Merge's Blog

Compensating for Parkinson’s Law – good practice or disingenuous?

parkinsonYears ago, when I was still at university, I experienced first-hand the validity and strength of Parkinson’s Law. This time-tested adage – Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion – stand true even today, as it still very aptly describes what repeatedly occurs in workplaces. And if you’re managing projects or leading teams, it’s definitely worth your while to not only be conscious of it, but also deliberately adapt to counterbalance it.

Parkinson’s Law doesn’t usually occur with any sinister or negative intent, or for that matter, even deliberately. It just happens. Conflicting priorities and other responsibilities mean that work expands to fill the time available up to the pre-determined deadline. Which means that if you’re a leader or project manager, you need to assign target dates to team members so that you are left with some “buffer” should things go off the rails. Not everything works out perfectly the first time (understatement of the year!), so creating a “false” deadline is a prudent business decision. Yeah, I know, some of you might perceive this as misleading – after all why put your staff under unneeded time pressure when there is room to ease up – but I call it good leadership practice and I stand behind it. In my experience, Parkinson’s Law is just too prevalent for me not to plan for it!

Well, do you agree with me? Practical leadership, or disingenuous? Is routinely compensating for Parkinson’s Law a good idea, or have you seen it backfire? If you build in a buffer, how much is enough? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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