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"welcome to my personal blog," Ammar W Mango

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    Organizational Project Management Consultant, using profession as a platform for learning beyond just work. My passion is learning more about self, people, universe, and God.
    I am into Religion, Meditation, Yoga, and Tai Chi. I love learning about human behavior and motivation.
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Posts Tagged ‘Ammar Mango’

Top Ten Differences between Managing a Program versus a Project

Posted by Ammar Mango on September 4, 2016

space program

Program Management is managing multiple related projects combined to deliver benefits not achievable from managing them separately.  This makes Program Management a magnitude of complexity over Project Management.

These are the top ten differences between program and project management:

  1. Programs are about benefits, not just deliverables.  For example, a project manager delivering a system implementation is responsible for the delivering the system functional for the organization.  However, in a program setting, the program manager would probably be responsible for the strategic intent behind the system.  So, the system implementation might be part of an initiative to improve the organization’s ability to do business online.  So migrating online is a program, and the system implementation is one of many projects the program manager has to worry about to ensure delivering the benefit (do business online) .
  2. Programs require a lot of stakeholders’ expectations management, much more than what a project requires.  Remember programs have multiple projects under them and affect many more stakeholders than a project.  So managing expectations become more difficult.
  3. Programs bring about deeper and tougher changes at the organizational level than a project does.  This makes resistance to change much higher towards a program compared to a project.  The program manager must have the ability to deal with this resistance to change proactively and throughout the program lifecycle.
  4. Programs usually have a much longer span of time than projects.  In a single program many projects are initiated and closed over many years (usually).  The longer span of time adds to the complexity of the program and poses its own challenges when it comes to funding, managing stakeholders, getting buy in and commitment, etc.
  5. Programs financial management is more complex than a project.  The inflows and outflows over the span of the program sometimes leave the project financially challenged.  The Program Manager must develop the necessary financial plans to ensure this is handled wisely, with the support of program sponsor and board.
  6. Program Managers must have knowledge of the organization beyond managing projects.  Knowledge of the organizational culture, operations, background, etc., are key for program success.
  7. Benefits realization in programs sometimes come long after the program itself is closed.  This is challenging as the program manager might have to plan for sustaining the momentum for the changes brought by the program long after he or she closes the program.
  8. Risk Management on projects is key, but it is more so on programs.  There is a lot of uncertainty on programs.  For example, not all program components might be known at the beginning of the program.  So estimation becomes difficult early on, causing funding to become a potential issue.
  9. Balancing between controlling program components (projects and operations) and allowing project managers enough autonomy is a challenging task.  Project Managers need room to maneuver on their project, but the program manager must keep a close eye on the performance of the project.
  10. Benefits realization means always keeping an eye on the big picture, and having the wisdom to see the long term vision.  This becomes the responsibility of the program manager, even when everybody else seems focused on short term issues.  Project Managers deal with shorter term issues than program managers.

For More about Program Management and Program Management Certification, follow this link to one of my youtube videos.


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Which Project Management Software to use: A direction to look into

Posted by Ammar Mango on April 2, 2016

The requirements of stakeholders from a project management software are changing.  Older software that focused on robustness and richness in project management features, at the expense of user friendliness and simplicity,  are becoming more and more extinct. Being replaced by software that focus on collaboration and clear and timely communication.  But there is still a lot to be done.

Today, when anyone asks me for recommendation for a project management software, I usually propose cloud based user friendly solutions.  I am not into desktop any more.  I think desktop and server based applications are not doing the job any more.  For those who are worried about security, local cloud can be the answer.

Another thing I like to recommend is to stick to tools that are more geared towards the team member and executive as users, rather than the traditional focus on the project manager being the heaviest user of the tool.  There is still a lot of room for improvement for tools that provide central command information to executives, integrated with other operational information from the finance, HR, and other departments.

Back to our question: Which is the best project management software? My answer is drifting away from the “usual culprits.”  I think most of them are becoming too cumbersome and heavily loaded with features that most users never use.  At the expense of user friendliness, meaningful information, and real enterprise wide integration.

If I am to recommend a tool to run a project, I would refer people to try one of the web based tools.  However, cloud based and user friendly software are a bit off on their reporting abilities from an enterprise perspective.  I also do not see the needed integration across organizational functions.  I believe that combining simplicity with meaningful cross functional data is difficult.  However, I believe the prize is huge for the company that can achieve it.

