The tune that Bob Dylan released in the sixties, “The times they are a-changing” holds true after 50 years. And like Professor Leon C. Meeginson said “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”.
Read my article below to find out more about the adaptation of project management to the current society and economy.
Six months ago Air France announced it will phase out its ten Airbus A380s by 2022. Rarely has an airline been as unhappy with the Airbus giant as the French, who are in general taking every Airbus aircraft. Other carriers like Singapore airlines - which received the first A380 back in October 2007 - has also started to replace these aircrafts with A350s. Lufthansa and British Airways will likely follow soon. As a consequence, Airbus will stop producing the world's largest passenger airliner as of 2021.
Why is the Airbus A380 being phased out earlier than anticipated?
Start with the why
Just like famous author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek writes in his book, start with the why. Why was the development and production of an Ultra High Capacity Airliner (UHCA) needed? Was Airbus A380 an innovative product that could challenge the air travel industry? The first studies date back from the late 1980s and were joined by both Boeing and Airbus. The former dropped out after a few preliminary meetings due to sound differences in their vision of aviation industry. On one hand, Airbus was betting on the spoke-hub model in which traffic planners organize routes as series of "spokes" that connect outlying points to a central "hub". On the other, Boeing believed that the future would follow the point to point model which emphasizes flying between two cities directly regardless of their size. The fewer routes required in the hub and spoke requires also bigger planes. Even though both models are used by airliners for transporting passengers from one point to another, the growth in the spoke hub model that Airbus was expecting did not occur. Every assumption is a risk, and this is no different.
Back to the drawing board
The Airbus A380 project launched in 2000 with a budget of 9,5 billion euros. The first prototype was released in 2005. However, serious issues with the electrical wiring were found. By then the project cost had skyrocketed to 18 billion euros. The delivery of the first commercial unit was delayed up to three times. In June 2005 a delay of 6 months was announced and then again in June 2006. Finally, the first A380 was dispatched in October 2007. The Program Manager and Airbus CEO made a good scapegoat and got fired. Tom Enders, the incoming Airbus CEO, said in 2019: "If you have a product that nobody wants anymore, or you can sell only below production cost, you have to stop it". A thorough and continuous analysis of the market trends along with other environmental factors (in this case, mostly politics) could have provided a landscape in which threats could have been turned into opportunities, and weaknesses intro strengths...but during an earlier phase, in the drawing board.
Future is uncertain
Just like the Concorde stopped flying in 2003 despite being a profitable business, Airbus A380 could perhaps be retrofitted and get a second life in the future. If this is the case, it will be best to take a good look at the assumptions and ask WHY.
I have recently completed the lecture of a book entitled "Management without tears. A guide to coping with everyday organizational problems". It was written by James O. McDonald almost 40 years ago, in 1981 to be precise. The book sets forth some managerial problems likely to be encountered during the career of a manager. For each problem, the author provides a solution based on his expertise. Although it is intended for managers - line managers, production managers, operations manager and functions alike - as a project manager I could relate to a few of the problems listed in the book. It is worth noting that most of the issues we face in our everyday work are nothing new, they have been there for a long time and will probably still be there when we retire.
My blog followers know that I always like to break things down in three, or pick up the top 3, or make lists of 3 items. Number three puts a spell on me - I guess since the time I learned at school that the compositions had to contain an introduction, a "knot", and an ending. So this time around will not be any different. I have picked the top 3 issues, and summarized the author's view on a proposed solution.
Get things off your chest
The author refers to the manager's secretary and her frequent tardiness. The manager decides to not bring this up to her to avoid losing his "nice guy" reputation. As you can imagine, this approach did not work out and she kept arriving late to the office. The manager decided to confront her. She said that she was not aware that her tardiness was such an issue, and from that moment on she was on time. In projects the same approach works; when something gets off tracks, avoid sending a memorandum sitting behind the computer. Politely confront the team - or whichever stakeholder - and get it off your chest. Being a pleaser can easily end up backfiring.
Know your job
It is frequent that an engineer, a software developer or a researcher gets dragged into project management. Becoming a project manager presents then a challenge. The technical knowledge in these domains become less relevant; instead, planning, personnel, budgets, purchasing, negotiation and a wide array of administrative tasks make up the new life. Getting this mental fix is essential for a successful new career.
This topic is particularly interesting. It is quite common to find opinionated colleagues regarding how a project manager should behave. Some would say "Stand tough, or they'll walk all over you" whilst others would advise on the opposite direction. Leadership tone has to be decided by the practitioner, and the practitioner alone. It is up to the practitioner whether to be tough, soft or somewhere in between. In words of the author "effective management requires integrity, conviction, knowledge, courage, awareness, timing. These qualities determine how you react in any situation".
The smallest actions can alter people’s behaviors in a predictable way without limiting their ability to make decisions. Want to spend less money on groceries? Pick a basket over a shopping cart. Trying to control how much you eat? Use a smaller plate. Project managers can take a similar approach to positively influence customers, sponsors and project team members. When you lack formal authority over stakeholders, sometimes a simple nudge can help you steer them away from trouble.
Stakeholders often agree to change requests without having enough information about their consequences. One way to combat this is by prominently highlighting how long the change will take to implement and how much it will cost. Another way is to highlight your recommendation on the change request as “the most chosen” or “best option” to guide someone into choosing it.
Updating the project completion percentage in your project management tool is a good practice, but a simple tweak can provide a gentle push toward project completion. Print out a large, creative image that represents the project, display it in the project room and illustrate the completion percentage during team meetings. Creating a more dramatic way for stakeholders to see the progress rate slow or stop can inspire team members to redouble their efforts with more urgency.
Agile approaches are, in effect, a continuous nudging mechanism. The questions usually asked during the daily standup (What did I do yesterday? What am I going to do today?) force a development team to focus on continuous progress. In addition, moving items to the sprint serves as a natural impetus for team members to prioritize those tasks.
Stakeholders are complex, and nudging will not always motivate them to make better choices. But with practice and deliberate application, your ability to apply subtle influence becomes sharper and more effective, helping you lead all stakeholders toward actions and decisions that drive better outcomes.
The article was published in PM Network December 2019 issue
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!