Conflict Resolution in Project Business


Project Business Management


By Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany



“Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”
William Shakespeare – King Lear



Healing conflicts between contract parties in a project and turning them into project partners may be no more possible in certain instances. For such cases, individuals and organizations involved should understand the various methods of conflict resolution.

Project Business Conflicts

The growing number of projects that are not just done inside the protective walls of an organization but in a cross-corporate manner with customers, contractors, possibly subcontractors and many other parties involved, brings a high potential for conflicts. These conflicts can be damaging to the organizations involved. They may prove disastrous for the projects affected.

In my May 2019 article “Healing Conflicts in Project Business”[1], I discussed approaches to “heal” project conflicts. This healing is based on the fundamental assumption that all parties are interested in a resolution and that the project, its results, but also the business that it incorporates, have enough value for the parties involved that they put aside their differences and find a jointly acceptable solution. The article also talks about the causes of such conflicts, with diverse business interests, cultures, and clashing strong egos at the top.

Here, I want to talk about those situations, when healing seems not possible. The project may be over, the parties have departed, and the conflicts are caused by the need to finally settle claims and obligations. There may no be the mutual interests to achieve joint goals that help overcome differences.

During the project, relationships may also become too poisoned to allow for a healing process. There may still be a joint interest to finish the project and gain the benefits expected from it, however, the causes of conflict are exceeding these positive forces, and emotions of anger, frustration, disappointment, and fear of losing out in the conflict make it impossible to find common ground again[2].

How will such conflicts be resolved?

Do Project Managers Need Legal Knowledge?

Details are depending on the legislation under which the conflict needs to be resolved. The following paragraphs are therefore not to be understood as legal advice, which can only be given by a lawyer. This is basic knowledge that a project manager should have to do the job.

One may compare this to driving lessons that convey basic knowledge of traffic laws, however, when legal advice is needed, this will not come from the driving instructor but from a lawyer educated in traffic laws and regulations. A car driver, however, has to make many decisions in traffic that may in a worst case lead to charges and fines, and the person cannot ask a lawyer in each of these moments. Instead, the person has to rely on education received in traffic rules and common sense.

Project managers in project business are in a similar situation: They make a large number of messages, actions, but also inactions during a project day. Each can cause legal troubles. And just like a car driver, a project manager cannot ask a lawyer at every crossing and every turn what to do. They need education and experience, and a lot of common sense, to make the right decisions.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Oliver Lehmann, author of the book “Project Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018. See author profile below.

How to cite this article: Lehmann, O. (2020). Conflict Resolution in Project Business; Series on Project Business Management; PM World Journal, Vol. IX, Issue II, February.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/pmwj90-Feb2020-Lehmann-Conflict-Resolution-in-Project-Business.pdf



About the Author


Oliver F. Lehmann

Munich, Germany



Oliver F. Lehmann, MSc., PMP, is a project management author, consultant, speaker and teacher. He studied Linguistics, Literature and History at the University of Stuttgart and Project Management at the University of Liverpool, UK, where he holds a Master of Science Degree. Oliver has trained thousands of project managers in Europe, USA and Asia in methodological project management with a focus on certification preparation. In addition, he is a visiting lecturer at the Technical University of Munich.

He has been a member and volunteer at PMI, the Project Management Institute, since 1998, and served five years as the President of the PMI Southern Germany Chapter until April 2018. Between 2004 and 2006, he contributed to PMI’s PM Network magazine, for which he provided a monthly editorial on page 1 called “Launch”, analyzing troubled projects around the world.

Oliver believes in three driving forces for personal improvement in project management: formal learning, experience and observations. He resides in Munich, Bavaria, Germany and can be contacted at oliver@oliverlehmann.com.

Oliver Lehmann is the author of “Situational Project Management: The Dynamics of Success and Failure” (ISBN 9781498722612), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2016 and ofProject Business Management” (ISBN 9781138197503), published by Auerbach / Taylor & Francis in 2018.

To view other works by Oliver Lehmann, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/oliver-f-lehmann/


[1] (Lehmann, 2019)

[2] I described the underlying forces of such conflicts in my books “Situational Project Management – the Dynamics of Success and Failure” (Lehmann, 2016) and “Project Business Management” (Lehmann, 2018)