The project management industry is changing.  I think the main reason for the change is that it is changing from a “priesthood” discipline where only experts can handle the project management software, to a topic that is becoming a necessity for any company to succeed.  Hence every one including executives and team members are interested in the answer.  It used to be that project management is something the project manager would “handle.” Not any more. However, the cycle of change is moving much slower than market evolution.  Here is why:

Anywhere you look in the PM software market you find disgruntled stakeholders.  Regardless of the industry, the only user who seems happy with the tool is the direct user; the project manager or planner who is responsible for maintaining the information in the system.  This exclusivity provides job security for the “tool handler” and that might contribute to their satisfaction with the tool.  But if you ask managers, are they getting what they want from their EPM system? I have seldom heard raving reviews. Same with team members, department managers, and team leaders.

The company who can answer this call for change will reap the rewards of the suppressed market.

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The quest for the technical project manager

Posted by Ammar Mango on September 20, 2013

It is becoming less common but it is still out there; the demand for the technical project manager.  To deny the role would be unrealistic, but to assume that it is all that is needed as far as project management, that would be more unrealistic.

From experience, and some of you might agree, that a technical project manager cannot work alone, without someone playing the role of the “business” project manager.  Usually companies figure that out too late, or even never figure it out, and blame failures on incompetent resources or project managers.  The truth is that the main problem is in the attitude of management and how the role of project manager is looked at.

Some say that the term itself “technical project manager” is counter productive, since a project manager is a project manager, and should take care of business and leave technical to technical.  Others disagree completely, they want a project manager who is as knowledgable, if not more knowledgable in the technical aspects than the technical team.

Let us start with the idea of a technical project manager.  This is a relatively older idea than the business project manager, and maybe why it is still evident especially in less mature organizations, and organizations that are not open to change or at least fast change.  Technical project managers are also more common in smaller organizations, where the company has not decided yet to invest in higher rate project manager.  Business project managers on average get paid more than technical project managers.  Also, smaller companies who do not have the experience and the commitment to project management are still not sure about the value a business project manager can bring to the table.  Also some industries seem to be focusing more on the technical project manager than others.

A point of caution here, many ask me: “if you really believe in a non technical project manager, why do you focus on expertise in the technical field when you advertise for project manager positions?” There are two parts to the answer of this very good question.  The first is that it is very important to differentiate between expertise in the field and technical expertise in the field.  For example, I insist on hiring a project manager who is seasoned enough in the industry I am hiring for.   Like for construction, I insist on someone with strong background in MANAGING construction projects.  So, I am not looking for someone who has expertise and strong background as a concrete or steel reinforcement designer.  I am not looking for an electrical engineer who knows circuit design.  I am looking for project management experience in construction.  There is a big difference.  To clarify more, I would gladly hire a project manager with ten years experience managing construction projects, even if his degree is not in construction or even engineering.  Given these are rare and hard to find, but I would hire one if I find him AND if my client is like me looking for project management experience not technical experience.  Sometimes the client insists on someone with an engineering degree.  I usually make my point clear if I have a good candidate who does not have an engineering degree, but if client insists, I usually respect the client wants and look for another candidate.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine working for a major  manufacturer in Europe.  He was complaining about how the company does not seem to appreciate a business project manager and wants a project manager to solve technical problems.  Again, there are two parts to this issue.  First even if you are a business project manager, that does not get you off the hook when it comes to understanding technical aspects of the project.  Afterall, the team members, client, your management, expects you to be up to speed on technical terms, technical risks, and technical related issues the team might be having.  Now this level of knowledge is attainable without having to get a degree in the technical field, but it definitely requires studying even if independently, and learning about the characteristics of the industry you are working in.  I cannot stress enough the importance of this technical learning.  The further technically you are from the industry of the project, the more reading and understanding and asking you need to do to get up to speed.  Also, the harder it will be for the team to accept you as their leader.  Of course some industries are harder than others.  In construction, engineers find it hard to accept non technical project managers.  However, if you have enough experience under your belt in construction, they might not be as picky about the degree.  In IT it is also the same thing.  One of the best project managers I know in the IT industry has no degree whatsoever.  I learned from this person about project management more than I learned from any single person.  And he was accepted easily wherever he went.  But he had a lot of experience.  Very strong background leading IT projects.  So that makes a big difference.

