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Episode 143: Laryngitis and other Laws of Project Management

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This episode of The PM Podcast was supposed to feature an interview with a representative from PMI to talk about the recently updated CCRS. That's their Continuing Certification Requirements System.

However, 24 hours before we were scheduled to do the interview we became the latest victim of Murphy's Law: I got a phonecall from PMI letting me know that my interview guest has a bad case of laryngitis. So he can't really participate in a spoken interview. So the #1 law in project management - Murphy's Law - strikes again to bring heartache, pain and tears to a project manager. Me in this case.

Well... that got me thinking about all the various laws that we have in project management. So we will be reviewing the following laws together: Murphy's Law, Boyles laws, Brownian Motion Rule of Bureacracies, Laws of computer programming,The Peter Principle, The Pareto'Principle, Old Engineer's Law, Gordon's First Law, Golub's Laws of Computerdom, Horstman's Law of Project Management, Klipstein's Laws, Ninety-ninety Rule of Project Schedules, Parkinson's Law, Q's Law, Vance's Rule of 2 1/2, The Student Syndrome, Parkinson's Principle of Non-Origination, Theory of the International Society of Philosophic Engineering, Brooks's Law and The Law of diminishing returns.

We also announce the winners of The PDU Podcast promotional giveaway.

Question of the Week: Did we forget to review any important laws and principles of project management? Please leave a comment and let us know!


PM Podcast Episode 143 Transcript

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: This is The Project Management Podcast™. We bring project management to beginners and experts. Find us on the web at‑ or send your emails to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #143. I am Cornelius Fichtner.

This is The Project Management Podcast™ for the 4th of April 2010, nice to have you with us.

Podcast Topic

This episode of The Project Management Podcast was supposed to feature an interview with the representative from PMI to talk about the recently updated CCRS. That’s their Continuing Certification Requirements System.

However, 24 hours before we were scheduled to do the interview, we here on the Podcast became the latest victim of Murphy’s Law. I got a phone call from PMI letting me know that my interview guest has a bad case of laryngitis so he can’t really participate in a spoken interview. So the number one law in project management, Murphy’s Law, strikes again to bring heart ache, pain and tears to a project manager, that’s namely me.

Well, that got me thinking about all the various laws that we have in project management. You know, Murphy’s law, the law of diminishing returns, the Peter Principle, Parkinson’s law and others.

So let’s review them today.

But before we do that, here are the winners of our PDU Podcast giveaway.

If you remember, the PDU Podcast at, that’s P-D-U-C-A-S-T dot com is a new podcast that allows holders of the PMP®, PgMP® certificate to rear their PDUs simply by playing these webinars on their port player like an iPod, iPhone, Zune, Blackberry, whatever it is that you have. And we are giving away two 1-year licenses to the PDU Podcast and here are the winners.

As always, we have a winner from the free listeners and a winner from the Premium listeners. And today, the ladies have it.

The winner from the free side is Melissa Peterson and our Premium listener who won is Janice Webb. Congratulations to both of you! And if you are a PMP or PgMP and you would also like to earn your PDUs simply by listening and watching a podcast, videocast then please stop by at and get your personal subscription.

And now, let’s take a look at some of these project management laws and principles. We obviously because of the laryngitis attack begin with Murphy’s law.

Murphy’s law is typically stated as: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” It’s used as either a purely sarcastical saying that things just always go wrong or sometime less frequently, it is a reflection of the mathematical idea that given a sufficiently long time, any event which is possible, any event that has a probability that’s greater than zero will almost certainly take place. Although in this case, the emphasis is put on the possible bad occurrences and usually not on the good stuff.

So, how does this apply to project management? Well, here’s a corollary of Murphy’s law and how it applies to project management.

And this corollary goes like this: When working on a project, if you put away the tool that you are absolutely certain that you finished with, you will need it instantly.

There isn’t all that much you can do to avoid Murphy’s law on your projects. Well, after all, anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

So let’s move on and go from this almost “all encompassing” Murphy’s law to few other laws and principles that you and I come across in our projects as well.

But before we get into the real laws and principles, here are three humorous ones for you:

  1. The first one is Boyle’s law and Boyle’s law is defined as follows: The activity in your project that is most lagging will invariably be found in the area where the highest hourly rates for overtime have to be paid.
  2. Second, we have the Brownian Motion Rule of Bureaucracies and that one states that: It is impossible to distinguish from a distance whether the bureaucrats that are associated with your project are simply sitting on their hands or whether they are frantically trying to cover their asses.
  3. And the third humorous one here is the Law of Computer Programming: Adding manpower to late software projects will only make it later and we’ll come back to this law later in the program when we talk about Brooks’ Law.

But now, let’s move on to something serious: The Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is the principle that states that: In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence. It was originally formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book, well, The Peter Principle. It was humorous treatise which also introduced the “salutary science of Hierarchiology.” Well go and look that one up.

The principle says that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they perform their work competently and then sooner or later, they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent. They have reached their level of incompetence and because they are now at a place of incompetence, you can’t promote them any longer and there they remain and they are unable to really earn further promotions or even do the job right at that particular level.

The consequence of all of these is Peter’s corollary. It states that “in time, every position tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out his or her duties” and it adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.

To see the validity of this principle, all you have to do is look around you. Look at the team leaders in your organization and analyze how and why they got and get promoted.

A favorite example that you’ll hear again and again is that of the software developer that gets either promoted to team lead or even to project manager. Usually, software team leads are promoted because they are excellent developers. They know their stuff and they can create fabulous code. Therefore, we have to promote this person. We have to make her or him a team leader because they are so good at what they do. We want this expertise of theirs to be used by a team leader who will then instill this great knowledge to the whole team. Therefore, we get a better team. Well, at least that’s the logic behind it.

But obviously, that’s just part of the equation. Because as a team leader, you also have to deal with budgets, salaries, vacation, team conflicts, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And more often than not, a team leader who was promoted solely because they are so good at their job is a victim of the Peter Principle. We have just promoted them to a position in which they are completely incompetent. So keep this in mind when within your project, you move people from their normal positions to more leading positions and you give them a promotion.

We are moving to the Pareto Principle.

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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