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Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency
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Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency

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4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,065 ratings  ·  91 reviews
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 b ...more
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published November 27th 2001 by Crown Business (first published January 1st 2001)
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4.02  · 
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 ·  1,065 ratings  ·  91 reviews


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Otis Chandler
I think there is one big idea to Slack that makes it worth reading for anyone dealing with leadership or leading at scale. A lot of the rest of the book is fairly obvious or not practical, so not giving it five stars.

The big idea of this book is that creativity can't be rushed, and if you don't build the slack into your schedule to spend some time creatively thinking about your business, you won't be able to innovate. You will only be able to be reactive, not proactive. The "Hurry Up" mindset is
...more
Bill
I picked this up because I recognized DeMarco's name from one of my favorite business books of all time, Peopleware. This is a fast read—DeMarco meant it to be read by busy managers on a flight—but it's dense with insights. Some of the more memorable ones:

"People under time pressure don't think faster." (50, quoting Lister, co-author of Peopleware)

Productivity of knowledge workers is almost entirely based on the number of days worked, not hours (64)

"The first law of bad management: If something
...more
Adam Wiggins
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business, management
This book has two primary hypotheses:

1. The opposite of efficiency is slack. In the name of efficiency, many companies remove slack. This impairs the organization's ability to adapt to change, to manage risk, and a host of other ills.

2. “Middle management” has gotten a bad name, and “flattening the org chart” is now in fashion. The author argues that middle management is a critical part of a company's ability to reinvent itself, because innovative change rarely comes from the top (senior managem
...more
Brian
Jan 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-kindle
(3.0) Not a huge number of concrete changes to make, some of the risk management stuff is good, probably things that most organizations really don't do at all

He's a consultant and self-proclaimed expert. Spends a lot of time telling you what not to do, and what you're supposed to do sounds great but perhaps hard to concretely apply.

On efficiency:
* Don't hire "efficiency experts" to root out inefficiency to keep everyone busy 100% of the time on their immediate tasks
* Let people be "idle" some pe
...more
Morgane
As a "knowledge worker", I agree with a lot of what DeMarco has to say. I, too, would love to work in a quiet environment with few meetings and no pressure to hurry up and meet arbitrary deadlines. The thing is, I'm not sure if this book is helpful in figuring out how to create this dream work environment. He gives good tips here and there, but I assume most managers who read this won't walk away with a concrete plan on how to improve their company.

Still, it's worth reading if only to realize wh
...more
Simon Eskildsen
Jul 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book on building organizations that operate with the slack required to innovate and treat its employees well: "The book shows managers how to make their organizations slightly less efficient but enormously more effective.”

Knowledge work requires deep immersion and the organization must make room for it. The industry is recovering from an extreme response to slow, massive corporations that’s carried into the new millennium:

"The principal resource needed for invention is slack. When companie
...more
Allisonperkel
A solid manifesto against the "lean", highly trimmed, insanely efficient,constantly running full tilt (or more) company.

As someone who comes from the start up world, I resembled Mr DeMarco's don't look back and "plan for success" mantras that lead to late code, burned out developers and non-agile (risk blind) development. I've also seen how agile is misused - so that "Agile" means 100% engaged, damn the torpedoes and go full steam ahead. I've also seen the damage these styles can do to a softwa
...more
Sopha Nem
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-knowledge
A nice read about how important it is for an organization to design slacks into their operation. Slack is a mandatory ingredient for flexibility, organizational learning, and also a weapon to fight stress and fear. There's also a nice section about risk management and mitigation.
Daniel
Aug 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. As someone who has not been actively part of the dotcom era, and has mostly been told about the bad sides of that time, it’s refreshing to read something coming out of that time full of what are still essentially progressive ideas today. Slack as the part of the work where innovation happens vs the always on, always busy culture is something organizations can still learn heaps from today. Definitely recommend reading it.
Ash Moran
This book goes way beyond its title: Slack is not just about the myth that working at 100% capacity is effective. In fact, I think "Slack" was just an excuse to tie together a raft of ideas. Other key topics are: systems thinking, communication, leadership, fear in organisations, flawed project management accounting, organisational learning, ineffective processes, empowerment, scheduling, trust, change, risk management, and the observation that in the modern world, no organisation can afford to ...more
Dan
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gen-nf
Slack caught my attention mostly due to proximity: it happened to be sitting nearby when I had a few spare minutes. Reading the flap, the main arguments seemed vaguely appealing, especially so soon after several months when I found "slack" hard to come by. I rarely read business books, but I couldn't resist flipping through it during idle periods; I enjoyed the irony in using "slack" time to study a book focusing on its absence.

In any case, while the message in Slack resonated with me (I can't i
...more
Romans Karpelcevs
I was thoroughly bored. I found nothing of interest and nothing I already didn't know or implement in the team.

The book started on a very wrong foot with me:
There are fewer people doing more and doing it faster in less space with less support and with tighter tolerances and higher quality requirements than ever before.

which is obviously a bunch of lies and making the world fit into DeMarco's idea.

The author then decided for me who I am:
The fact that you’ve decided to read this book says that you
...more
Sergey Ivanov
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A management book that starts by separating knowledge-work from factory work and describes the bleedover from traditional factory work that has caused countless wasted hours in office settings. It starts as a critique of common business-isms and management memes, such as matrix-management and employee time fungability, goes onto details of good vs bad techniques for common management techiques, then really focuses on the thesis again, in explaining the differences in mindsets used in management ...more
Johanna
Nov 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a very quick read and preached a little to this choir. I'd always had a suspicion that the "everything's got to be faster, more efficient" mentality was at odds with the idea of innovating or producing quality strides, and this book simplly confirmed those suspicions. Though DeMarco tries to quantify the trade-off between efficiency and quality, he can only use his empirical experience as a manager and efficiency consultant. He makes some illustrative charts and graphs, but the numbers ...more
kareem
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read DeMarco's classic on managing software professionals, Peopleware, quite some time ago, it was with eagerness that I dove into Slack.