The second part of the issue of management insisting on a technical project manager is a challenge that management themselves are having.  In the old days, the industry was based on lots of workers (considered hands) and a single or few managers “considered brains.”  At that time, many managers thought that the less brains the better, and the more hands the better.   The industry was based on the innovation of a few intellects, who preferred to keep control of their projects in their hands and have technical engineers manage the “hands” so to speak.  It is sad that people used to think this way, but this was the case.

In today’s industry, things are different.  The executive cannot manage the projects and the engineers, because they cannot be managed as hands.  They are intellects, and their work requires intellect.   They also have rights, speak their minds, and have other options for employment other than the owners’ company.  So, they are less likely to act like machines and more like intellectuals.  Also, with the information technology and automation advances, work has become more about intelligence of operators and users of tools, than the hands that use the tools, or the tools themselves.  So the team members have much more intellects today and need more intellects than the brains of the owner alone.  This is why managing the organization like a group of machines can never work today or would not work for the long-term.    However, some managers insist on still doing just that: treating people as hands.  Many managers think that merely a headcount would be sufficient for a project to succeed.  So, a small IT project requires maybe 10 junior programmers, two senior programmers, and an architect.  They get these “hands” together and demand project success.  Then, they scratch their heads when the project does not work, and start blaming “the hands” for not being competent.  I mean if I had a penny for every time I see this story, I would be a millionaire.  (Well, maybe not a millionaire, but easily would have a dollar worth of pennies 🙂 )

So what does that have to do with the technical project manager or the business project manager?  In the setup above, managers do not feel they need someone to “run” the project and the politics around it and inside it.  They think they have the necessary “hands” and the rest is to get them to labor and work hard.  Those with a better understanding of what it takes for a project to succeed are frustrated with this mentality, and usually run away from these managers and companies.  So, these managers end up with technical people who either have no other place to go, or are content with being just “hands.”  In this kind of organization, you end up with doers who think that hard work alone will get the job done and the rest is automation.  These organizations are either going extinct, or will have to change their ways very quickly to catch up with the rest of the world.  There is not much room for such companies.

By the way, the current recession and tough economic situation parts of the world are going through made it easier for these old mentality managers and owners to make their demands, and to get away with their old ways.  As soon as economy picks up, when other companies flourish, they will probably be on their way out.  If not, they will keep struggling trying to make ends meet to no avail.

What is sadder is that many of them will not even know why they are going out of business, when they do.  they think it is a weak market, too much competition, tough clients, or incompetent employees. They never blame themselves and they never learn from the experience.

So where does this leave us? Who do you want to run your project: a business project manager? or a technical project manager?  There is still a choice to be made as both are out there in today’s market, but I do not know for how long.  The problem is that when technical project management does not work anymore, it is not easy to just switch to business project management, because the company will have to get acclimated to that kind of environment.  For companies that are less used to change, it might require three years or more years for an average size company, If they ever figure out the real problem they are facing, and if they ever make it.

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Values To-Go

Posted by Ammar Mango on July 21, 2013

It is amazing how even with the most graceful and hospitable nations, individuals can become so aggressive and unfriendly on the street and at work.  Examples of that are seen on the streets in the way people drive, at work in their ethics, and in how they deal with “strangers.”  While many would welcome a stranger home and share with them food and tea, they might not allow another driver to cut in front of them except after a big fight.

This is not an article about driving etiquette, but about the things that we leave at home when we need to have with us at all times, including at work.  I made a list of the top nine things a human should carry at all times, but many do not.

9.  Positive Attitude: encouragement or a feel-good comments.  Some consider it part of honesty or telling it as it is when they criticize or put others down.  It has nothing to do with either.  Be honest about something that will make others feel good.

8. World Citizenship: Thinking of the world as home.  Keeping it safe and clean just like one would own home.

7. Vulnerability: To deny our vulnerabilities is to deny our humanity.  It is a sign of strength to accept vulnerability.  Many try to look strong in a fake fashion that exposes their vulnerability further.

