Parkinson’s Law – Keeping you busy regardless of how much you actually do.

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” – C. Northcote Parkinson, excerpt from the archives of The Economist, published November 19, 1955.

The comical first sentence of CN Parkinson’s article in The Economist in 1955 was deemed “Parkinson’s Law” and eventually became a book in 1958.  The field of project management and operations designed to appropriately allocate resources to complete tasks has built on Parkinson’s Law and I believe the profession of pharmacy has much to learn from this idea.

“We just don’t have enough help.”

During my days in large chain retail pharmacy operations, there was one common theme among ALL pharmacy managers: We just don’t have enough help.  I worked for a chain that actually staffed more pharmacists and technicians than many competitors, yet pharmacy managers were still consistent in their claim that they were understaffed.  Before becoming a pharmacy manager, I spent time working in over forty different pharmacies for this chain in four different districts and two states so my sample size was rather large and diverse, yet the results were similar across the board.  After becoming a pharmacy manager, our stores were actually able to streamline operations and cut the labor budget in not one but four different pharmacies in the span of two years.  As a district manager, the same trend continued and we were able to achieve better prescription fill times and better customer service with a smaller labor budget.  How?  How can a pharmacy perform better with less help?

Good open and good close.

Most retail pharmacies are not open 24 hours, but instead have a 12-14 hour operational workday (ie: 8am-10pm, 9am-9pm).  Many pharmacists will stroll in right at 8am or even a few minutes late to open the gates and start the day (especially if they are salaried) and are often greeted by patients who are waiting anxiously at the front doors.  This slow start typically puts you behind early and the rest of the day is spent trying to catch up.  Then by the end of the night, problems not solved throughout the day begin to pile up and closing time approaches.  As with the opening bell, when it is closing time many employees who are ready to go home just stop what they are doing and leave the problems for the next day, perpetuating the cycle.  One of the first things a pharmacy manager can do to improve operations is to set the expectations for opening and closing.  Not tolerating tardiness or leaving loose ends at closing can make a big difference almost immediately.


Communication seems to be a panacea for many management problems, usually because our baseline communication is so bad.  Typically, the opening and closing staff for a pharmacy are different (ie: opening and closing techs, different pharmacists working different days).  Nothing derails an operation faster than a staff member walking into a problem from the previous day with no note from the other employees working on the problem.  This causes a different pharmacist or technician to repeat all of the steps that someone else may have already attempted for resolution, in other words: double work.  In addition to simple transitional communication, the pharmacy manager also needs to communicate goals and expectations with the staff.  Sharing metrics and objective measures with the staff is a good way to help the staff know where they stand.  If working for a chain, benchmark goals against other stores in your district or division.  If working at an independent, benchmarking is a little tougher but you can still use published data from NACDS or NCPA.

Avoid Idle Time

Make the most out of the clock

Make the most out of the clock

Yes, I said it.  Avoid idle time.  Every pharmacy has spurts where it gets really busy and then business slows down.  I’ve witnessed many pharmacy employees use these slow periods to play on their phones, check personal email, or read a magazine or newspaper.  While every job contains some amount of time that should be budgeted for Personal, Fatigue, and Delay (PF&D), these short periods of down time should be used effectively to catch up or even get ahead of schedule.  There may even be opportunities near the end of a shift to send a technician home a little early.  Just make sure that this doesn’t effect your “good close.”

Save Steps

Does the layout of the pharmacy and workflow allow employees to complete most of the tasks with minimal walking around the pharmacy?  Are the workstations set up so everything a pharmacist or technician needs is within an arm’s reach?  Are supplies and workstations labeled and easy to read so new employees can find things?  The extra effort in setting up your pharmacy will maximize productivity over time.

Operations 2.0

Pharmacy operations starts to get interesting as you gain experience and get good at managing your business.  When evaluating your operations try to use as many objective measures as possible.  Many pharmacies use “number of prescriptions” as a metric to estimate labor needs.  However, this doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.  Often pharmacies will dispense a higher volume of prescriptions on Monday (when doctor offices open and return all those refill requests) but patients may not pick them up until later in the week.  Understanding when certain labor is needed the most (# of cashiers vs. # of data entry techs, etc) can help you put the right people in the right place to get the most out of your wage budget.  Technology can really help identify where the bottlenecks are in your pharmacy as well.





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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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