Parkinson’s Law and Security Budgets

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The fact that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” is often called “Parkinson’s Law.” This was actually just the beginning of the article “Parkinson’s Law” by Cyril Northcote Parkinson that appeared in the November 19, 1955 issue of The Economist. This article actually had nothing to do with what’s now called “Parkinson’s Law.” Instead, it proposed a model of how government bureaucracies grow exponentially over time.

Parkinson actually expanded his original article into a book that actually included the first statement of the now-famous “What color is the bike shed?” argument that Poul-Henning Kamp first noted on the FreeBSD mailing list in 1999, but that’s a subject for another post.

An IT version of Parkinson’s Law seems appropriate in today’s economy. This version might be stated as “purchasing expands to fill the entire budget.” In other words, if an IT department has a budget of $8 million per year, then they’ll spend the full $8 million, but if they have $10 million, then they’ll spend the full $10 million.

The interesting observation is that the difference in the quality or quantity of the service that they provide with the two budgets usually isn’t really that big. If you cut your IT budget, your IT staff are forced to find less expensive ways to do things. These people are typically fairly smart, and they can often come up with some clever solutions that do the same things, but at a lower cost. It almost makes you wonder why they weren’t being as careful with the larger budget.

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