6. A Smile:  Smiling is not a weakness.  It is a positive gesture.  Smile to make self and others feel better.

5. Compassion: The love we share with our families and friends can and should be expanded to fellow human beings.

4. Forgiveness:  To forgive others when they make a mistake is something that many think is a weakness. It is a weakness if you do not confront and resolve.  However, to forgive is to accept our humanity.

3. Kindness: We are willing to help our children even if at our own expense, but not a stranger.

2. Fairness: “The noble thing to do” should not take a backseat to “doing whatever it takes to win.”

1. Values: We teach our kids not to lie, but many do it themselves without thinking about it twice. Some see it as the only way to adapt and get by.

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Project Management Meets Organizational Theory

Posted by Ammar Mango on July 9, 2013

I advise anyone interested in this subject to look at the “PMI Pulse of the Profession” report for 2013.  You can easily download it here.

All indications and trends show a “breakout” of the Project Management profession, from its single project focus origins, into becoming an essential part of the organizational fiber.  Organizational focus rather than project focus is definitely a key theme in many of the project management trends materializing in organizations worldwide.  This will lead to marrying of organizational level improvement initiatives with Project Management Improvement Initiatives.  Already, Project Management improvements are being implemented at the Enterprise level.  However, currently, most implementations are undertaken in isolation from the non project activities of the organization.  Some do integrate with the operational aspects of the organization but from an IT software integration perspective, more than a business process perspective.

While Project Management originally started as a way to manage a project within its organizational, cultural, and market environments, today project management is becoming more of a way to ensure value for stakeholders from the projects.  So, for project management to become mainstream in an organization, it has to prove its ability to provide value from a strategic perspective, and at a sustainable level throughout the organization.  In other words, Project Management cannot be judged on the results from a single high visibility project, led by a competent project manager, who got the support of upper management.  It has to become a capacity for the organization to allow it to select, evaluate, prioritize, manage, and deliver value from projects in a systematic fashion that seamlessly integrate with how the organization does business.

Questions that still need to be addressed for this to fully materialize include how initiatives like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Six Sigma, Business Process Management, and Quality improvements work in unison with Project Management to build the organizational maturity.  This is answered on paper but in the most theoretical ways, and in a one time instance.  We need answers on the practical level that are systematic and sustainable.

For this shift to happen we will need to focus more on the strategic and business aspects of the improvement initiatives, and in a way that focuses on the business and organization, rather than on software features or the theoretical aspects of six sigma or project management.


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“Hunting” for the wrong expectations (Part II)

Posted by Ammar Mango on June 12, 2013

In Part I we talked about how attitude is the essential starting point for project success. We also talked about how unfortunately these attitudes are not checked at the beginning of the endeavor, leading to surprises, risks, and even failure.
This part focuses on actions project managers and key stakeholders can take to manage these attitudes in a way that leads to project success.

One of the first things that a project manager can do is to observe, not just listen.  It is like hunting down the wrong expectations and attitudes.  Hunting requires attention with all senses.  Listening, watching body language, observing the environment, etc.

For example, at the beginning of the project, everybody is overly optimistic about the outcomes of the project.  So they might say anything and show and promise cooperation that they are not really willing to give.  So, instead of focusing on the optimistic promises spoken, one has to focus on the reality of the situation.  For example, how has this stakeholder, or organization, handled similar projects before? Did they handle them the way they are promising to handle this new project? if not, then this is a point that needs to be carefully addressed.

Another thing to consider is the organization culture at participating organizations.  How is the team synergy? is it fit for this type of project? do they have the experience carrying out similar projects? if not, then the risks are stacking up for the current project.

The staffing requirements can be also unrealistic.  While the resource requirements on paper might seem doable, the market conditions might prove otherwise.  Not all the skills needed might be available.  Are the stakeholders aware of that? if not this is a double risk.  On one side, a stakeholder will not be understanding of staffing challenges, and on the other side, the market is not offering the right resources.

Another area of attitude that needs special attention is the “executive mind.” It is a world of its own and I do not mean this facetiously.  OK maybe a little bit.  Here is a rule that you can take to the bank:  Executives will assume that what they are saying is reality unless you clearly tell them otherwise.  The more passionate an executive is, the more chances this rule applies.  This becomes especially dangerous, when you hear statements undermining the project.  For example: “This should not be that hard.  We have done similar work before.” Now, if upon hearing this from an executive you do not, diplomatically but clearly, explain that this is not the case, they will immediately assume it is.

