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Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency Paperback – April 9, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767907698
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767907699
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Another entry in the small but growing management library that suggests purposely slowing down and smelling the roses could actually boost productivity in today's 24/7 world, Tom DeMarco's Slack stands out because it is aimed at "the infernal busyness of the modern workplace." DeMarco writes, "Organizations sometimes become obsessed with efficiency and make themselves so busy that responsiveness and net effectiveness suffer." By intentionally creating downtime, or "slack," management will find a much-needed opportunity to build a "capacity to change" into an otherwise strained enterprise that will help companies respond more successfully to constantly evolving conditions. Focusing specifically on knowledge workers and the environment in which they toil, DeMarco addresses the corporate stress that results from going full-tilt, and offers remedies he thinks will foster growth instead of stagnation. Slack, he contends, is just the thing to nurture the out-of-box thinking required in the 21st century, and within these pages, he makes a strong case for it. --Howard Rothman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

DeMarco (Peopleware), a management consultant, says that in today's competitive, fast-moving economy, managers work far less effectively than before. Responding to restructuring and staff reductions, managers overemphasize deadlines and rush employees, sacrificing quality. Instead, says DeMarco, executives should encourage teamwork, discourage competition and allow training time. Unfortunately, tedious, jargon-heavy writing dulls DeMarco's worthwhile message.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Tom DeMarco is the author of thirteen books, including novels, business books and a collection of short stories. He began his career as a software engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, working on what was then the world's largest computer. His focus began early to turn toward writing, with stops along the way in organizational design, litigation consulting, foreign affairs, and even a stint teaching undergraduate Ethics at the University of Maine. He lives with his wife, Sally Smyth, in the village of Camden on the coast of Maine.

Customer Reviews

Good structured book and easy written.
Dejan Music
Leave some slack in your system, he says, so people have a chance to do their best and grow, which will result in a more effective organization.
Rolf Dobelli
Over the past several years this is the single management book I keep rereading.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is very humble both in its size and format but contains some true pearls of wisdom. Here are some of the highlights that I will retain from this easy and pleasant read:

* In our constant quest to make our organizations more efficient (reduction of overhead, standardization of processes, overworking management and resources), we have actually made them less effective. The solution lies in (re)introducing `slack'. Slack is the lubricant required to effect change, it is the degree of freedom that enables reinvention and true effectiveness.

* Multitasking and overtime, thought to be ways of getting the most out of the teams, are actually having a negative impact on productivity. Multitasking, specifically for knowledge workers, causes at least a 15% penalty in productivity. It is much higher for tasks (such as troubleshooting or design for instance) that require complete immersion before the resource can actually make progress. Systematic overtime is also proven to be an ineffective way of improving project cycle-time. While it may provide short term gains, the demands it puts on resources quickly reduces their productivity and effectiveness. An alternative to systematic overtime are well calculated and well timed sprints (focused and value-added, yet handled as exceptions).

* Overworked managers also have a very negative impact on organizational effectiveness. It is indeed managers, and more specifically middle managers, that can the most effectively champion and effect change in organizations. The more overworked they are, the less time they have to reinvent the ways of working.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By T. D. Welsh on February 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's about 100 years since Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the philosophy of "scientific management", with its offspring such as the time-and-motion study and the mythical man-month. That's about how long it takes for a big idea to soak into the awareness of managers everywhere - especially those who are more committed to looking good than to managing well.

Tom DeMarco, co-author (with Tim Lister) of the magnificent "Peopleware", has done it again. Although "Slack" runs a little over 200 pages, you will probably read it in less than four hours because it is actually quite hard to put down. You will keep on thinking, "Yes, I've seen that!" and "Those words ring a bell".

In the course of his consultancy practice, which has taken him into many organizations including Apple, HP, Lucent and IBM, DeMarco has noticed a lot of counterproductive management behaviour. Many acts and policies that look good in the short term lead to corporate death in the longer term. More specifically, it is always possible to squeeze out a few more percentage points of "efficiency" - but only at the cost of damaging morale, precipitating burnout and losing the flexibility without which sensible decisions cannot be made.

Faster isn't always better. Effectiveness matters more than efficiency. People are not interchangeable "resources". Without challenge and growth, the best employees soon leave. Overheads are not necessarily bad. Consciously or subconsciously, we already know these things. DeMarco just hammers them home so we will never forget them again.

I really have only one quibble with "Slack". DeMarco has no business criticising Dilbert and his fellow engineers for "giving up" on their pointy-haired bosses.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Daneman #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
About time someone wrote about human nature and the fact that people are not machines. The myth of "total efficiency" still persists in the workplace.
This book is in sharp contrast to practices that have plagued the workers for decades; women who sewed in sweatshop factories in the early 1900's were carefully monitored on how long they took to make bathroom breaks. Even now software is available that can count every keystroke a worker makes (to check on their efficiency.) The dream that careful monitoring and structuring of the workplace to get the maximum "juice" out of workers is disproved in this book.
This isn't even totally new information; a very old study found that brightening the lights in a factory improved performance. Then another study found that DIMMING the lights also improved performance. In other words, people are not machines. They need downtime, change, meaningful work and mental breaks or they burn out. A very timely and helpful book.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Gina Califano on May 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Slack by Tom DeMarco, and it's not usual for me to agree with consultants. However, DeMarco hits the mark on a lot of points with me, particularly the issue of burnout. The book's major premise is that companies are so preoccupied with making themselves "lean" that they are overworking the middle management layer that is left to pick up the pieces. I think everyone knows that Wall Street loves the restructuring charges and the layoffs that come with it, but DeMarco illustrates effectively how overworking your "knowledge" base can actually decrease productivity in the long haul. Along with the overworking theme is the basic fact that middle management in an office environment is not like an employee in the factory - if you want to maximize the knowledge base, you need to provide enough support for them. Otherwise, without "slack", management is not able to institute change and a positive work environment. I would recommend this book for anyone who works 12 hour days, weekends and/or can't take a vacation because a day away from the office = two days of work when you get back. It is a quick read - the chapters are brief and it is tailored for those who only want the facts. And when your done, give this to your boss right before you ask for additional employees in your department.
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