Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
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If your company’s goal is to become fast, responsive, and agile, more efficiency is not the answer--you need more slack.
Why is it that today’s superefficient organizations are ailing? Tom DeMarco, a leading management consultant to both Fortune 500 and up-and-coming companies, reveals a counterintuitive principle that explains why efficiency efforts can slow a company down. That principle is the value of slack, the degree of freedom in a company that allows it to change. Implementing slack could be as simple as adding an assistant to a department and letting high-priced talent spend less time at the photocopier and more time making key decisions, or it could mean designing workloads that allow people room to think, innovate, and reinvent themselves. It means embracing risk, eliminating fear, and knowing when to go slow. Slack allows for change, fosters creativity, promotes quality, and, above all, produces growth.
With an approach that works for new- and old-economy companies alike, this revolutionary handbook debunks commonly held assumptions about real-world management, and gives you and your company a brand-new model for achieving and maintaining true effectiveness.
progress it makes in that direction is a matter of how inefficient it is. An efficient but not effective organization, on the other hand, is moving in the wrong direction. The more it optimizes, the more progress it makes away from its real goals. Such an organization could say of itself, in Yogi Berra’s words, “We’re lost, but we’re making good time.” Why Achieving Both Is Not Easy Let’s face it, the implicit goal in all organizations is to be both: to make effective choices about what to do
and then carry those choices out efficiently. That presumption is so strongly built into organizational cultures everywhere that their executives sometimes can’t see when it isn’t happening. It’s absolutely supposed to be happening, so it must be. The fact that the organization is moving in a given direction is strong a priori evidence that that must be the right direction. They are annoyed when anyone in the organization challenges direction. “We wouldn’t be doing this stuff at all if it weren’t
though, fear does not always inhibit change. People sometimes manage to effect great change in themselves when they’re scared to death. Some of these changes are purely reactive (brought on by the fear), but some aren’t. Some kinds of learning are enhanced by fear. If that weren’t true, ice climbers and sky divers and oil well firefighters would never be able to learn their skills. When your thirteen-year-old son skateboards up onto a cement park bench and off the other side and turns a flip in
or reduce its cost), you can’t do risk management. All Prudent Speed Back in the time of sailing ships, going anywhere by ship was a risky business. Going faster increased risk (more sail kept aloft in high winds, more chances taken in unknown and shoal waters, more fatigue and more human error). In such a time, the naval forces would instruct their captains to “proceed with all prudent speed” to arrive in a timely manner at an engagement. Prudent speed is something other than breakneck speed.
hurry up, hurry up, hurry up …” I admit, there was a time during my novice years as a manager when I was gratified by this mantra. It made me feel that I was having impact. Today I think of that mantra as the sound of an organization going wrong. How We Work Together I am concerned about the cases when Hurry Up really means Slow Down. To understand this possibility, it helps to return to the model of the organization as a linked set of tasks where the nodes are people and the links are passed