Statements made early as a matter of fact might lead to wrong expectations.  “Hunt” for these statements and wrong attitudes, explain how things are different, without coming across like a judge or someone who is trying to be uncooperative.  One way to do this is to state things from an independent perspective, meaning without using a lot of “I” or “you”.  For example, if a client says:”We need to ensure that the transaction is fully automated.” If there is a misunderstanding in that statement, a project manager might come back with “The improvement initiatives usually focus on getting the order as fast as possible, which might make a fully automated system. counter productive” This will open discussion from an unbiased perspective that focuses on value, not what is in and what is out of scope.

The important thing is not to assume everybody has the same understanding and expectations as you do.  Go out there, check, observe, and talk with stakeholders and do not ignore any sign that there is a misalignment.

Happy Hunting 🙂

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The Attitudes Behind Project Success and Failure – Part I

Posted by Ammar Mango on May 24, 2013

The impatient stakeholders are in a hurry to see results fast. Sometimes they read normal change resistance the wrong way and assume the project failed. Then their actions really make it fail.
It is important to understand that such stakeholders exist and it is better to learn to proactively manage their expectations and the effect their personalities have on the project, rather than being reactive to dealing with it after the fact. Sometimes, after the fact, there is not much that can be done.
Take for example the impatient stakeholders mentioned above. If they were clearly informed about the change process they must expect before they see sustainable and tangible results on the ground, would they still act impatiently?
The problem goes beyond personalities, to include the level of maturity the organization is at. For example, many clients buy a complex system that might provide more than what the organization is ready for at its current maturity level. Will the client understand this and give the teams and project managers to adapt? or start pushing for full implementation prematurely? Problems like these can easily lead to failure of what could have been successful implementations.
Sometimes client stakeholders are in a hurry for software and systems, forgetting that the human element is the most important part of the change, and requires that we change the way we work, and even the way we think and look at our projects.
The stakeholders can be challenging in the performing organization too. A business manager keen on getting the work done and getting out as quickly as possible from the project might lead to lack of trust from client.
It is a difficult recipe to master, when it comes to successfully carrying out improvement initiatives. There are so many variables on the human side alone that makes the undertaking quite challenging. However there are things that the stakeholders can do, under the leadership of management and the project manager to achieve success.
When human behavior is a factor, attitude is the essential starting point. On both the client and the supplier side we need conviction. Conviction that the improvement will provide value, if the project is done properly. Also, conviction that each party is competent enough to carry their part of the deal. And of course, trust, that each party wants to do a good job and is working towards a win-win outcome where the client and the suppliers attain value from the endeavor.
Unfortunately, sometimes these attitudes are not checked in the beginning, and ignored in favor of “more important things” like building a plan, meeting and discussing schedules, showing the other side “who’s boss,” etc.
If every project starts with an honest attempt to understand the underlying attitudes among stakeholders and their causes, then discussing them as candidly as possible, projects would have a much better track record than they do today.
There are ways to do this diplomatically without getting the project stakeholders to hate each other. I plan to talk about these in next blog entry. Until then, observe those attitudes, and check yours also while you are at it.

Posted in Understanding OTHERS | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Thirty One Ingredients of Failed Projects

Posted by Ammar Mango on March 24, 2013

Failed projects have a lot in common.  Here are the things I most commonly find in failed projects, the lower the number the higher the impact:

