Conflict Management in Agile Context

The conflict perspective in Agile

The conflict can be defined as an interference between individuals or groups of people, promoted by different beliefs, values, goals or the surrounding environment. The incompatibility of goals can potentialize the disagreement between team members, increasing the possibility of conflict risk occurring.

It’s important to manage the conflict risk, because unmanaged conflict risk negatively affects the working team environment. But conflict is not synonymous of problems. From the perspective of the agile coach, and in my opinion, one of the hallmarks of highly collaborative teams is that they use conflict constructively and, in some cases, can have a positive effect on the overall project environment.

Created by DALL-E
Created by DALL-E, 2024

The adoption of Agile and the conflict increase

The adoption of Agile could result in conflict between team members, mainly when making the transition to Agile software development. It’s possible that there could be more conflict between team members in Agile software development than other project management methodologies, but it’s crucial to recognize that conflict does not originate from the methodology but from people.

People issues are the crucial ingredient of the Agile drive, enabling individuals to support realistic goals by providing shorter feedback cycles, flexibility as well as ownership with some degree of freedom to resolve said issues. However, we should not confuse the difficulties inherent in product development with the conflict inherent in introducing a new way of working. One source of increased conflict may be associated with the partial adoption of Agile in a traditional organization, that can inevitably generate some conflicts, essentially when the engaged in the new methodologies does not cover all the organization business areas, which is perhaps the main barrier to the desired success.

Conflict Risk Management

One way to manage conflict risk is to face it and turn it into a positive think, recognized and learn with it, helps the teams to realize and define paths to understand the conflict source and possible solutions. Thus, it is natural to say, the perception of conflict is negative and unwanted, is the traditional perception that researchers had of the conflict risk in work environments, where is harmful and a potential risk to effective team performance.
The team need to know the new methodologies adopted, like Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean Development, or Crystal, in the context of Agile mindset. It’s crucial to understand the values, the goals, the customer collaboration, the responding to change, the concept of continuous delivery and continuous improvement, then iterative method, all these terms define the new approach, the new vision of “Who To Do”, the team members need to be certified in Agile methodologies or familiarized with practical experience.

We should not avoid conflict when it is necessary but try to make it unnecessary. We would prefer to have a good teamwork than adversarial. However, to mitigate any conflict, there are some control and management mechanisms. For example, such as the team can be shielded from external noise, to focus on their ongoing tasks, and this is possible in the introduction of the correct methodologies, like Scrum, excellent for initiating the maturity degree in a traditional organization who want to adopt Agile.

Another way to mitigate conflict, goes through involve everyone on the team to understand the product goal, create and maintain a document that describe how team will work, schedule retrospectives ceremonies to discuss who to improve and resolve some issues, and delegate authority to maintain the trust experience.

Finally, but not less important, Agile makes sense if everyone in organization is aligned on the same principles and values, otherwise conflicts will inevitably arise due to the collision of different points of view and cultures.

Created by DALL-E, 2024

Agile as a risk or conflict resolution

The conflict risk is a factor of concern in the software development process, but is natural, because conflict is present in any situation where people work together, principally when is important to responding to change through constant collaboration with the customer, like Agile methodology based. Collaboration means conflict, whenever more than one person works on a problem, there will be disagreements about how to solve it.

Conflict is something natural in human beings, it is part of their evolutionary process, and we are only interested in knowing how we can improve it in our favour, allowing us to grow as a person and a professional. It’s our goal to resolve the conflict quickly and effectively.

It’s possible that of the major causes of people conflict is the fact that Agile adoption impact a cultural shift in an organization, but on Agile philosophy, the conflict risk is embraced without preconceptions. It’s a new culture, that allows us to embrace transparently, so that we can learn and improve with it, and required time to consolidate, where change is always the main driver of resistance at the first stage of the adoption process.

Nuno Sousa
Business Analyst at Polarising

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