March Madness

When everyone who watches college basketball a few weeks out of the year turns into experts.


NCAA brackets come out the second week in March, and the basketball fanatics watch the games intensely, while closely monitoring how their office pool brackets are shaping up. March Madness actually has some interesting tie-ins to project management, from the novice’s personal opinion of their prognostication abilities to how they make their bracket selections to how skilled they are at recognizing surprises early.


Once the NCAA brackets are released and everyone surveys the regional pairings, one thing is certain: everyone knows more about how the tournament will play out than everyone else—including the experts. It doesn’t matter that the experts live, sleep, and breathe college basketball year-round, while most fans start paying attention to the standings a few weeks before the Madness begins. These part-timers are sure they know more than the experts. This is similar to project management, where the people who perform project management tasks sparingly know more about it than the consultants who do it every day.


After everyone has reviewed the experts’ picks, it’s time to build their “schedule.” Similar to project management, the thought of “how hard can this be?” is usually at the forefront. If you simply follow the higher-seeded team, they should win, right? Of course not. The savvy bracket analyst realizes there is far more science to it than that. There are a host of metrics to be analyzed: strength of schedule, RPI rating, rebound margin, road record, field goal percentages…the list goes on and on. And all these statistics enable the experts to determine every game correctly, right? Again: of course not. The experts know there is some art that needs to be added to that science. Every year there are countless surprises that turn 90% of the country’s brackets upside down, and this happens every year without fail. Similar to project management, those people who can recognize the surprises early are the ones who are the most successful.


Mach Madness can teach us a lot about our project management success. If you perform project management part time, or if you’re a recipient of project management data, recognize there’s value in deferring to the perspectives of experts who perform project management every day.  The experts might make project management look easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Understand that even after all the research and preparation, surprises will occur. It’s the ability to recognize the surprises early that often determines success.

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