31. Focusing on the mechanical part of planning (critical path calculations, the schedule model, etc)

30. Ignoring proper definition of “project success” and “project and product quality” by all involved

29. Making promises you cannot keep

28. Lying

27. Thinking you are smarter than everybody else

26. Dealing with the client as an inconvenience

25. Focusing on finishing the project (instead of providing value to the client)

24. Not reading every single project related document (especially business and high level technical)

23. Being oblivious to project developments

22. Disconnect between project manager and client

21. Disconnect between project manager and sponsor

20. Uncommitted client

19. Uncommitted sponsor

18. Uncommitted team

17. Trying to win popularity contests instead of holding everyone accountable

16. Ignoring subtle and not so subtle messages from stakeholders especially client

15. Avoiding the client and how satisfied they are of your work personally and the project

14. Getting stuck in busy work and ignoring big picture (like an ostrich sticking head in sand)

13. Being afraid to say no

12. Ignoring the contract and project documents

11. Rough attitude (thinking that by being cruel people will fear you and do what you want)

10. Soft attitude (unable or afraid to reprimand)

9. Hiding in your cubicle

8. Taking progress reports as accurate (without double checking)

7. Victim mentality, refusing to take responsibility for mistakes and errors

6. Blame game, blaming others and not standing up to your part

5. Hogging credit, and not giving credit to the team and other stakeholders.

4. Mistrust others

3. Assuming you can win alone, and let client and suppliers and team lose

2. Quitting early; assuming there is nothing you can do and letting the project go south

1. Fear of failure; you will never get anything meaningful done

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Thirty-ingredient recipe for successful projects

Posted by Ammar Mango on March 20, 2013

Projects require certain ingredients for success.  They do not guarantee success, but the more you have of these ingredients the better are the project success chances.  Here are the top 30 ingredients I see in successful projects.  All of them are important, but the lower the number the higher the importance.  How many of these does your project and its environment have?

30 User Friendly Collaborative Web Based Software
29 Document Management
28 Issues & Risk Management
27 Control, Progress Analysis &Reporting
26 Project Baseline (especially WBS, WBS dictionary, and Schedule)
25 Project Charter
24 Project Management Training (Preferably on Custom Methodology)
23 Project Methodology
22 Team Buy-in
21 Project Management Awareness
20 Communication Planning and Management
19 Big Picture view of project
18 Project Awareness & Marketing
17 Engaged Subject Matter Experts
16 Skilled Project Manager
15 Capable PMO
14 Engaged Client
13 Engaged Project Sponsor
12 Cross Organizational Project Steering Committee
11 Upper Management Support
10 Clear Project Objectives
9 Good business case
8 Positive Attitude
7 Trust
6 Fairness
5 Clarity
4 Honesty
3 Integrity
2 Competence
1 Good Intentions

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what Conviction is, and what it is NOT

Posted by Ammar Mango on February 21, 2013

A manager must have conviction in his /her mission, objectives, values, and ways.  Conviction can be confused with poor management behaviors, and here are examples:

– Conviction is not about being rigid, or stubborn.  On the contrary.  Conviction means the belief in your God-given ability to analyze a situation and choose what you believe to be your best alternative.

– Conviction does not mean that you cannot be wrong.  But it means that you accept the probability of being wrong and having the guts and faith to move on and accept that possibility.

– Conviction does not mean that you do not change your mind.  It means that you have the guts to do so when you believe it is warranted.

– Conviction does not mean refusing the advice of others, but it does mean that you do not take it blindly and let others lead you into doing things you believe are wrong.

– Conviction does not mean being always right.  But it does mean that you are not afraid of being wrong, and willing to take responsibility for mistakes and apologizing when due.

– Conviction does not mean arrogantly shunning people who honestly come to you with advice.  It means to empathize and appreciate their candor and their sharing of their views.  It means thanking them for caring.

– Conviction does not mean convincing others of your point of view.  Conviction is knowing that you do not have to convince anyone of anything.  People make their own choices.  Your job is to help them see things from different perspectives.

Without conviction a manager is whimsical; following what others say not because he believes what they are saying is right, but because he is afraid of being wrong, and prefers to blame others for the mistakes he makes.  A manager with conviction will move on a decision and take responsibility for it.

Project Managers especially need to have conviction, as projects are always unique and require taking some un-chartered paths surrounded with uncertainties.

Managers with conviction are assets to their companies.  They have style, panache, and the determination to see their visions through.

Conviction in dictionary is defined as “A firmly held belief or opinion.”  However, in business life there is no such short definition that does the word its justice.  The best way to describe it is by how it is manifested in the business world.  For example: when others come to you explaining why the path you are taking does not work.  They tell you many reasons why it will fail.  Then, they advise you on what is the right thing to do.  You listen carefully, take note, thank them for their input.  Then, you sit down revisit the options, check your emotions, what they are telling you.  Then you check your ego to see where it is leaning and why.  Then you check how much of your decision is logic, how much emotions, how much ego, and how much fear.  Then, based on all the information available but independently from any of it, you make your choice.   That is conviction.

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