March Madness

In the realm of college basketball, the NCAA tournament is a spectacle that captivates the attention of millions of fans across the nation. As the tournament brackets are revealed, the collective thrill of anticipation fills the air. While the excitement is palpable, there is one thing that’s always certain: everyone believes they know more about how the tournament will play out than anyone else. It’s a phenomenon that transcends the boundaries of fandom, permeating even the most knowledgeable experts.

It’s as if the casual observer, who may have only started paying attention to the standings a few weeks before the tournament, suddenly possesses an intuitive understanding of the game that surpasses that of the experts who have dedicated their lives to the sport. These part-time fans are convinced that their limited exposure to college basketball has provided them with insights that elude the experts who have spent countless hours analyzing the teams, players, and strategies.

March Madness


This phenomenon is not unique to college basketball. In project management, a similar dynamic often plays out. Individuals who perform project management tasks sparingly may believe they have a better grasp of the intricacies of project management than seasoned consultants who engage in it daily. This overconfidence can lead them to make decisions that are not based on sound project management principles, potentially resulting in delays, cost overruns, and other challenges.

Known as the “expert illusion,” this concept is not limited to sports. It extends to various fields, including project management. In the same way that casual basketball fans suddenly profess unrivaled knowledge during March Madness, individuals who occasionally engage in project management activities often assume they are more knowledgeable than seasoned professionals.

This illusion is rooted in several psychological factors. First, people tend to overestimate their abilities and knowledge. This is known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” which suggests that individuals with limited expertise often have inflated assessments of their own competence. Second, people are more likely to remember their successes and forget their failures, leading to a distorted perception of their capabilities.

In the context of project management, this illusion can have significant consequences. Project management is a complex and multifaceted discipline requiring specialized skills and experience. Individuals who lack a deep understanding of project management principles and best practices may make costly mistakes that can jeopardize the success of their projects. 

As project management experts, with more than 20 years in the industry, here are some of our favorite parallels to consider as you draw up your March Madness brackets this year: 

  1. Bracket Selection: Much like project managers who must carefully select the right team members for their projects, bracket enthusiasts must strategically choose the teams they believe will advance in the tournament. This process requires careful evaluation of various factors such as team performance, player injuries, and historical statistics.

  2. Resource Allocation: Project managers must allocate resources effectively to ensure successful project execution. Similarly, bracket enthusiasts must allocate their “resources” (i.e., picks) judiciously to maximize their chances of winning their office pool.

  3. Risk Management: Project managers must identify and mitigate potential risks that may jeopardize project success. In March Madness, participants must be prepared for unexpected upsets and surprises that can derail their brackets. Recognizing and responding to these surprises early on is crucial to staying competitive.

  4. Adaptability: Project managers must be adaptable and adjust their plans based on changing circumstances. In March Madness, participants must adapt their bracket picks as the tournament progresses, considering team injuries, player performances, and overall game dynamics.

  5. Teamwork: Project managers often work in teams to achieve project objectives. Similarly, bracket enthusiasts may collaborate with friends or colleagues to make more informed picks and increase their chances of success.

  6. Communication: Effective communication is essential for project success. Project managers must communicate regularly with stakeholders to keep them informed and ensure alignment. In March Madness, participants must actively monitor the tournament, stay informed about team news, and communicate with others to make informed decisions.

  7. Celebration and Learning: Project managers celebrate successful project completion and learn from their experiences. Likewise, bracket enthusiasts celebrate their victories and learn from their mistakes to improve their bracket selections in future tournaments.

Experts know that there is more to creating a successful NCAA bracket than just following the higher-seeded teams.  There are a number of factors to consider, including the strength of each team’s schedule, their RPI rating, their rebound margin, their road record, and their field goal percentages to name a few. Even with all of this data, it is impossible to predict every game correctly. There is always an element of surprise in the NCAA Tournament, and this is what makes it so exciting.

With the ever-present possibility of potential upsets, experts need to be able to use their knowledge of the teams and the tournament to make informed decisions about which teams are likely to win. This is where the art of bracket analysis comes in.

Similar to project management, the key to success in bracket analysis is to be able to identify the potential risks and rewards. The experts need to be able to weigh the factors and make the best possible decisions. This is a challenge, but it is also what makes bracket analysis so rewarding.

Of course, even the experts don’t always get it right. There are always a few surprises every year. But the experts are more likely to correctly predict the outcome of the tournament than the average fan.

To avoid falling prey to the expert illusion, it is crucial to recognize the limitations of one’s knowledge and seek guidance from experienced professionals. Project management consultants, with their wealth of experience and expertise, can provide valuable insights and support to help organizations navigate the complexities of project implementation.  By leveraging the knowledge and skills of seasoned professionals, organizations can increase their chances of project success and achieve their desired outcomes.

March Madness, the annual NCAA Division I basketball tournament, can teach us a lot about our project management success. While we may not be managing multi-million dollar sports events, the principles of project management are the same regardless of the scale or complexity of the project.

Here are our favorite takeaways from March Madness that you can bring to your next project:

  • The importance of teamwork: Basketball is a team sport, and the same is true of project management. No one person can do it all. We need to work together as a team to achieve our goals.

  • The need for flexibility: Things don’t always go according to plan. We need to be flexible and adapt to change as needed.

  • The value of communication: Communication is key to any successful project. We need to communicate regularly with our team members, stakeholders, and clients to keep everyone informed of our progress.

  • The importance of time management: Time is of the essence in project management. Just as coaches and athletes have to manage the clock, we need to manage our time wisely and ensure that we are meeting our deadlines in order to achieve project success.

Of course, surprises are bound to happen, even on the most well-planned projects. The key to success is being able to recognize these surprises early and adapt quickly. The teams that are able to do this are the ones that ultimately succeed.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from March Madness is the value of deferring to the perspectives of experts. The coaches and players who participate in the tournament have years of experience and a deep understanding of the game. They know what it takes to win, and they can provide valuable insights that can help us improve our project management skills.

Every year we enjoy watching the spectacle that is March Madness.  By drawing parallels between the tournament and real-world project scenarios, we can gain valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of managing complex projects effectively.  For us, March Madness provides a fun and engaging way to explore project management concepts and principles while enjoying the athleticism, artistry and expertise that is NCAA Basketball. 



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