a complex relationship with conflict.  I don't like it, I don't want to do it - but I sometimes, personally and professionally, find it necessary.  Today, at work, I crashed into some unresolved issues and they rose to conflict.  I apologized profusely because I did not want to go there, but I found myself there.  Let me run through the scenario.

At work we are split into multiple groups.  As different groups we all have different processes. Our IT Support group is very process and procedure driven.  They have all kinds of process maps that they must follow, all kind of matrices they must adhere too.  We have a project engineer who comes from this group and insists on processes that I don't think are necessary, that our group, in general, does not follow.  For the most part, on the project we've been working, we tend to be able to find middle ground - many of the steps in their process documents run in parallel with the steps in our processes. We use a very general, very broad process milestone approach, which is very flexible and our project managers have a lot of latitude to determine which steps we do and don't do.

Their process requires a certain set of review meetings with their upper management - these meetings are required, they are not optional for them on their projects.  On our side of the fence, we have similar meetings (reviews, approvals, etc.), though we structure them differently and time them differently.  According to their processes "you must do A, B, C" in sequence.  According to our processes you must do A. B, and C - but the sequence timing is up to the project manager and the project team to determine what is the best approach (our approach is more organic and fluid).

Because they are so process driven they become fixated on their process and, at times, their bureaucracy means they are driving very hard to check the boxes - whether those check boxes add any value or not.  We've been hung up over a series of meetings that my management tells me we do not have to do (and I agree) and the project engineer keeps insisting we have to do them.

So, today, we are in a meeting the new project manager and the project engineer starts going over how we have to have these meetings and these are the slides we have to have and we need to schedule them immediately.  I gave him a brush back and said "wait until we have the new PM up to speed", but he kept going.  My temper got the best of me, and I explained it was an area of difference between us. (What I didn't like was the language he was using - we must, we have to, we are required to, we need to.)  So, I suggested that, once and for all we need to go to our respective management and figure out who is the tiger and who is the tail. 

The source of my objection is their process drives us through specific steps, processes, documents and reviews that we do not need.  I want to establish that WE run the program, not him and not his process.  It is a challenge and now we're trying to draft up an email to engage our management and get a decision as he insists that he is doing it the right way and the way that has to be done.  I content that this is not a technical group development project - but that it is an IS SaaS vendor implementation.  We are going to be working together closely on multiple projects in the coming year and we need to establish that we run the project, not them, since our model is different then theirs.  Their process will add time and cost to the projects -  potentially significant time and cost.

I thought we had it straightened out earlier, but I don't think we did - he keeps circling back to wanting to do it their way.  I hate to go to our management - but we need to so, going forward we do not have all the conflicts where we're subtly trying to figure out who is in charge and whose processes and process steps apply. 

And of course, one of the things that made the conflict even more difficult for me is that I happen to sincerely like the guy, and I felt bad that we ended up there again, so I apologized repeatedly for getting hot. Mara in action. I am very sure that I have the right of it at the end of the day, but I would have much preferred that it did not go to conflict.

I will segue for a moment here and say this - it is actually a problem with the people from that group on other projects as well (though the lines over there are drawn a little better).  The challenge is that they just relentlessly push and don't listen to you because that is what their organization rewards.  Oh, the challenges of corporate life.

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