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Commentary: Proactive Approaches to Local Government IT Capacity, Deadline Management

“When deadlines are stretched too far into the future, staff often feel overloaded, leading to decreased morale and efficiency,” writes Steve Monaghan, director of Nevada County’s Information and General Services Agency.

Does this sound familiar? You ask staff why a project is running way past the originally estimated deadline or when they can start a new project; there is no eye contact, moans then begin to emerge and comments about being already too overloaded, we need more staff, we are falling behind with the work we have now, tell us what to stop doing, maybe next year. I hear the same story over and over again from numerous local government executive peers across the country. From very large organizations to very small, every organization is struggling with capacity and a sense of being overloaded. And it is not just in IT. Many non-IT departments across our agencies have the same challenge, which compounds IT project success as they struggle to provide the staff resources to do their part. This elongates project timelines even further.

To address this situation, shorten timelines, and make our teams feel less overloaded, we need to first understand a few Modern Management Theory principles and “laws” and how they are playing out in our organizations.

In the realm of local government IT departments, Parkinson’s Law has a particularly insidious effect on project timelines, staff workload, and overall productivity. Originally coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955, the law posits, “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” When deadlines are stretched too far into the future, staff often feel overloaded, leading to decreased morale and efficiency. This article explores strategies to mitigate these challenges, fostering an environment of efficiency and accountability.


In government IT departments, Parkinson’s Law frequently manifests through projects that balloon in complexity and scope over time, consuming resources at an unsustainable rate. This is often exacerbated by bureaucratic processes and a culture of “this is how we’ve always done it,” leading to inefficiencies and a perpetual cycle of pushing deadlines. The psychological impact on IT staff is significant, creating an environment where there’s always more to be done, regardless of how much work is actually necessary or valuable.
Parkinson's Law Slide.JPG
Steve Monaghan
Tightly related, elongated timelines enable the Law of Multiplication of Work (people will create work for each other by complicating it) which compounds this impact and absorbs even more limited and valuable capacity. This can be the root cause for much of the scope creep IT projects experience as smart and creative staff feeling they have more time or soft deadlines add “just one more feature” over and over again.

Price’s Law by Derek John de Solla Price, a former professor of physics at Yale University, can magnify this even more, where project teams and meetings grow too large (no one can be left out), driving unnecessary overhead and waste of staff time while a small group ends up doing the majority of work anyway.

Together, this can result in all staff working hard and in earnest good faith, but productivity and overall team throughput is not what it could otherwise be. While individuals are working 100 percent, the overall team’s productivity and throughput simply can’t keep up with the continuous inbound new work demand.

One project suffering from these elements is significant, but when our teams have many, many multiple projects that all suffer in varying degrees from these elements it can have a dramatic impact on overall team throughput, culture, and morale.


The first step in addressing Parkinson’s Law is recognizing its presence. In local government IT, signs include projects consistently missing deadlines despite seemingly generous timelines, an ongoing narrative among staff of being overburdened, and a lack of clear priorities leading to everything being treated as equally urgent. Unclear or conflicting priority alignment across supporting teams adds further delays. These symptoms indicate not just a mismanagement of time, but also a deeper issue related to organizational culture and leadership practices.


  1. Setting Realistic Goals and Deadlines
    To counter Parkinson’s Law, government IT departments must adopt a more disciplined approach to setting goals and deadlines. This involves realistic planning that takes into account the team’s capacity and prioritizes tasks based on their impact and urgency. Implementing agile methodologies can introduce flexibility and encourage a focus on delivering value in shorter cycles, preventing projects from dragging on unnecessarily. Timelines should be aggressive, yet achievable.
  2. Leveraging Technology and Tools
    Modern project management and productivity tools offer powerful solutions for keeping projects on track. These tools can help in breaking down projects into manageable tasks, facilitating better resource allocation and providing visibility into each team member’s workload. Adopting such technologies can lead to more informed decision-making and a more transparent approach to managing time and workload. Transparency, communication and accountability are key here. All IT staff should be trained as “unofficial” project managers.
  3. Eliminate Low-Value Work
    The Eisenhower Matrix, a simple yet effective tool for prioritizing tasks, can be particularly powerful in combating the effects of Parkinson’s Law by helping to eliminate low-value work. This matrix divides tasks into four quadrants based on their urgency and importance, enabling individuals and teams to focus on tasks that are both important and urgent, while identifying tasks that can be delegated, scheduled, or even eliminated. By applying the Eisenhower Matrix, organizations can counter Parkinson’s Law by ensuring that time and resources are not wasted on tasks that expand to fill available time without contributing significant value. This approach not only increases productivity but also enhances the overall efficiency of teams by aligning their focus with organizational priorities and goals, ultimately fostering a culture of high performance and meaningful work.
    Eisenhower Matrix Slide.JPG
    Steve Monaghan
  4. Fostering a Culture of Efficiency and Accountability
    Creating a culture that values efficiency over mere busyness is crucial. This involves recognizing and rewarding staff for smart work — solutions that save time without sacrificing quality. Encouraging autonomy and empowering teams to take ownership of their schedules and workload can lead to more engaged and motivated staff. Continuous training in time management and efficiency techniques can also equip staff with the skills needed to combat the tendency of work to expand unnecessarily. While Covey’s Seven Habits can help, they will not build organizational capacity. Look critically inward at your own department’s business processes and determine if they are adding waste and time that can be eliminated. Keep team size optimized — small teams win via Price’s Law. Developing a psychological safe culture where staff feel comfortable holding one another to task commitments and timelines is critical.
  5. Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Strategies
    Implementing measures to counter Parkinson’s Law is not a one-time fix but an ongoing process that requires regular review and engaged leadership at all levels. IT departments should establish metrics and KPIs to evaluate the effectiveness of their strategies in improving productivity and time management. This data can guide adjustments and refinements to ensure that efforts to combat Parkinson’s Law yield tangible improvements.


For local government IT departments, falling into the trap of Parkinson’s Law can lead to a cycle of inefficiency, missed deadlines, and overburdened staff. By recognizing the signs and implementing strategic measures, departments can create a more productive and satisfying work environment. This involves setting realistic goals, leveraging technology, eliminating low-value activities, fostering a culture of efficiency, and continuously monitoring progress. Ultimately, addressing Parkinson’s Law is not just about improving project timelines but about enhancing the quality of service to the community and the well-being of the IT professionals dedicated to this task.

This stuff is not rocket science and any organization can do it, but it requires intentional leadership, a plan, and dedication to the long game.

This commentary first appeared in Steve Monaghan’s newsletter on LinkedIn.
Steve Monaghan was Nevada County’s chief information officer for almost 23 years before being named director of the county's Information and General Services Agency. He is also the Nevada County Emergency Services chief and the county purchasing agent. Monaghan is a member and past president of the California County Information Services Directors Association (CCISDA), through which he created and helps lead training programs for current and emerging leaders. Monaghan also serves on the Rural County Representatives of California’s Broadband Advisory Committee and on the Cybersecurity Program Advisory Board at California State University at Chico, where he received his bachelor’s degree in computer science.