Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $4.39 shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency Paperback – April 9, 2002
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Frequently bought together
"Tom DeMarco goes after one of the most pervasive and pernicious myths of business--that humans are efficient the same way machines are. Slack will change the way you manage and understand your business." –David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto
"In times of many layoffs, shrinking staffs, vanishing 'think time,' middle managerial heads rolling, and mounting pressure to produce more faster . . . there are few limits on who can get some thoughts from [Slack].” –CNN.com
From the Inside Flap
Why is it that todays 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.
- Item Weight : 6.8 ounces
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0767907698
- ISBN-13 : 978-0767907699
- Product Dimensions : 5.2 x 0.55 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Currency; Reprint Edition (April 9, 2002)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #126,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
“You can’t grow if you can’t change at all.” Slack is “the lubricant of change… Slack represents operational capacity sacrificed in the interests of long-term health… Learning to think of it that way (instead of as waste) is what distinguishes organizations that are ‘in business’ from those that are merely busy.”
PRESSURE. “In my experience, projects in which the schedule is commonly termed aggressive or highly aggressive invariably turn out to be fiascoes… When the schedule is wrong, the work goes on anyway, proceeding in some way other than as planned. The result is that the effort is necessarily hurt. Subtasks are taken in a wrong order, or declared done when they’re only half done, all to keep the fiction of the schedule alive as long as possible.”
The author introduces Lister’s Law: “People under time pressure don’t think faster.”
“The difference between the time it takes you to arrive at ‘all prudent speed’ and time it would take you at ‘breakneck speed’ is your slack. Slack is what helps you arrive quickly but with an unbroken neck.”
QUALITY. “An absence of slack makes quality programs seem like a cruel joke. When there is neither time nor staff to cope with work that runs more slowly than expected, then the cost of lateness is paid out of quality. There is no other degree of freedom.”
“Quality takes time. Even quality in the ‘defects only’ sense takes time. So you might assume that a Quality Program for a development effort would, as its most important task, assure the quality of the schedule… What typically happens is that the schedule is set before the quality people come on board. Anything they do in the interests of quality happens after the date (which makes quality either possible or impossible) has been set.”
TIMING OF CHANGE. “Anxiety of any kind can only complicate the task of change introduction. That’s why the period of sudden decline of corporate fortunes is exactly the worst time to introduce a change. People are uneasy about their jobs, worried about lasting corporate health, perhaps shocked by the vitality of the competition. In retrospect, a far better time to introduce the change would have been in the period of healthy growth.”
“Growth always carries with it a certain necessity for change. You may have to hire more people, expand to larger quarters, diversify or centralize, all to accommodate your own burgeoning success. But growth feels good… It even feels good enough to reduce the amount of change resistance.”
RISK. “Risk management is the explicit quantitative declaration of uncertainty… Risk management is… a discipline of planning for failure. Companies that practice risk management make explicit provision for lots of small (but expensive) failures along the way to overall success. Overall success means taking a lot of money off the table at the end.”
“Risk avoidance is flight from opportunity… Without sensible risk management, organizations are prone to become stubbornly risk-averse.”
FEAR AND SAFETY. “The inherent conflict between effectiveness and efficiency is never so evident as when a risky new endeavor is proposed. The nature of risk is that it takes you away from your base of competence and into a new domain where you are effectively an amateur. That’s why it’s risky. Because modern market economies are in such flux, companies have to be aggressive risk-takers to succeed. But the efficiency imperative has the direct result of making them risk-averse.”
In an unsafe environment people will resist change. “Healthy companies know that they have to allow people to fail without assessing blame. They have to do that or else no one will take on anything that’s not a sure bet. Healthy companies know that, but Culture of Fear companies do not.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘healthy’ competition within a knowledge organization; all internal competition is destructive… Knowledge work is by definition collaborative… Those who suggest that ‘a little healthy competition can’t hurt’ are thinking only of the offense part… But the defense component is always injurious. When peer managers play defense against each other (try to stop each other from scoring), they are engaging in anticooperation.”
TRUST. Leaders acquire trust by giving trust. “The giving of trust is an enormously powerful gesture. The recipient gives back loyalty as an almost autonomous response. Gifted leaders know in their bones how to entrust. It is something they do on a daily basis. They give responsibility well before it’s been completely earned… But not too much in advance. You have to have an unerring sense of how much the person is ready for. Setting people up for failure doesn’t make them loyal to you; you have to set them up for success.”
