Parkinson’s Law

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

Parkinson realized that, despite having less and less paperwork in the British Colonial Office, the number of employees increased each year by more than 5%. As a result of his study, a book titled Parkinson’s Law (of which the famous sentence is extracted) was published in 1957.

One of the greatest areas of risk, particularly for subcontractors, is the management of labor. It is also one of the greatest areas of opportunity as well. In a competitive bid environment, there are many variables that don’t change dramatically from one contractor to the next in terms of putting together a number, or price such as materials and fixed overhead. One area that has the potential to be a “game changer” in making you extremely competitive is how you manage and incentivize labor.

This law goes hand-in-hand with Pareto Principle and Newton’s First Law of Motion also called Law of Inertia.

Pareto Principle

Also known as the 80/20 rule, IE, “80% of the outputs come from 20% of the inputs.” Its name comes from Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist of the 19th century, who first stated it in his Cours d’economie politique, after realizing that 80% of his country’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population.

It can be stated in different ways depending where it is applied, for instance: 80% of the errors come from 20% of possible causes, 80% of the profits are generated by 20% of customers and products, etc.

In construction this principle often applies to finishing the last 20% of the project scope in 80% of the total life-cycle time. The end of the tunnel keeps moving farther away.

Newton’s First Law of Motion

Also called Law of Inertia, this is the first of the three laws formulated by Isaac Newton on the physics of motion.

“Every body remains in a state of constant velocity unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force,” in this case an impact to the ongoing work. Or said differently, what is at rest remains at rest; what is in motion continues in motion. If you must assign a crew that is different than the one that started the work, you have a new learning curve to deal with.

What does physics have to do with productivity? A lot actually. When you’re procrastinating, you’re at rest and, as a rather pleasant state, it’s hard to start doing things. But it also happens that when you’re doing things, you enter in a state of motion, and it’s equally difficult to stop because, after all, the fact of completing tasks is also satisfactory.

Field management must keep this in mind, always.

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James G. Zack, Jr.
Executive Director
Navigant Construction Forum,
Navigant Consulting, Inc.



Richard J. Long, P.E.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Long International, Inc.


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Impact Documents

Field Work Stoppage

Activity/Task Work Stoppage


Speed Memos/E-mails

Delay Notification

Cost Impact Notification