Why Conflict is Good for your Project

When I was a younger project manager, I strove for perfection. The ultimate goal was to run the perfect project where everything was completed on-time, within budget, with great quality and to the absolute delight of the customer. When I say everything had to be perfect, I mean everything. Every milestone. Every task. Every detail.

I was fortunate to manage a few projects that went pretty much just like that. Nearly perfect. And when all was said and done, we patted ourselves on the back for a job well done and said, “Thank you,” when the customer told us what a great job we did. Then…we moved on to the next project. Just like that.

The customer was happy but nobody really noticed. Nobody really said anything beyond “Hey, great job!” Nobody talked about those projects during coffee breaks. Nobody conducted deep-dive analyses to find out exactly how things went so smoothly. Nobody is talking about those projects to this day. They simply aren’t the stuff of legends.

On the flip-side, I’ve managed a few projects that had major, major problems and when all was said and done, I walked away looking pretty good because somehow, some way, we managed to get the job done.

Why is it that nobody cares when everything goes according to plan but the projects with massive problems become the stuff of legend and folklore?

It’s almost as if a project must have problems, sometimes big problems, before people take notice. When the problems do not get resolved, the project manager is usually the villain or the goat. However, when those big problems do get resolved, the project manager is a hero.

The entertainment industry has this figured out. It’s why they don’t produce movies where everything goes well. Sure, there is often a happy ending in a Hollywood script but how does the story reach the happy ending? It’s the conflict that makes a movie interesting. It’s the conflict that keeps us on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what will happen next.

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story, Donald Miller says that a story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. All good movies have conflict. All good stories have conflict.

Without conflict, a story is simply a character who wants something and gets it.


Projects are a lot like movies, stories and life. The conflict is what makes a movie or story interesting. Conflict makes life interesting. It’s also what makes projects interesting. But much more than being interesting, the presence of conflict is a good indicator that a project is doing something important. I would go as far as saying that if conflict is completely absent from your project, there is a good chance that your project isn’t making enough difference for people to actually care.

So don’t be afraid of a little — or even big — conflict on your projects. Don’t seek conflict just to make the project more entertaining. But embrace the challenges that come up. Especially if the conflict relates to quality.

When your project is finally completed, it will feel that much more satisfying and you’ll have a much better story to tell. Who knows? You might even be the next hero.


About the Author

Dave Coddington

​In addition to actively service clients in various project management roles, I am privileged to lead the great team we have at Project Outlier. I am a strategist, an entrepreneur and a creative. I have an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and Economics and an MBA with an emphasis in Information Systems Management. You can find more about me by visiting my personal blog, and I’d love to connect with you on Link​edIn