Project Management

Handling Conflict on Agile Teams

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

Conflict is something most people would prefer to avoid. As project professionals, we know it’s inevitable, and we also know it can be constructive, but we still don’t like conflict, and most of us hope someone else will deal with it. Well, with agile teams that can be difficult, because the team is supposed to be self-managed, so there shouldn’t be anyone else stepping in to fix things for us. What do we do then?

Maybe you’ve rolled your eyes at some articles that discuss conflict management. I’m sure they’re well-meaning, but talking about standard conflict models that are decades-old and don’t relate to agile concepts isn’t very helpful. I want to take a different approach with this article. No models, no levels of escalating conflict, just my own experiences on dealing with conflict on an agile team—without causing any lasting damage, and perhaps even strengthening the team in the process.

Agile = more conflict?

Let’s start by recognizing that there is a much greater chance for conflict to occur on Agile teams than on most other approaches to work. That’s not a negative thing, it’s simply because of the nature of self-organized teams. The absence of a role that is making all of the decisions on behalf of the team means that decisions are reached by consensus and that consensus is only reached after different perspectives are considered, discussed and refined. And …

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