Plan for Murphy

It seems strange to plan for Murphy’s Law, but if you don’t plan for risks, they will happen and they will turn into disasters. Some risks you can’t plan for, but many risks you can anticipate.

I plan for some typical risks: I keep a power cord in my office, in my briefcase, in my living room. I never have to move a power cord, and if cord fails, I have easy access to one.

I’ve been working on an agile architecture workshop with Rebecca Wirfs-Brock, and we have had more Murphy moments than any small project deserves. Last week, when we were close to done, but still were under pressure to meet our deadline (think one-week iterations), my power went out. Yes, my town lost power for several hours. In the afternoon, during our joint working time, the power went out. It doesn’t matter how many power cords you have, if you don’t have power to the house!

I texted Rebecca, so she knew that I was unable to save our files, that I had no power, and when the power company told me I might have power. Now she knew what I knew. I read a book—on my Kindle :-).

But my suggestion to plan for Murphy still holds. My Kindle still had power, so I could read for several hours. I even still have paper books—many of them. I have phones with built-in power so I could use them, at least for a while. I could have brought my computer to another town that still had power (something you might not be able to do on a larger project or in a location with a real disaster).

Risk management is project management. If you don’t plan for Murphy, he will come and live on your project forever. Take a few minutes and review your project: anything you need to do to keep Murphy off your project or program today?

2 Replies to “Plan for Murphy”

  1. Interesting thoughts. To stay with the analogy you could buy yourself a generator running on petrol so you still have power.

    However planning for Murphy requires a balance between the impact of the risk versus the costs. The contingent activities, upfront to reduce the change of the risk occuring needs to be linked to the likelihood, power failure is rare were I live (never happened in my entire life).

    The mitigation activities and associated costs should be compared with the impact of the risk (likelihood is already 100%). Meeting the deadline at all costs?

    Final remark is only plan for Murphy which is in the vicinity. Planning for a snowstorm in the summer might be a bit to early, but reconsider you risk register every coupe of weeeks and see which new risks are surfacing. This helps to create active risk management in your project

    Hopes this helps

  2. Johanna’s article is fine, but Han’s comments seem a little peculiar in that contingency activities are planned, but aren’t implemented upfront, in so much as they are applied only after the risk has arisen, possibly when a predetermined trigger condition occurs. And while a risk’s likelihood is typically determined by history, beware “black swan” risks – those that seem most unlikely, but would have disastrous impact on project success. Furthermore, while “vicinity” is a factor, the main risk considerations will always be impact and probability. As project managers, we look ahead and typically further ahead than other stakeholders and spend more time doing so in order to avoid crisis management. Check out “Managing Murphy” by Dr Jim Young.

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