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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Project Management Basics – Chapter 11 – Occam’s Razor

Project, program, portfolio
Don't make things complicated!

“Occam’s razor uses the least energy; it is the most economic solution. Nature always operates this way, and it does so because it is mathematical. If it were not mathematical, it could never do what it does and would degenerate into instability and chaos.” Thomas Stark, Extra Scientiam Nulla Salus: How Science Undermines Reason

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

What is Occam’s razor and why am I discussing it in the context of project management? Because successful project managers should be able to communicate project management principles in a clear and simple way.

Here is a portion of Wikipedia tells us about Occam’s razor: Occam's razor is the problem-solving principle that "entities should not be multiplied without necessity", or more simply, the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

Here is an example of Occam's razor in practice. If I hear hoofbeats, I think of horses not zebras. Are zebras within the realm of possibility? Yes. Are they even remotely likely? Not where I live!

Here are a couple of project management examples.

Configuration management. The PMBOK® states that the configuration management plan is a component of the project management plan that describes how to identify and account for project artifacts under configuration control, and how to record and report changes to them. Sounds complex.

Occam’s razor explanation - It's version control. That’s it. If you agree to make a change to the project plan, you need to make sure that all the impacted documents are updated and distributed.

Float. The PMBOK calls float slack, then refers to free float and total float. The PMBOK then defines total float as the amount of time that a schedule activity can be delayed or extended from its early start date without delaying the project finish date or violating a schedule constraint. It defines free float as the amount of time that a schedule activity can be delayed without delaying the early state date of any successor or violating a schedule constraint.

Occam’s razor explanation – Free float is how long I can delay an activity without delaying any other activity. Total float is how long I can delay any activity without delaying the project, but I will impact the start date of a successor activity.

Manage quality, control quality and quality assurance. The PMBOK defines manage quality as the process of translating the quality management plan into executable quality activities that incorporate the organizations quality policies in the project. Control quality is defined as the process of monitoring and recording results of executing the quality management activities to assess performance and ensure the projects outputs are complete, correct, and meet customer explanations. Quality assurance is not defined in the PMBOK, but interestingly it is used as a synonym for manage quality in the new PMI course materials.

Occam’s razor explanation – Manage quality focuses on processes while control quality is inspection of the product.

I understand the need for precision in defining things, but complexity for complexities sake is never a good idea.

Next I’ll discuss one of my greatest project failures and the project management principle I ignored that caused it.


My professors in graduate school used the Socratic Method. The professor identified an issue or situation and encouraged vigorous debate to arrive at underlying truth. I have come to realize that the notion of objective truth is a fallacy. Here is an example. Government officials actually said there were no gas shortages even as gas stations in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia were running out of gas. They reframed it as a transportation issue, not a supply issue. If you are in line and need gas, do you care? What is even more amazing is that 1/2 the country apparently believed there was no problem! Maybe quantum mechanics predicted this and we are living the Schrodinger's cat experiment, and every time we turn on the TV our reality is created by whatever is burped up by the content reader on the channel we chose.

1 Comment

PMO Global Institute
PMO Global Institute
Jul 17, 2023

In the world of project management, Occam's Razor is a principle that can greatly influence decision-making and problem-solving. Named after William of Ockham, a 14th-century philosopher, this principle states that when faced with multiple plausible explanations or solutions, the simplest one is often the correct or most effective choice.

Occam's Razor can be applied to various aspects of project management, including:

  1. Problem Analysis: When encountering a problem or issue within a project, it's common to brainstorm multiple potential causes or solutions. Applying Occam's Razor prompts project managers to first consider the simplest and most straightforward explanation or solution before exploring more complex possibilities. This helps in avoiding unnecessary complexity and streamlines problem-solving efforts.

  2. Scope Management: Occam's Razor can be used…

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