Budgeting and Forecasting, Leadership, Ethics, and Trust

Breaking the Law of Triviality


Many budget officers have had an experience like the following during budget deliberations with the governing board: the governing board spends what seems like (or may be) hours discussing the line item for office supplies (“Can we reduce it by sending more emails and using printers less?”) and then afterward passes a multimillion-dollar capital project budget with little discussion.

This phenomenon is not limited to local government budgets. It is so common across time and disciplines that it has a name: Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. The originator, Cyril Parkinson, said that Parkinson illustrated it with an example of a committee responsible for approving the plans of a nuclear power plant. The committee spends little time on weighty issues like the design of the nuclear reactor and more time on issues like the design for a bike shed that will be on the property (“How big will it be?” “What materials will it be made of?”). Parkinson’s Law is also known as “bike-shedding.”

Bike-shedding wastes the precious resource of time, leaving less time to discuss what really matters. The result is lower quality decision making.

Budget officers have a responsibility to design the budget process to increase the chances of producing savvy and wise decisions. The design must, therefore, find a way to break Parkinson’s Law of Triviality.

Join our upcoming webinar on this topic on Thursday, May 9. Click here to register.