Time-Space-WIP Continuum

Cyril Parkinson was onto something when he postulated in1955 that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”  While this sounds a bit like hard science, it was actually a semi-serious dig at the capability of British Parliament to find ways of filling time (and spending money).  Today we refer to this postulation as Parkinson’s Law. Over the years, several more humorous corollaries have also been offered:

  • If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.
  • Work contracts to fit in the time we give it.
  • In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day. (from Isaac Asimov)
  • Data expands to fill the space available for storage.

But what did Mr. Parkinson mean by work?  Webster says, work is the “physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something,” i.e., value-added activity.   If we take Webster’s meaning for work then it’s really not the work that expands – that’s a constant. It’s what’s left over after the customer has been satisfied – let’s call it Waste.  And the physical manifestation of that waste is what we erroneously refer to as “Work In Process.”  This could be either material or information that has been produced too soon, or is ridden with defects and is therefore delayed.  Toyota refers to this more accurately as stagnation.  But for most of the rest of us it’s called Work In Process; WIP.  The moniker is forgiving:  It must be okay, because it’s work and it’s in process, right? 

I continue to be amazed when I visit factories, just how much space is given up to this partially completed stuff.  In hospitals, it manifests itself in the waiting rooms and the gurney’s stretched along the halls with patients waiting for a bed. And in insurance companies, it’s the virtual queues of customer claims urgently awaiting a response. 

So, to end the week I’d like offer Lean Peeve #5: WIP, and offer an additional corollary to Parkinson’s Law: 

Work in Process expands to fill all available space. 

If you’d like a laugh, check out his humorous video the GBMP team made in 2012:  WIP it.  Enjoy. 


By the way, even though our conference is virtual this year, we are not giving up on a little fun there too.  If you’re joining us on October 7-8 for the Northeast L.E.A.N Conference, don’t miss “Lean Before Dark” on the afternoon of the 7th, when we’ll try some asynchronous Karaoke. 🙂  And for you DEVO fans, check out this LinkedIn post from our day one closing keynote,  John Carrier:  WIP Leads to Bull Whip

This entry was posted in old lean dude, lean manufacturing, kanban, continuous improvement, kaizen on September 25 , 2020.