Studies suggest that owners and contractors rank conflict among project participants as the highest factor affecting project cost. According to research put out by The Center for Construction Research and Training, on average, conflict arising during construction projects costs approximately $11,000 per incident and 161 hours of work time. Here’s the kicker: the cause of conflict didn’t necessarily have to do with personality clashes. The study revealed that the real trigger events were more organizational and systems-oriented. Primary trigger events attributed to interpersonal conflict were most often tied to the process of construction versus construction personnel themselves. “I think it’s the process rather than the people,” said one of the superintendents interviewed.

The amount of internal conflict varies from project to project and increases in intensity depending on the size of the project, ownership structure, number of contractors, and each individual scope of work. As the study puts it, crucial to running an efficient business is realizing the true value of preventing project conflict altogether or being able to mitigate project conflict as soon as it arises. The cost of preventing and resolving conflict in its earliest stages is minimal compared to the cost of leaving conflict unresolved or going through arbitration or other formal resolution methods.

In the book Construction Conflict Management and Resolution, Peter Fenn and Rod Gameson refer to five types of conflict in the industry:

  • Interest conflicts
  • Structural conflicts
  • Value conflicts
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Data conflicts

They indicate significant “diminishing project performance levels induced by non-interaction, frustration, and non-aligned perceptions of each other’s and the project’s goals.”

According to the research, managers spend 30% to 42% of their work time dealing with conflicts. For every hour spent resolving conflicts, the average project is set back three hours. Imagine the loss this translates into on a mega capital project spanning over five to ten years! And consider the increased chaos when ten EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) companies, each with their own set of work packages and subcontractors, are involved. The study suggests that innovative changes to the construction process could reduce the incidence of conflict on the jobsite.

 

One innovation gaining traction within the construction and engineering community is the discipline of interface management. Strong interface management expertise is vital to avoiding conflict and successfully delivering large scale projects that include many stakeholders. Interface management is about making sure communication between project stakeholders is handled in a way that provides project managers the visibility necessary to help deal with conflicts quickly when they do arise. Mismanaged interfaces can have significant impact on the cost and schedule of the project. It can also be financially distressing to the owner and contractors involved in the project delivery team. Interface management helps project teams mitigate interface-related risk by recording and tracking interfaces early on in the project, as well as by building collaboration and lines of communication between project participants. By documenting interfaces and providing strong communication channels, contracted parties can establish clear lines of responsibility. While contractors have commitments to the owner, they have no direct contractual commitment for interfaces between their respective scope packages or to other contractors. To handle this potential for conflict, project delivery teams are applying interface management practices.

On large projects, conflict is bound to happen. To successfully manage conflict and reduce tension between various parties, interface management should be a key part of the project’s overall management plan. With a seasoned interface manager and the proper interface management system in place, the cost of conflict will be reduced significantly. As a result, project quality will improve, with less rework, less schedule slippage, fewer cost overruns, and ultimately, less overall frustration for all parties involved.

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