Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, April 14, 2006

C. Northcote Parkinson and his Law

By Aussiegirl

An interesting article about how the famous Parkinson's Law can apply in all sorts of situations, from the Royal Navy to FEMA and Katrina.

The American Thinker

C. Northcote Parkinson has a lot to say about the war on terror, even though he died in 1993. And not simply because he predicted (in East and West, published in 1962) that the great conflict of the third millennium would involve a battle between the West and revived Eastern world.

[...] Parkinson was best known for his social critiques, often disguised as humor, and usually dealing with bureaucracy and administration. His major contribution came in the form of Parkinson’s Law:

Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

This is not as obscure as it sounds. Simply put, it’s an explanation why bureaucracies accomplish less as they grow larger. As far back as the 1930s, Parkinson had noticed that the Royal Navy’s administrative establishment continued expanding even as the fleet grew smaller, and predicted – quite correctly – that the Navy would eventually have more admirals than ships. The same process was apparent in the Colonial Office, which had more personnel in the late 1950s than it did when the British Empire was a going concern. Investigation into other fields demonstrated that the effect was universal.

Say you have an organization consisting of fifty individuals. Expanding it to 500 will not produce ten times the work. You’d be lucky if they managed to accomplish the same amount. Most of the time would be taken up instead by meetings, paperwork, plotting against colleagues, and covering butts while production and quality collapse. This appears to be an iron law of organization. Anyone who has worked for a bureaucracy – or any large company – can testify to its validity.

[...] That’s the answer: turning critical jobs over to small groups—task forces is the resonant term. Get a competent man, give him his orders and a blank check, and let him go to it, the sole criteria being results. If results don’t appear – which has been known to happen – it’s much easier to shut down a small operation than a large one.


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