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Learning lessons from Murphy at 60

If Murphy’s Law didn’t already exist, they would have had to invent it to help explain what has happened to the financial sector over the past six months or so. Over the years there have been many proverbs or sayings predicting the inevitability of disasters. However, it fell to one Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr. around 1949, whilst working on a series of rocket experiments, to refine it into the Law that bears his name stating that "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.”  Over the subsequent sixty years it has been remodelled through common usage to be closer to “if something can possibly go wrong, it will”. However, what Murphy was keen to promote were the principles of defensive design, for example that one should always assume worst-case scenarios, rather than simply saying disaster was inevitable. So what practical lessons can we learn from this original version of his law given the current market conditions?

Well, it is not a time to cut corners on project or programme management, no matter how tempting it is to see this as a prime area for cost reduction and using fewer, less experienced staff. For example, experience is needed to build scenario analysis (including those worst cases) and mitigation into your risk analysis, and also to follow rigorous issue management and realistic risk based testing regimes for major projects. Take the launch of Terminal 5 as a well publicised example, outside of finance, that shows what can go wrong if this is not done. Also build flexibility into your projects as it is also inevitable that the regulatory regime will change during implementation and, let’s face it, most of your projects this year will have a heavy regulatory influence.

So in conclusion, it is better to do fewer projects, but do them well with experienced staff, rather than attempt more projects with cheaper resources. As Murphy tells us, poor project management and design is simply courting disaster.


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John Cant

John Cant

Managing Director

MPI Europe Ltd

Member since

06 Jul 2004



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