What Is Student Syndrome in Project Management?

Student Syndrome in Project Management is a term used to highlight the ever increasing practice of leaving a lot of work until the last moment, while originally working at a very relaxed pace with lots of slack. Student Syndrome is very common in Project Management, and is a habit found in the Project team, the Project Manager, and the various stakeholders.

Origin of the Term

Most students tend to leave their homeworks/exam studies until the very last possible date to get the job (somehow) done, hence the origin and the relevance of “Student Syndrome”. The term was first coined by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his book, The Critical Chain.

What Causes the Student Syndrome?

There are many reasons that may result in a project infected with the Student Syndrome, such reasons include:

  • Poor Project Management: A bad, disorganized, and unaccountable Project Manager who doesn’t constantly communicate with the project team is usually the main reason behind the Student Syndrome. The project team, when left unattended, may “slack” a lot, which results in a very slow progress. This will remain the case until the Project Manager decides to get feedback on the current status from the project team to show the progress to the stakeholders. This is when when suddenly everyone is in panic mode and every task has to be finished in a record time.
  • Unclear Project Requirements: Requirements that are not clearly defined as well as a hazy “big picture” of the project may result in frustrated resources trying to avoid unclear/difficult tasks that they do not understand.
  • Multiple Concurrent Projects: Having the project team working on multiple projects at the same time may lead in prioritizing one project over the other, where the latter will be in “stagnation mode” until the very last moment.
  • Human Nature: Last but not certainly not least, it is important to mention that humans, by default, are lazy. Procrastination is an innate habit in any person, this is the reason why success is only reserved for a few who conquer this habit.

Disadvantages of the Student Syndrome

Almost any project suffers occasionally from the Student Syndrome whether at the resource level, at the Project Manager level, and at the stakeholders level. This is normal. However, when the Student Syndmore is part of the overall project’s and/or the organization’s culture, there will be many disadvantages for the project, such as:

  • Reduced quality: Since all the work is concentrated in a shorter period of time, quality is expected to be negatively affected.
  • Reduced scope: When trying to finish tasks fast with very little time and no buffer, the Project Manager will be forced to reduce the original scope for the task in order deliver on time. Again, this will affect quality.
  • Stressed team: A stressed team is bad news for any Project Manager. A stressed team cannot be pushed further and increasing the work hours will reduce (instead of increase) the productivity.
  • Risking the Project Schedule: The Student Syndrome is tolerable for a few, non critical tasks. But when the number of critical tasks affected increases, then whole schedule will be at risk.
  • Loss of Stakeholders Confidence: Any product or an important task, that is even delivered fast and cheap, but with a largely reduced quality and scope without the stakeholders’ consent may jeopardize the reputation of the Project Manager, and will probably result in the loss of the stakeholders’ confidence.

In a worst case scenario, the Student Syndrome can cause a project to be killed (or indefinitely on-hold).

How to Avoid the Student Syndrome?

There is no way to completely suppress the Student Syndrome from any project, because, as stated above, it is an innate human habit. However, the Project Manager can keep it in check by:

  • Constantly communicating with the project team about their tasks, and giving feedback.
  • Constantly communicating with the stakeholders about the progress of the project, and requesting a feedback.
  • Keeping the slackers in the team under the radar, raising up concerns when too much time has gone by with too little work achieved.
  • Breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks in the project schedule. The time taken to detect the Student Syndrome is usually equal or less than the size of a task. If the affected task is allocated 3 months in the project schedule, then it might take up to 3 months to discover the problem, however, when the task is only allocated a week, then the maximum time it takes to detect the problem is a week. Note that very short tasks can make the schedule less manageable, and can create more overhead on the Project Manager.

Proactive (as opposed to reactive) project management is key to keeping the Student Syndrome in check, and to reducing its effect to a tolerable level. Perhaps the best thing to for any Project Manager is to start by himself by conquering his innate habit of procrastination.

© 2010 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.


  1. Quote
    Abhijit said May 4, 2010, 3:28 am:

    Total concept is wrong.
    The only reason of student sysndrome:
    1. There is a task level deadline and
    2. There are many tasks on the plate

    Just try to understand that the student syndrome is an effect of a wrong project management practice – it is the “deadline culture” in the organization.

    Or better say our belief that ” in order to finish the project on time each tasks should finish on time” is the wrong paradigm.

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