TitleManaging Conflict in Software Development Teams: A Multi-Level Analysis
Publication TypeJournal Articles
Year of Publication1998
AuthorsGobeli, D, Koenig, H, Bechinger, I
JournalJournal of Product Innovation Management
Date Published1998
KeywordsMarketing, MBA, Strategy & Entrepreneurship

For a new product development (NPD) organization, a little conflict can be a good thing. Healthy disagreements can push project team members or different functional groups in an organization to pursue more in-depth, insightful analysis. This type of creative tension can help to engender an environment that encourages innovation and thus keeps NPD efforts free from the business-as-usual doldrums. However, management must ensure that conflict remains on a healthy level.David H. Gobeli, Harold F. Koenig, and Iris Bechinger note that conflict must be managed not only to increase the satisfaction of project team members, but also to achieve strategic project success. To provide better understanding of the important issues in conflict management, they examine the effects of three conflict factors on software development project success: context, conflict intensity, and conflict management style. Using survey responses from 117 software professionals and managers, they develop a multi-level framework of success versus conflict for team-based, software development projects. Within this framework, they examine context, conflict intensity, and conflict management approaches at the team and organization levels.
For the participants in this study, unresolved conflict has a strong, negative effect on overall software product success and customer satisfaction. Project team member satisfaction decreases substantially with higher intensity conflict at the organization level, and even more strongly at the project level. For the respondents to this study, the combined effects of conflict intensity and conflict management style on project success are significant, but they are not as great as the combined effects of such context variables as company goals, group dynamics, and management support.
Two conflict management styles—confronting and give and take—have beneficial effects on success at the organization level for the firms in this study. Smoothing, withdrawal, and forcing all have negative effects, although only forcing has a statistically significant negative effect. In general terms, the results suggest that management should guard against frequent use of the dysfunctional management styles—withdrawal, smoothing, and forcing. The results suggest that emphasis on confrontation—that is, true problem solving—is essential at the project level, even if a give-and-take style is better tolerated at the organization level.