Parkinsons Law and the Back Office; work expands to fill the time available for its completion.
Posted in Customer Engagement
On November 19, 1955 the Economist started an article titled Parkinson’s Law by C. Northcote Parkinson as follows, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard… The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.”
The observation originally related to civil service, but is relevant to any workplace. In back office operations it is especially relevant due to the lack of visibility into employee productivity. A typical challenge is that an organisation receives a volume of work, and based on the time standards for that work there should be spare capacity, yet the reality is often different.
I recently experienced a perfect example of Parkinson’s Law when I was working with a financial services organisation. They increased the weekly employee productivity target by 16%, and from the 1st week all employees met their new target - without fail. Before making the change the organisation was aware it had some spare capacity, but they did not realise it was going to be this easy!
On June 26th I presented at the IQPC BPM summit in Amsterdam on the topic of Parkinson’s Law in the Back Office and the story struck a chord. Many organisations are struggling with the challenge of understanding the actual capacity requirements and their employees’ productivity. Some struggle because of the need to meet budgetary changes, others struggle to provide a more consistent customer experience.
It came as a surprise to the audience that actual productivity in a back office operation can be measured down to the individual employee level, not just in terms of time spent productively, but also in terms of specific tasks completed. This will deliver an objective view of what employees do when and how, to ultimately enable a better alignment of the workload and the capacity.
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