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My book review is on Tom DeMarco’s book, Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency. I found it interesting, as I’d never really explored the term in quite the same way. Nevertheless, I agree with many of the principles in the book.


My takeaways include:

  • Slack is an investment in change. It is the extra time in the day that workers can spend focusing on improvement. At times, people have thought of this time as waste, and tried to eliminate it.
  • An obsession with efficiency drives all of the slack out of the business. Process flows are created and wasted time is removed. It’s not unlike the basic premise of Six Sigma – which I’ve written about. And while I’m a fan of removing waste, he’s right that real reinvention (i.e., change) can only happen when people have time.
  • The best time to approach a change project is when the business is doing well. Once the business goes into a decline, there is no time for change.
  • DeMarco reports that a “common feature of exit interviews is a sense that the departing person felt used. This leads to a disturbing paradox: The more successful a company is in extracting every bit of capacity from its workers, the more it exposes itself to turnover and attendant human capital loss. On the other hand, when people stay on, they are often motivated by the lure of personal growth. The organization’s agility, its healthy capability to take on change, is an important factor in supplying opportunities for such growth to the individual.” (p. 40)
  • According to DeMarco, “There is no such thing as ‘healthy’ competition within a knowledge organization; all internal competition is destructive.” (p. 175)
  • Competition in a knowledge organization will sabotage any collaboration between members of middle management. Yet, that is the best place to achieve change. Picture the organization chart in your business. Listen for the conversations in those white spaces. They can make all the difference.
  • To turn an organization into a learning organization, try these these two strategies:
    • Eliminate internal competition.
    • Slow down training and allow people to practice, just as you would if you were teaching young children.
  • A solid risk management discipline allows you to take on risky endeavors with some assurance of just how much risk you’re running. (p. 193)