Beat Parkinson’s Law

The Physics of Meetings

And a Source of Savings

Another one of those Dan’s New Leaf Posts, meant to inspire thought about IT Governance . . . .


weird thing about me – I like to go back and re-read some of the textbooks I was forced to read in college. It’s like I’m doubling the value of the education.

One of the books, The Universal Traveler, I have re-read at least 10 times since graduating in 1982. That class was worth far more than 10 times the value at the start, given that it taught me the one skill I think saved me my entire career:  creative problem solving.

Another of my college books, my freshman physics book, is missing. I remember destroying it when the book store only offered me a dollar or so to return it. I hated physics when I was taking it, though I’m proud I was able to get an A in it the semester I needed that A.

But the reason I got the A was  I memorized the answer to every test question I could find.  There was no internet back then, but it was considered okay (at least by this college professor) to study old tests that were available in the bookstore and, frankly, an informal student-to-student (dare we say p2p?) marketplace. While I could not bring myself to fully understand the concepts of physics, I resorted to memorization, and back then I had a great memory.

That’s why I wish I could get my hands on that book. I am convinced that now that I have a better attitude, I can fully understand its concepts. I want to beat the one book that beat me.

But my bad attitude towards physics caused me to do things like make fun of its laws. For example, I proposed that Boyle’s Law, the observed phenomenon in physics that a gas will fill up the volume of the space it is in, made a good metaphor for physics classes. Boyle’s Law describes the inverse relationship between the pressure and volume of a fixed amount of gas at a constant temperature . . . and this relationship caused the phenomenon that gas molecules will fill up the space they are in.

But my “Boyle’s Law of Class Length” described the phenomenon that a class would take the amount of time allotted to it, even when not necessary. My point? Sometimes the physics professor would teach a class about two chapters in the book, and other times about four chapters. But the class for two chapters was the same length as the four-chapter class. “What a rip off,” my bad attitude thought. Thus, “Boyle’s Law of Class Length.”

Later in my career, I would joke about the “Boyle’s Law of Meeting Management.” I used metaphors back then too, and was big on meeting management, so I’d introduce new team members to the concept of Boyle’s Law. Meetings, I declared, take up the amount of time you allocate to them.

Have you ever noticed a one-hour meeting taking a half hour? Good for you if you have! Your company must practice meeting management.

The team at infotex wants to see one hour meetings take less far less than one hour. This is happening a lot more these days, because we try to “beat Parkinson’s Law.”

“What?” you’re probably asking – didn’t I just call it Boyle’s Law?

That is because, somewhere along the way, I learned there was actually a scientist that wrote an article in 1955, speaking to this phenomenon. “Parkinson’s Law,” coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a humorous essay he wrote for The Economist in 1955, is the observation that bureaucracies expand to fill the resources allocated to them, and then stay there.

“Parkinson’s Law” has implications for many areas of business, including project management, time management, resource allocation, storage capacity planning, and requirements analysis. One aspect of this: meetings expand to fill their allotted time span, regardless of the amount of work to be done.

And at infotex, we use “Parkinson’s Law” to substantially decrease the cost of our meetings. When you Google-around looking for statistics about meetings, you are reminded of what George Carlin said (42% of statistics are made up). But an average of what’s out there shows that Americans hold from 40-60 million meetings per year. If they average an hour, that’s 50 million hours a year.

I personally have 14 hours per week of standing meetings on my calendar. I still average about 45 hours per week. But before I start my week, I only really have 30 hours available to work or . . . you got it . . . meet with people.

Infotex sees this as productivity risk. We’ve been focusing on meeting management as a control since we went remote in 2002.

But now. . . when we start to near the end of a meeting’s agenda, one of us will say, “let’s beat Parkinson’s Law.”

The last meeting I attended ended six minutes early. We could’ve hung around and stammered over the ending of the meeting, as we used to. But we didn’t, because we were beating Parkinson’s law. I just calculated that the six minutes saved us about thirty bucks.

Thirty bucks. Do you know what I can do with that? I’m gonna see if I can’t find my college physics book on eBay.

Original article by Dan Hadaway CRISC CISA CISM. Founder and Information Architect, infotex

Dan’s New Leaf – a fun blog to inspire thought in  IT Governance.

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