Month: May 2019

Things we do in projects: managing conflict between team members

It was my first week in a new project manager’s job. I got a phone call from Avery – a consultant on the team – who sounded distressed and wanted to urgently meet. I agreed immediately and we met that afternoon.

Almost sobbing, she told me that her male colleague undermines her position and makes her efforts futile. She went on and on. The word “harassment” was in the air. From her narrative, it seems that it was happening for months, if not years. I asked her if she talked about her experience with the previous three project managers this project had. “No”, she admitted, and said she was “not able to take it anymore”…

I offered her a number of options, including to involve human resources, as she mentioned harassment.  She agreed with the option of both of them meeting in my presence. I called our other colleague and we met couple of days later over a cup of coffee, on a neutral territory.

– Avery has something to tell you, Nick.

Avery was hesitating but it was too late to retrieve from the face-to-face. With some encouragement, she voiced her concerns. I could see Nick was in shock.

After the meeting he came by my office.

– I am shocked, he said.

– Yes, I saw.

– She spent her Sundays in my house, having wine with me and my wife, over the last two years. We work on a daily-basis… Now to hear all that and the bitterness in her voice…

I listened to his account of events. We agreed that he will think about what he can do on the points she raised. He was to remove all issues she could have potentially thought of as red flags in her communication with their common client.

As a project manager, I reassigned the assistant they shared, so there would be no suspicion of unwanted information passing from one office to another. Nick also arranged for the client to give her an honorary award. Needless to say, they did not have wine together after that. As things evolved in next months, we could see she liked her victim’s role and was soon after another colleague.

Two years later, Nick died of cancer. I always wondered if that story did not trigger it.

This story taught me many things. It taught me empathy and its dark side. It also reminded me to:

  • Observe the interaction between team members and stay informed.
  • Listen to both sides.
  • Do what you can to help overcome the conflict by giving both sides an equal opportunity to voice their concerns.
  • Do not allow for self-victimisation on the team. It serve no purpose.
  • Take things seriously and involve Human Resources or mediators when there are indications of inappropriate behaviour and disrespect.
  • Stay alert to the need to revisit team members’ communication needs and channels and eventually redistribute roles within the team.
  • Last but not least, act with integrity.


* names are changed.

How to maintain collaboration between project team members who do not like each other

A very good colleague of mine – Peter – once told me “At work, there is professionalism, respect and chemistry. It is ideal when you have all three. You can still work with the first two only though”.

Indeed, chemistry is valuable and rare. Not all project teams have it. Sometimes it is possible to create it. Sometimes it is not. We all encountered “cats and dogs” teams or “implosive teams”. Regardless, the project has to be delivered and the client – satisfied.

As a project manager, you might find yourself in-between. The tension might be silent or loud. Team members might want you to deal with it or just, quite the opposite, to not get mixed up.

Over years, I learned that there are a number of things a project manager can do:

  1. Observe to be able to prevent and to react, as appropriate.
  2. Learn about what’s behind the tension by listening. Truly listening to both sides.
  3. Clarify what’s in your power to do. Can you:
  • redistribute roles based on team members’ strengths?
  • offer safe space for people to get it off their chest?
  • give other channels of communication between the “belligerents”? for example, communication through Slack, if they cannot talk to each other, or encourage more face-to-face communication, when misunderstandings arise from written communication.
  • replace irreconcilable members of the team on areas which are essential for the project’s success?

4. If the organisation has training opportunities, offer to the members of the team to go to communication or conflict management trainings.

5. Remind everyone of the common objectives the entire team works for. Focus on what the team members have in common, not their dividing lines.

6. Organise informal team gatherings, over a beer or a bowling night or even a battle of any sorts (rap, dance, storytelling). It will offer team members an opportunity to know each other from other perspectives.

7. Above all, lead by example. Team members will often mirror the project manager’s preferences or dislikes. Keep your integrity in check.



Meez: advice from a chef to a project manager

Meez comes from ‘mise en place” known to chefs and kitchen staff. Renown chef Anthony Bourdain was caught saying “we do not dare so much as boil hot water without attending to a ritual that is essential for any self-respecting chef: mise-en-place”.

The French “Mise en place” means “everything is in its place”.

True for any self-respecting chef. True for any self-respecting project manager.

Meez in any project means that time is precious.

Project resources are precious.

Your self-respect and the respect of others are precious.

And a self-respecting project manager owns it to him/herself, to the project team and the client.

