Browse Definitions :
Definition

Parkinson's law

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Parkinson's law is the tendency for the amount of work required for something to increase so that it consumes any amount of time that may be allotted to it. The concept is often generalized to refer to the tendency for any available capacity in a given system to be used. 

The implication is that no matter how extensive your resources, the demands on them will grow to ensure they're depleted. Parkinson's law has implications for many areas of business, including project management, time management, resource allocation, storage capacity planning and requirements analysis.

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a British Naval historian and author, observed that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion," based on his experience in the British Civil Service. Parkinson's law first appeared in a 1955 essay published in The Economist. Parkinson expanded on his principle in two books, Parkinson's Law And Other Studies in Administration and Parkinson's Law: Or The Pursuit of Progress,both published in 1957.

Here are a few examples of Parkinson's law in various contexts:

  • Applications will usually consume all available bandwidth.
  • The volume of data tends to grow to fill storage capacity.
  • Project requirements typically increase to the extent that resources are fully used up.
  • Software expands to use up system memory.
  • Financial outlay will increase to exhaust any usable budget. 

Horstman's corollary to Parkinson's law maintains the converse, the less commonly observed phenomenon that work contracts to fit within the time allocated for it. Another less familiar principle, Parkinson's law of triviality, refers to people's tendency to devote a large amount of time to unimportant details while essential tasks are not getting the time they require. 

See a brief tutorial on using Parkinson's law to increase your productivity:

This was last updated in April 2015

Continue Reading About Parkinson's law

Join the conversation

1 comment

Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

I've never heard of this. It's an interesting concept. In my observations, it does seem to be true. However, I can't think of hardly any cases of having seen work expand to fit capacity. Our resources (thinking mostly in regards to time, people, money) are so limited, it is more like the work contracts to fit the limited capacity.

That can be a good thing at times, because it forces stakeholders to prioritize. I don't know of any company in the position to do EVERYTHING that they want. But what I see a lot is that people tend to cut corners because there is so much demand for work and so few resources. I'm guilty of this, too.
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

SearchCompliance

SearchSecurity

  • cybersecurity

    Cybersecurity is the protection of internet-connected systems, including hardware, software and data, from cyberattacks.

  • asymmetric cryptography (public key cryptography)

    Asymmetric cryptography, also called public key cryptography, uses a pair of numerical keys that are mathematically related to ...

  • digital signature

    A digital signature is a mathematical technique used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital...

SearchHealthIT

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • business continuity plan (BCP)

    A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that consists of the critical information an organization needs to continue ...

  • disaster recovery team

    A disaster recovery team is a group of individuals focused on planning, implementing, maintaining, auditing and testing an ...

  • cloud insurance

    Cloud insurance is any type of financial or data protection obtained by a cloud service provider. 

SearchStorage

  • hard disk drive (HDD)

    A computer hard disk drive (HDD) is a non-volatile memory hardware device that controls the positioning, reading and writing of ...

  • byte

    In most computer systems, a byte is a unit of data that is eight binary digits long. Bytes are often used to represent a ...

  • network-attached storage (NAS)

    Network-attached storage (NAS) is dedicated file storage that enables multiple users and heterogeneous client devices to retrieve...

Close