Why does it seem you never have enough labor to complete a project or task in a timely manner? Why does it feel like no matter how many people you hire, your staff says they need more employees? Why does productivity seem to suffer no matter who you hire? The answer is probably related to Parkinson’s Law.
In 1955 Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote a somewhat humorous essay in “The Economist” where he proposed that work will always expand to fill the time available for its completion. It is like the physics law of employment. Employees will take whatever time is given to them to complete a task and make sure the task requires the entire amount. It is not malicious or insidious as some employers my surmise. It is a natural phenomenon.
How does Parkinson’s Law Work?
In the aforementioned article, Parkinson told the story of an employee that was given a single task, “to mail a postcard.” That was the only task given and they were required to complete it once per day. Rather than taking 10 minutes, as it would take most people if directed to do so, the task took 8 hours to complete. An analysis of the time showed blocks dedicated to finding her glasses, located the best card in the bunch, a search for the address of the day, a decision to use take an umbrella on the journey to the mailbox and so on. Because the employee had all day to complete the task, the employee took all day to do so.
So how does this work in the Managed Services world? Technicians have tickets to complete. Without the right structure, it may be 2 tickets per day or 10 tickets per day. Each employee must decide for themselves how many they want to complete because they know that tomorrow, there will be plenty of tickets left. And then more will come. There is no motivation to work harder or faster. This is when Parkinson’s Law kicks in and productivity falls.
3 Steps to Avoid the Effects of Parkinson’s Law
While Parkinson’s Law is a certainty, there are some practical ways you can keep it at bay and ensure it does not take down the productivity or culture of your organization. Follow these three steps within your MSP to drive positive culture, maximize productivity and grow in a metered way that is consistent with your revenue.
Mature timesheet management
First things first. You must mature your timesheet management process. Employees must be expected to submit 40 hours of (non-overlapping) time every week. While every organization may have a different target for billable hours, 85% is a good rule for those that do helpdesk work. The other 5 hours of the week should be considered as “administrative” time. This is time for breaks, bathroom visits, and other non-work-related activities.
Timesheets should be submitted at the same time every week (e.g., Friday at midnight.) For managers, timesheets must be reviewed and approved or denied with the same dedication to consistency. This cadence will show employees that are eyeing their time and expect them to be well utilized. If managers are being effective, they should be looking for tickets that have too many hours or projects were employees are burying time. This is the result of Parkinson’s Law. Employees see they are nearing the end of the week and don’t have enough hours so they look for tickets where they can bury time. Don’t let this occur or it will become the norm.
While you must do your part in managing employees as stated in this Harvard Business Review Article, “How to help an Employee Who Struggles with Time Management,” you must also protect the future of the organization by ensuring you hold your staff accountable.
Assign work to employees
The next step to avoiding the effect of Parkinson’s Law is to assign work to employees. Many immature companies will setup their queues for incoming requests and then let employees pick and choose what work they want to do out of the queue. This is just asking for trouble. Before you grow too large, setup a model that allows work to be assigned to the technicians based on level of difficulty and a “right person right job” methodology. A dispatch model works well to accomplish this, but it isn’t the only way to go about it.
Helpdesks that are setup in a call center model can accomplish similar results by tracking call queue statistics and developing strict rules around answering and escalations. The key is to ensure employees don’t select their own work but that you assign work so they can see what their day looks like before they begin work. A technician that sees 28 tickets on their calendar is going to work harder and faster than a technician that only has 4. This is not a directive to overwork employees, but guidance on how to get the maximum amount of productivity out of employees without leaving any free resources unused.
Hire only based on your multiple of labor
Lastly, hiring should never be based on how busy your employees say they are. In the Managed Services industry, multiples of labor or what is sometimes called the “w2” multiple should be the only way you determine how much labor you need for your service operation. This formula is discussed in more detail in the blog article “The Right Time to Hire Service Desk Pros,” but the formula is services revenue $ divided by services payroll with a target of 2.8 or above. If you are doing the math and following this metric monthly, you will know when it is time to hire because your metric will start going up. At 3.0 it is time to hire in most circumstances.
Avoiding the effects of Parkinson’s Law in a service desk can be challenging but sticking to the previous tips will help. For more information or assistance with your service organization, feel free to reach out to RedVine Operations so we can take a closer look.