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Subtle Influence

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Project Managers are (mostly) implementers

Subtle Influence

Categories: Project Management

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.


Correct Change

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.

Push Progress

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 Actions

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

Posted on: December 02, 2019 09:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

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 (23)

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)

"Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full."

- Henry Kissinger