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Murphy’s Law: 1 Gloomy View On How Things Usually Turn Out

Feb 13, 2021 | Business & Life Advice, Time Management

What is Murphy’s Law?

Murphy’s Law is the common adage that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

It is a fatalistic view of how things tend to turn out in life in general. Murphy’s Law doesn’t demonstrate anything nor explain something. It merely states a maxim: that things will go awry. People tend to give Murphy’s Law relevance when things turn out badly as a “reason to why it happened.” This confirmation bias is somehow very human.

Murphy’s Law Illustrated in 1 Image

Murphy's Law Illustrated in One Image - ParetoAnalysis.tools

Murphy’s Law in 1 Simple Video

Who said that “anything that can wrong; will Go wrong?”

The saying that “if something can go wrong, it will go wrong” is commonly known as “Murphy’s Law.” However, it is not entirely clear who mentioned first this idiom. According to the Wikipedia page, it is either Edward Murphy or George Nichols and his colleagues. Read more about the origin of Murphy’s Law here.

How Murphy’s Law and Hofstadter’s Law are related?

Both Murphy’s Law and Hofstadter’s Law convey pessimistic views on planning execution and project planning. In a nutshell, the project will be executed poorly (Murphy’s Law) to such an extent that the resulting delays will be longer than those already accounted for in the project planning (Hofstadter’s Law and the Planning Fallacy phenomenon).

“As per usual, trouble comes in several directions at once.” ― Garth Nix, Lirael

How Murphy’s Law and Illich’s Law are related?

Murphy’s Law conveys a pessimistic view on how tasks are executed (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”). A healthy work time management approach, such as suggested by Illich’s Law, can mitigate the risk of seeing Murphy’s Law prediction turning out to be true. Illich’s Law (or The Law of Diminishing Returns) suggests an appropriate balance between working time and resting time is the key to maximum productivity as negative productivity due to human errors arise when people work excessively.

What are the origins of Murphy’s Law?

Murphy’s Law originated in 1949 in United States, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Law’s name stemmed from an epic attempt to use new measurement devices developed by Edward Murphy for the US military project ‘Air Force Project MX981’. Despite the name, it is impossible to pinpoint precisely who first coined the so-called “Murphy’s Law” between Captain Edward A. Murphy and other engineers working on the military project.

According to Edward Murphy’s son, his father was the first to state something along those lines “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then he will do it that way.”

According to George Nichols, another engineer working for the same military project, Murphy’s Law came initially as “If it can happen, it will happen,” through conversation among the other team members. It was named that way to pertain ironically to what Murphy said in an earlier interview about the test failure. During that said interview, Nichols recalls that Murphy blamed the unsuccessful attempt on his assistant, saying, “If that guy has any way of making a mistake, he will.”

How can I use Murphy’s Law in Project Management and Planning?

In Project Management, Murphy’s Law’s strict application would be carefully planning for all the adverse events that could arise during the project. However, such a radical approach to project planning would not be beneficial in most cases, as it would yield extensive delays to mitigate all possible adverse events.

A more pragmatic way of counteracting Murphy’s Law is adopting a risk-based planning management approach. In a Project Management context, a simple but effective method of counteracting Murphy’s Law idiom is assessing the likelihood of the adverse outcomes and acting on the assessment’s results by establishing or improving existing standard operating procedures.

Here is the process overview: Firstly, list the consequences of adverse events that may arise during the project. Secondly, establish a short-list of the adverse outcomes having the most significant negative impacts. A Pareto Analysis is a robust method to build this short-list with a rational approach. Thirdly, work on preventive plans to reduce the risk of these short-listed events or establish contingency plans to mitigate the impact of those events.

Another way to prevent Murphy’s from becoming true is to adopt a minimalist approach when designing or handling a project. The least components or tasks you have, the least likely it is to make a fatal mistake. To facilitate such a lean approach in design or project management, omitting voluntary what is not essential and urgent – like recommended in the Eisenhower Prioritization Method – is the way to go.

Conclusion and Suggestions

Being focus is key to projects’ successful execution and timely delivery. Murphy’s Law reminds us that adverse events may arise anytime during any project if a simple task is not correctly performed.

A a result, the project planning phase should include a thorough assessment of the project’s risks to highlight the most critical items and surround them with robust work procedures. Establishing reliable operating procedures both at the project level and the elementary task level mitigates the risk of Murphy’s Law becoming a standard of truth. Systems, processes, and Risk-based Management Frameworks are not self-sufficient, however. They need to be followed carefully, especially for critical project steps.

For more details about Murphy’s Law; please refer to this extensive article from howstuffworks.com. For more content like this about time and work management methods, please read our blog ParetoAnalysis.Tools/Blog.

“Murphy’s Law states that, “If anything will go wrong, it will”. Positive side of this law is, “If anything good can happen, it definitely will happen” ― Jiten Bhatt

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