Some conflict-related situations between parties to projects



By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia



In a recent article in this journal (Stretton 2017d) I observed that current bodies of knowledge and similar guidelines largely focus on projects with relatively low complexities. Whilst there have been some contributions on the management of projects with relatively high levels of complexity in the more general project management literature, there are still many gaps, and much more is needed to cover the very wide range of various types of project complexity that exist in practice.

Another type of complexity-related situation which is not well covered in the literature is that related to conflicts between various parties to projects. Conflicts can be seen as specific types of complexities, as is exampled by Wagner & Lock 2016, who say

Team dynamics and conflicts are perceived as complexities that project or programme managers need to deal with.

I have come across three articles in relatively recent times which have been concerned with three different types of conflict-related situations. One was by Taggart 2015 (also in this journal), who discussed significant “clashes of cultures” between supplier organizations and owner organizations. A second was by Crawford et al 2013, which was concerned with a range of tensions at the interfaces of temporary (i.e. project) organisations and permanent organizations in disaster event situations – in this case three state-level Australian bushfire fighting organizations and operations. The third was an article by Arroyo & Grisham 2016 (again in this journal), on leading what they describe as extreme projects – i.e. those conducted in demanding physical, political, multi-cultural, multi-country, multi-organizational global environments. They discuss a very substantial range of conflict-related issues.

The types of project contexts of each of these three, the parties involved, and the nature of the conflicts, are all very different, as are the lessons that two authors groups draw from these. However, there was one common strand. The authors found little in the existing project management bodies of knowledge and the like to help them solve their particular conflict-related problems. There were also some other issues that emerged in the different contexts of the three articles, two of which are quite rich in context-relevant materials.

We now discuss each of the above three articles in a little more detail.


Taggart 2015 points out that owner organizations are permanent institutions, whereas supplier organizations’ projects are temporary organisations. With regard to soft skills in particular, he sees project managers in supplier organizations as standing astride a fault line between two very different cultures, with different

  • attitudes to change
  • importance of individual customer focus
  • appropriateness of rule based governance
  • importance of stability of numbers
  • appropriateness of different incentives
  • importance of job security
  • terms of engagement
  • favoured attributes of employees
  • favoured attributes of employers
  • prioritisation of efficiency over effectiveness
  • and many more

He points out that the literature on project management offers scant advice for identifying and dealing with these cultural conflicts.

My position is that, without any specifics of the situations reflected in Taggart’s observations, it is difficult for me to comment. In my own experience these types of problems have either not been important, or have been relatively easily overcome, and only seldom of unusual significance. Perhaps this is because I was operating in the age-old building and construction domain, rather than in newer domains where participants had less prior interactive experience to fall back on. However, I found some other types of differences for project managers working in project supplier and project owner organizations, which I discussed in Stretton 2017e & 2017h.


To read entire paper, click here

Editor’s note: Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon), Life Fellow of AIPM (Australia), is a pioneer in the field of professional project management and one of the most widely recognized voices in the practice of program and project management.   Long retired, Alan is still tackling some of the most challenging research and writing assignments; he is a frequent contributor to the PM World Journal. See his author profile below.

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton
is one of the pioneers of modern project management. He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA. In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects. He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France). Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992. He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996. He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management. He has published over 180 professional articles and papers. Alan can be contacted at [email protected].

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.