A chef will imagine a plan for a meal he/she is about to make before they begin. The plan will include the tools, equipment, delivery of products time, ingredients and their proportion, size of plates and even their temperature.

A project manager will create an action plan then a work breakdown structure. It will show what, who, when, for how long, how much budget is necessary to deliver the product/service to the client.

You’ll know how rigorous is the project manager if he/she has in place the team, needs assessments, the feasibility study results, the work plan, the procurement plan, the clearances/permits and other pre-requisites before the project starts.

Meez is gold. “Time spent on preparation saves time on implementation” remains a golden rule in project management.





Red flags in project procurement

Development management projects (and not only) often involve procurement. Goods, works and services are necessary for the achievement of a change supported by the project.  Usually, procurements are managed by project managers. In some organisations, project managers are assisted by specialised procurement services.

Procurements of goods, services and works differ by scope and complexity and require different control structures. Procurements serve the purpose of accountability to donors and the principles of the open competition. Procurement policies shall offer a fit-for-purpose framework and value-for-money spent.

To prevent damages from ill managed procurements – financial and reputational – there are a number of checks to be made and safeguards to be put in place before and during the procurement. Check your organisation’s rules and procedures on that. This will help prevent any eventual red flags, such as single bidding, for example, or unusually big differences between bids.


Each project cycle requires a number of checks in place for a transparent and fraud free procurement. Here is a selection of some, from my experience and the experience of a number of teams I worked with:

A. Needs identification:

  • Include a wide variety of stakeholders in the needs identification and selection to prevent capture and undue influence from certain entities;
  • Put in place or revisit your conflict of interest policy;
  • Protect confidential information and prevent insider trading.

B. Publication:

  • Design merit based appraisal criteria;
  • Choose the financial and other criteria wisely;
  • Publish the tender with clear appraisal criteria, procedures and terms;
  • Ensure the publicity of the tender to a wide public;
  • Give sufficient time for tendering;
  • Be clear about the documents required to be submitted in support of the tender;
  • Do not split contracts to avoid the competition/tendering.

C. Evaluation of the tender:

  • Follow with rigour the established criteria as published;
  • Ensure the members of the evaluation group are free of conflict of interest; manage the conflict of interest;
  • Document the evaluation process;
  • Get the approval of the tender board to contract the winning bidder(s).

D. Implementation:

  • Monitor the contractor’s obligations through reports and invoices audit;
  • Prevent and/or avoid substantial renegotiations of contractual terms;
  • Perform on-site visits to confirm the quality and quality of works, services and goods.

There is also the evaluation and audit stage, which might not be in the direct and immediate project manager’s realm. Yet, the project manager needs to remain alert, in particular, if/when any of the above stages give rise to red flags.

If you interest in other or additional related aspects,


Game completed: acceptance

The way the pastry chef puts the cherry on the cake, the same way the project manager looks forward to having the results of the project accepted. This final act of the performance has two parts: the formal and the informal one.Cherry-on-top-square

From a bridge to an IT module, the acceptance of the project results shall be formalised in a way or another.

Some projects – in particular the development management project – require a final report. The final report requires usually to take a result-oriented perspective and show that the resources and inputs lead (or not) to the change expected and if not, why.

In other projects – mostly, internal projects – an acceptance form suffices to acknowledge that the product and/or service are in place and are accepted by the customer for use. There are a variety of acceptance forms in projects guidance and methodologies. Feel free to download and use this template: Template_ Acceptance_EN

From my experience, the formalities of completing a project are a sort of “Give to God what’s God’s and to Caeser’s what’ his”.  Who is your Ceaser’s will give the answer to the question on whether or not a less formal completion of the project is needed.

From my experience, it is worth to take time to celebrate the project completion with the client and the project team. It can take a variety of shapes and forms, depending on your objective and budget. Yet, by no means a celebration of the end of the project needs to be a dull event with speeches and handshakes. For example, to mark the end of a project, at the final steering committee meeting I chose story telling. It was before Christmas, so a Christmas story with gifts – project deliverables – which were “put” under the client’s tree was very well received and remembered for years after.

What I also learned is that you need to approach the celebration of the end with the best of your project management skills. You owe it to your team first of all. They deserve to have their work acknowledged. It is also important to keep up their enthusiasm for new challenges and projects. I remember a project team which received chocolate medals  at the end of a first project with the joy of kids getting treats. It was the least I could do, but it made it a memorable thing for them.