“Empowerment always implies transfer of control to the person empowered and out of the hands of the manager. That doesn’t mean you give up all control, only some. You can’t empower anyone without taking chances. The power you’ve granted is the power to err. If that person messes up, you take the consequences. Looked at from the opposite perspective… It leaves the empowered person thinking ‘Oh my God, if I fail at this, my boss is going to look like a chump for trusting me.’ There is little else in the work experience with so much capacity to motivate… Process standardization from on high is disempowerment.”
MIDDLE MANAGEMENT. “Change, particularly a significant one, involves reinvention… The key role of middle management is reinvention…. This is where the dynamic of today’s organizational functioning is examined, taken apart, analyzed, resynthesized, and assembled back into new organizational models that allow us to move forward.”
“The fact that managers have time on their hands (i.e. their operations tasks use up less than eight hours per day) gives them time for reinvention. The extra time is not waste but slack.”
LEARNING. “Change and learning take place in the white space at the middle of the org chart. Significant organizational learning can’t happen in isolation. It always involves the joint participation of a set of middle managers. This requires that they actually talk to each other and listen to each other, rather than just taking turns talking to and listening to a common boss.”
“The hierarchy lines are paths to authority. They are far too narrowband for all the information that needs to be communicated. Communication in healthy companies takes place in the white space.”
“Training [is] practice by doing a new task much more slowly than an expert would do it… Any so-called training experience that lacks the slow-down characteristic is an exercise in nonlearning.”
There are fundamental differences between a building full of factory workers and a building full of code monkeys, engineers, accountants, etc....duh. DeMarco asserts that current management practices don't really account for this, namely that at crunch time you can push the laborers harder but "thinking" jobs occur at a fixed rate. A little free time, or slack, for all employees is in fact a good thing, because it allows for beneficial change to happen, or certain tasks to occur right away. Standing over a cubicle with a stopwatch won't help the worker or the organization. Laying off a full time secretary and splitting another half-time between two departments because she was timed to be busy only 50% of the day is a bad idea, because then the secretary is then always busy and you then have six-figure salary workers wasting their time making photocopies. The whole idea of slack is also useful when looking at risk analysis and planning, and many other aspects of corporate life.
While I certainly don't agree with everything DeMarco presents, a lot of the ideas do seem very well founded in reality and are just plain all-around good concepts. I think it's worth a read and discussion with your colleagues if you manage people in polo shirts or neckties, but I don't think this is the end-all of management books.
I totally disagree with the one bad reviewer who claims the book is below the bar of even anecdotal, and boring. On the contrary, much of what is argued here is a logical, or purely rhetorical position, but that is the part that is the most refreshing! Whereas Peopleware may be more comprehensive, it is also less bold and rhetorically less daring. I love to see someone like DeMarco, who has proven all he needs to, instead of just churn out another episode in his established realm, provoke, argue, and show the amount of passion this book contains. Only someone who considers rhetoric sinful could find this book boring.
That said, this book is also not from left field: it owes a lot to Lean, et al, on the biz and IT process side, and it is also of a piece with other writings like Mythical Man Month. Personally, I think the most important thing about this book is that it is original in its approach and size, etc.: computer science, folks, is not a science, and the fact that it has been controlled by science people all these years, is one of the reasons it has denied many of the hugely important aspects of its reality, e.g. psychology, sociology, etc. We desperately need more books like this that are broadly rhetorical, small, quick reads, that can penetrate into the more densely forested parts of the realm.
Top reviews from other countries
Now –several decades later, and having held roles in product marketing, market intelligence and sales/corporate strategy, I have read Slack. This was published in 2001 and I wish more corporate managers and leaders had read and paid attention to it!
The book describes how you need a degree of spare capacity in an organization to enable employees to be truly more efficient, companies to react to changed circumstances, to create a learning organization, projects to come in “on-time”. Basically the ruthless drive for short term efficiency is killing everything!
Thoroughly recommend this short and readable book. There is so much wisdom in it. One criticism – I think the book title could be better, more evocative perhaps?
Another superb piece of work from the legendary Tom DeMarco. The book, as he so aptly puts it is for people who don't have time to read it, so it's designed to take the length of a flight from New York to Chicago to read.
For all that it's short, it's packed with good advice. The central thesis is that many modern corporations are unable to respond to changes in the marketplace because they are now completely optimised for what they already do and sell, and have pared the staff down to a minimum which gives them what they believe is total efficiency.
The problem is that this leaves no one, especially the middle management, at whom the book is especially aimed, with any time for innovation when something comes along which undermines the current way of doing business. Along the way the book looks at Busyness, Burnout, Aggressive schedules, leadership, and risk, to name but a few topics covered.
This book is a great read for anyone interested in modern business, but I'd especially recommend it for anyone who is just starting to take up management responsibilities.