The very definition of a “project” favors the conditions for things to go wrong as we are striving to create a unique product, service or result.
In addition, projects (most constructive ones at least!) would appear to run counter to the second law of thermodynamics as they are an attempt to bring order to chaos or to reduce entropy.
Given these conditions, one would expect that Murphy would run rampant in projects, and in many organizations this seems to be the case. I’m not a fan of pessimistic project management as that state of mind can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Blind optimism isn’t an appropriate state of mind either. Instead, Murphy’s Law should validate the need for project and resource management practices:
- Right-sized project risk management can help to reduce the impact and magnitude of uncertainty – Murphy could still apparate, but by thinking through (realistic) scenarios on what could go wrong, responses can be developed to reduce the likelihood of firefighting.
- A work breakdown structure and project schedule provide a model for what will be delivered and in what sequence activities will be performed. This reduces the potential points of impact from uncertainties when compared with a project where the team “just does it”.
- Striving to plan resource allocation at sane levels (at or below 100% on a weekly basis) means that if Murphy does strike, team members might actually have capacity to deal with it. If you’ve already planned resource allocation beyond 100%, no such capacity exists and you will simply make Murphy stronger by introducing further risk through resource fatigue, morale issues or burnout.
- Kickoff and regular status meetings provide an opportunity for team members, sponsors & stakeholders to reinforce their alignment towards the shared vision for the project. This is akin to the approach used by many animals to protect themselves from predators (a very material form of Murphy’s Law!) – solidarity provides security and stragglers are usually picked off.
- Conducting retrospectives or lessons learned sessions on a regular basis (and not just at project closure) can cultivate and disseminate organizational knowledge which can also help to reduce Murphy’s visits.
Through consistent use of PM practices, you too can embrace Captain Kirk’s belief “I don’t believe in the no win scenario”!