Unit 7: Managing project risk

In 1949, Captain Edward A. Murphy was an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, a project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can withstand in a crash.

One day, after finding that a transducer was wired incorrectly, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

The project manager, George E. Nichols, kept a list of ‘laws’ and added this one, which he called Murphy’s Law.

Shortly afterward, the Air Force doctor who rode a sled on the deceleration track to a stop, pulling 40Gs, gave a press conference.

He said that their good safety record on the project was due to a firm belief in Murphy’s Law and in the necessity to try and circumvent it.

Aerospace manufacturers picked the phrase up and used it widely in their ads during the next few months, and soon, it was being quoted in news and magazine articles around the world.

Murphy’s Law is these days best known as, “If anything can go wrong, it will.”

As a phrase that has its origins in project management, it goes to the heart of the risky nature of projects.

Extending this, the Northrop project manager Nichols’ Fourth Law says, “Avoid any action with an unacceptable outcome.”

Beyond the WBS, schedule, and budget, you need to plan how you will manage risk throughout your project’s life.

That is the scope of this Unit.