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74-343. Journey to get certified in MS Project

Project staffing, not begging!

Amsterdam Metro Line Project

Successful projects... predicted!

74-343. Journey to get certified in MS Project

Almost two years ago I posted a thread in the Discussions community asking for advice towards achieving the Microsoft Certification in Managing Projects with Microsoft Project (https://www.projectmanagement.com/discussion-topic/46131/74-343-Test--Ms-Project---Tips-and-or-Recommendations-). Several good tips were given; I was ready to take a shot at it, but for various reasons I kept postponing the examination date. This held true until today, when I took (and passed!) the exam.




Below some advice, tips and fun facts that could be helpful for other individuals that are considering getting certified.

1. Prepare, prepare and prepare! In my case, I chose web-based Udemy´s Microsoft Project 13/16/19 - Like a Boss (exam 74-343 prep) and book Microsoft Project Office for Dummies.

2. Practice test questions. There are several websites that offer mock up tests. I was able to find a tutorial free of charge from Exam Labs (https://www.exam-labs.com/exam/74-343#tutorial). Make sure that you practice this test at least twice before taking the exam, you will not regret it...

3. I do not appraise this test as easy to pass. In other words, passing the exam requires specific training to learn not only about the planning tool, but also in getting familiar in the manner that questions are asked.

4. The time given to complete the test is sufficient, but might fall short in some cases, depending on thoroughness of test preparation. Fifty questions to be answered in 120 minutes gives 144 seconds per question. Bear in mind that some questions (not many) contain up to three sub-questions!

5. The level of difficulty of these 50 questions varies very significantly. Some questions are really easy (so easy that I needed to triple check that I was not getting tricked by the wording of the questions or answers) and some others take significant time to fully understand the context and the various answers, increasing the difficulty in choosing the right one.

6. As a rule of thumb, answers containing "copy and paste" can be 90% of times ruled out.

7. It is crucial to fully understand and get familiar with the following views in MSP: Gantt, Tracking Gantt, Resource Usage, Task Usage and Team Planner.

8. Attention! Make sure to study the basics of SharePoint. Some questions deal with MSP and SharePoint!

9. Make sure that you focus on the areas that you appraise the weakest. For instance, if you do not typically use MSP build-in reporting options in your daily duties, spend some time in learning more specifics about them (there are several tutorials on YouTube).

10.  During the test, try to stay as calm as possible. Sometimes one can´t help feeling the heart racing. If so, take a deep breath, followed by a 20 seconds break, and carry on. If you get blocked in a question, just flag it and tackle it afterwards.

Good luck to all future MSP Certificate candidates!


Posted on: October 12, 2018 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Project staffing, not begging!

Categories: Project Communication

One of the challenges typically faced by a project manager in a matrix organization arises during project staffing. A quest to allocate resources to the projects begins! Although a process should be in place to ensure a smooth and efficient project staffing, in several occasions there are external and internal factors that make this important task a real nightmare. Below I list three tips that describe how PM soft skills might get around this challenge.

1. Be always in good terms with Line Managers (or Functional Managers)

At the end of the day, line managers will authorize the resources under their responsibility to work in the project. Getting along with them does not guarantee to obtain the preferred resources but will definitely help.

2. Keep line managers informed (and inform them well!)

Line managers do not appreciate when someone’s requests their resources in a blunt email, i.e. “I need XYZ for three months to work in ABC Project”. Instead, provide insight about what the project is about, why the project requires resources from their departments, how their resources will contribute to achieve project’s goals, etc. Ideally, do so as soon as it is known that the project will be approved. Making line managers aware at an early stage will facilitate posterior discussions and negotiations.

3. Do  not cut communication after resources have been granted

Okay, resources have been granted, project is staffed and may now start! This is fantastic news, but it is important to ensure that line managers do not feel left out after that. Ask them how they would like to be informed during project execution, plan brief catch-up meetings, provide feedback on the performance of their resources, etc. These are good ways of ensuring satisfaction with line managers and thus generating a positive atmosphere for upcoming projects.



