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.
Review By: Michael Kahn 12/31/2009Unlike machines that achieve maximum efficiency when in use one hundred percent of the time, knowledge workers don't function the same despite what some managers may believe. The author posits downtime actually makes knowledge workers more effective. He then makes a distinction between efficiency and effectiveness, making the point that while an organization may be efficient at doing something, it may not be operating at maximum effectiveness, i.e., not doing the right thing.
Some of the more poignant parts of the book include the discussion of "busyness." The author presents an analysis of how a decision to take an assistant who is not 100 percent busy and create a timeshare arrangement in which the assistant now takes tasks from multiple people (a common practice nowadays) can be detrimental to the overall company performance. Another timely example involves a discussion of management practices that lead General Motors to deemphasize energy-efficient engines and non-traditional fuels. Keeping in mind that this was written in 2001, it foreshadowed the trouble the automotive industry faced in 2008. The author also includes a "serious" discussion of Dilbert!
"Slack" presents information in short, easy-to-digest chapters which makes it a book that a busy person can actually finish reading. Each chapter explores a common business practice to which anyone who has worked in the technology field can relate, for example, overambitious schedules, unnecessary reorganizations, and intra-company blame, to name a few. However, the book is not all fluff and platitudes. The author presents many tangible examples and scenarios that illustrate and support the points made within the book. For example, in a chapter discussing quality, he uses Photoshop as a case study of a quality product. In this case study, he points out attributes that made this product successful and makes the point that quality goes beyond the simple "absence of defects." The author also discusses other important aspects of quality.
Regardless of the company size or industry that the reader is a part of, the reader will come away with some eye-opening ideas that may change the way he thinks about doing business and the internal policies and initiatives that are proposed within the organization. This book will be of interest to knowledge workers and those who manage teams of knowledge workers. Although the book was written in 2001, the subject matter is still quite relevant today and is worth the read.