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4 time wasters in project planning

The Standish Group conducts research on project performance every year. It turns out that the majority is not delivered within the scheduled time. The main cause is that much time is wasted by the way in which projects are planned. Employees include a generous margin of safety in the project plan to ensure that they will complete the activity in time. However, research shows that they waste their safety margin. There are 4 causes.


1. The student syndrome

If people think they have lots of time they do not start immediately with that activity, but they give priority to something else. Thus they waste the built-in safety margin.

The student syndrome

People do less than 1/3 of the work while 2/3 of the scheduled time has passed. It takes a lot of effort to complete the work in the last part, in which most of the work is to be carried out. If people encounter a problem then, they often fail to meet the deadline. This then gives them the sense that the activity was underestimated from the start.


2. Parkinson’s law

The law reads as follows: “The work is spread over the available time”. In most cultures, people are not rewarded if they finish earlier than the agreed deadline.

People who finish earlier are often loaded with extra work or are then suspected of allocating too much time for activities. As a result, people adjust the level of their effort so they stay busy to the deadline of the activity.

Parkinson's law

With professional service providers who work based on time material, there is also no incentive to finish earlier than the agreed deadline. Less hours spent after all leads to a lower fee paid by customers.


3. Multi tasking

With multi tasking, multiple activities are carried out at the same time to. Multi tasking is often seen as a way to increase efficiency, because everyone then has something to do constantly. However, multi tasking leads to lower productivity.

People are torn between projects in response to those who call for results. People feel forced to show as much as possible progress in all projects. This will put the progress of all projects at risk. In practice, multi tasking often leads to an even longer lead time associated with disruptions and conversions.

Multi tasking

By getting people to concentrate on a single activity without interruption, activities are completed sooner. A positive side effect is that job satisfaction increases, because people can do their work better.

Solution for multi tasking


4. Dependencies

Finally, attention to dependencies between activities and the effect of time gains and delays. Most projects have multiple activity paths that merge at any time. For example, an activity that depends on the completion of three previous activities for its start.


The example shows that the mechanism of converging activity paths eliminates time gains. Path C doesn’t contribute to an earlier delivery of the project. The delay in path A presents a direct delay in the merged path.

Questions or comments regarding this blog? Contact Timewax.

A photo of Mark de Jong

Mark de Jong

Mark is Sales & Marketing Manager at Timewax. He has a background as a project and resource manager with PricewaterhouseCoopers Management Consultants with expertise in the field of Professional Service Automation (PSA)