Posted on: May 31, 2018 06:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Amsterdam Metro Line Project

The first blog I posted (https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog-post/29357/Successful-projects----predicted-) dealt about whether a reliable model could be developed in order to predict project success. The motivation of this second blog is to share a few thoughts about a project that will be soon completed in Amsterdam, where I relocated almost two years ago. I take this opportunity to encourage everyone to discover this wonderful gem in Western Europe. Also known as the Venice of the north, Amsterdam has a lot more to offer aside from the well-known coffeeshops and windows populated with women in skimp lingerie.

Every since I moved here I heard the story of a new metro line, Noord-Zuid lijn, which completion was planned for 2011 and that will be finally opened in July 2018. Not only that; the original budget exploded from €1.46 bn to €3.1 bn! I had to read more about the reasons that caused the massive delay. The list below summarizes the main findings:

  • Cracks appeared in a building adjacent to new Rokin station
  • Failures in the slurry diagram support walls at Vijzelgracht station causing a loss of large volumes of soil and the evacuation of seriously damaged adjacent building
  • Bankruptcy of two contractors
  • Lack of coordination in the acquisition of required software
  • Unrealistically low bid (similarly to the famous Panama Canal expansion project)

A poor management of project procurement, risks and requirements, just to name a few, seem to be the most obvious causes that led to the massive delay and budget overrun. This is a good example of how important is to follow what Abraham Lincoln stated already on the XIX century “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.

In 2009, Alex Sheerazi was hired as Head of Communication Officer. His first mission was to fix project’s reputation. He stated “A very strong reputation is like a mattress, a cushion that can soften a blow. Small incidents then have a negligible impact. But in 2009 the reputation was down the drain. Every small incident was blown out of proportion. We needed to get some air into our reputation mattress again”.

Sheerazi saw transparency as key. First off, he admitted that the project had turned out badly on several levels. However, also some positive and interesting aspects were worth sharing with the media. By placing positive images next to the negative ones, balance was created. In addition, by involving the media in every event, the project gained a better reputation. Next to it, Sheerazi connected the project to the city by engaging the Amsterdammers. For instance, excavation boxes were opened regularly for public tours and an underground lookout point was set up, with a great success (over 200k visitors in two years). Project managers and engineers changed their ways of communicating by creating project co-ownership with the citizens, or, as Dale Carnegie would put it, by providing them a feeling of importance.

Several questions may arise, now that the project is about to be closed off. May the project be considered a success despite of the colossal deviations in budget and schedule? Did the communications strategy make up for the project shortcomings? What could have been done differently? I look forward to your comments in the section below.

Posted on: February 08, 2018 05:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Successful projects... predicted!

I recently came across an attention-grabbing paper titled “Dance hit song prediction” (Journal of New Music Research, Vol. 43, 2014). In this research, the authors developed a predictive model to evaluate the likelihood of a new tune to make it to the chart’s Top 10.  For that purpose, a vast database containing dance hit songs from 1985 to 2013 was built; characteristics in a tune such as tempo, duration, loudness, energy or danceability were measured and modeled. Amazingly enough, the rate of predictability was found to be at least 70%!

Extrapolating this concept to project management, we all have heard – or worst, used – expressions such as “this project was doomed for failure”.

Thus, one wonders if a robust model to predict the odds of a project success could be developed, which would eventually save the organization human and monetary resources. It is not a trivial task; prior to diving into complex formulas or models – which requires a comprehensive and thorough analysis, as it may be seen from the cited paper – it is indispensable to identify the key success drivers:

  • Familiarity of performing organization with similar projects in the past
  • Strength of business case
  • Alignment of project within the performing organization strategy
  • Commitment from PM and project team members
  • Support from management (i.e. steering team, project sponsor)
  • Clarity in project deliverables
  • Understanding of the project scope by the customer
  • Truthfulness and accuracy of project schedule and budget
  • Availability of resources for the length of project life
  • Availability of project management plan and/or its subsidiaries (communication, risks, scope, etc.)

Are they all equally significant? If not, which are their relative weights? May some of the items be discarded under the Pareto 80/20 principle? Are there other important variables missing? A massive data mining from past projects – similarly to what was done with the Hit song project – is reckoned necessary in order to develop a realistic and accurate predictive model. It is beyond the intention of this short blog post to develop a predictive model – that would be indeed its ultimate goal.

Posted on: May 05, 2017 04:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (17)

The only people who find what they are looking for in life are the fault finders.

- Foster's Law