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The failure of Murphy’s Law

Toby Elwin, Murphy's Law, Humphrey's, Conway's, Brook's, Law

Wile E. fought the law and the law won, again and again and again …

Murphy’s Law sets the following: “anything that can possibly go wrong, does.”

I do not believe in Murphy’s Law.

The only law I do believe in is the law of gravity.

Gravity affects all. Murphy does not.

When things get bent Murphy takes too much credit (blame) when the more likely result being a symptom of poor planning and failure further upstream and far earlier than Murphy ever came on the scene.

Were you aware that Murphy has company? There are 3 inputs that increase likelihood of Murphy laying the law down on your project.

Murphy’s Law and Order

Though often associated with software development, here are three laws with gravity over Murphy:

  1. Humphrey’s Law — The User Does Not Know What They Want Until Production
  2. Conway’s Law — The Structure of the Organization That Designs is Constrained To Produce Copies of That Organization Structure
    • Bloated hierarchy and micromanagement organization dynamics yield:
      1. projects with poor scope,
      2. programs that crumble under their own hubris, and
      3. products that are both unwieldy to adopt and result in excessive cost
  3. Brooks’ Law — Adding Manpower To A Project Delays The Project Even Further

The three reveal Murphy is more symptom than law and more excuse than lawful credibility. Murphy was bound to show up sooner or later when these other laws were in play.

Gravity works equally and against all, without prejudice. Murphy? Well, stop inviting him and he is less likely to join the party.

postscript:  I’ve not forgotten Ziv’s Law, but left it for another source of Murphy’s frustration.

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Comments 7

  1. Toby, I think Murphy’s Law is in reality a close approximation to the second law of thermodynamics that in layman terms could mean that the use of additional energy is required in order to keep things moving in the desired direction. Such is the case with Murphy’s Law. Unless you take concrete action to direct things in the ‘right’ direction they will most likely go the ‘wrong’ direction.

    1. … unless the additional energy needed in the second law of thermodynamics is really hijacked by Brook’s Law.

      The energy to move in that (downward) direction moves a project towards doom at a higher level of resource commitment than before.

      To stop going wrong you have to start going right for an object to resist a change in motion and break the law of inertia.

  2. Steve Jobs used Humphrey’s theory and he succeeded. The design is important as the product. Conway’s law is very important because without the correct organization a company will not thrive to survive.

    1. Post

      These laws derail projects and surprise throughout the lifecycle and planning effort. I appreciate the thought to flip the coin and draw positives of each.

      Your example of Steve Jobs seem to point that Humphrey’s Law is something good. To believe you know more than the user or continuing on a project without realizing changes are certain is a tremendous risk. To not account for time to involve people from concept throughout iteration, design, and test, what Agile/Scrum does very well, is a recipe for disaster.

      Steve Jobs with Apple had more misses than hits with the approach that he, himself, knew better than the user. I would love to hear your thoughts on how Steve Jobs took Humphrey’s Law as a positive for his company’s strategic position.

      Conway’s Law is a blind spot around any effort to scope and deliver something that is different than the organization’s design reality – just a clear cognitive bias for the project sponsor and a complete disconnect with likelihood of success. Success becomes luck, not intentional.

      Again, please do expand on the positive Conway’s Law can be to companies and portfolios.

      Shalin, thank you for adding your voice, was not what I had in the reading and assembling of the above laws. I welcome that you expand your initial points.

      1. According to Jobs user does not know what they want until they use it. In his example, computers were new to the world and he taught how to use computers to the people. Nowadays only people search computers to get things done. Thanks for the reply

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