DeMarco highlights some of the challenges that most software companies face--aggressive schedules, expected overtime, change management, motivating employees, and risk management, among others. He effectively describes the types of scenarios that lead to problems in each area, but does not provide as many solutions as I would have liked. The premise of
...more
Richard
Jan 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book looks at how making businesses more efficient is impacting businesses.

Where as before a secretary might only be utilised 40% of time time now they are put into pools so that this utilisation can be 100%. The impact of this is that where as a secretary might have previously been very responsive to any needs now there is a buffer of work going which the pool of secretaries will work through. The result of this is that the responsiveness to completing the work is reduced. For those people
...more
Xavier Shay
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm stereotyping, but I feel like America needs to read this book. This book would be a hard one to read without generating any new thought about your team or organisation.

"The principal resource needed for invention is slack. When companies can’t invent, it’s usually because their people are too damn busy."

"Even companies that didn’t fire their change centers have hurt themselves by encouraging their middle managers to stay extremely busy. In order to enable change, companies have to learn that
...more
Ralf Kruse
Slack was my first book, which I was reading in direction on how to improve work. I read it in the time, when I was apprentice and challenged by the typical problems we face in our work life. I had a basic felling on something needs to change and this book gave me this first insights on how this might be useful.
I underlined a lot of the insight of the book, which showed me on how mich the book touched and inspired inspired in this days.
Also reading about the job of Tom deMarco on helping client
...more
Daeus
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
This book completely blew my mind. Required reading for knowledge workers and management. It completely re-formed my views on efficiency, risk, and managing expectations (of others and of my own). The insights seem so obvious in retrospect but I probably I would have gone many more years into my career before learning to see work in this way. A fast and easy read with an amazing progression, I will definitely be returning to this book regularly.

Some quotes (but really there are whole chapters I
...more
Adrian Curtin
A "Diatribe against efficiency" as described by the author himself. Slack is mostly addressed towards organizations over-focused on removing "unnecessary personnel" or minimizing downtime at the expense of the flexibility to operate and react to the changing marketplace. DeMarco describes how emphasis on productivity and speed can be dangerous absent proper management of risks and expectations, and how the usage of the pressure to be busy and competitive can induce anti-cooperative behavior whic ...more
Matt
Aug 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Torn by this review. The underlying concept is brilliant. 7 or 8 star worthy. It is this: knowledge workers need time in their schedule to do nothing but think. Without that time, they can’t innovate or prepare for the future (or properly handle problems when they arise).

A really great point: You can’t think faster so the only way to get more production from a knowledge worker is to make him/her work longer. This, in turn, effects there ability to think well (tired, stressed from family life pr
...more
Ganes Kesari
The concept of Slack is powerful and the author makes a strong case for it, debunking the popular corporate notions of total efficiency, stretch targets and aggressive schedules. I found Part-1 of the book to be a good read with some ready takeaways.

Unfortunately, the core message of the book ends right there, and I found the other 3 parts long, rambling and only tangentially related to the concept of slack. Here, the book expands to talk about several other areas of management, though sounding
...more
Adam Helitzer
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
DeMarco does a good job of illustrating behaviors that he thinks are beneficial or detrimental to modern day companies. It was interesting to contrast his prescriptions against what I've seen in my profession so far. The book is a bit light on how to actually fix many of the issues that he identifies (short of just quitting your current job), but as a relatively light and quick read it seemed valuable.
Stephen Brewer
I agree with most of the conclusions, but not the arguments for them. Better to read Thinking Fast and Slow, Drive, or any quality of biography of a scientist or entrepreneur.

"Slack" is a baffling bad name. I would sum up the ideas as "valuable knowledge work doesn't always have measurable deliverables - act accordingly". Slack suggests less work - which is confrontational and reinforces the fallacy that this not-directly-measurable activity isn't real work.
Horia
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The first (about slack) and last chapters (about risk and risk management) were particularly insightful.
The author makes a strong argument in favor of downtime and including it in estimates.
The risk management approach was completely new to me and I clicked with it immediately.

Middle chapters were boring (probably because it was aimed mostly at managers).
Nicolas Leroy
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book that works around the big idea: why is slack important.
It talks about a lot of things going on in companies nowadays and why these are bad: busyness, pressure, overtime, process obsessions quality,... If you need some facts to consider different options at work and how slack can help you perform better I really recommend this book!
Brian
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In many ways a companion to Peopleware, Tom DeMarco discusses the tradeoffs between efficiency and effectiveness. If your organisation is too efficient, you have no ability to learn, change, and be effective. This is an important book for anyone in a "hurry hurry" culture, which will often lead to projects failing.
Kurt Werle
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I didn't like all the analogies, and I don't know that I agreed with everything - but this was a very interesting perspective on running companies/groups bent on intellectual pursuits (like software).
David Joseph Bohan
An entertaining, concise, and memorable reference. Works well as a manual for change and responsibility ownership for both mid and bottom level workers alike.
Nils Janson
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some nuggets

Finally got to read the book. The beginning of the book was most relevant to me. Slack needed for innovation.
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Tom DeMarco is the author of fifteen books, including five novels, a collection of short stories and the rest business books. His most recent work is a seemingly jinxed love story, The One-Way Time Traveler. Before that he wrote Dark Harbor House, and before that Slack and Peopleware and The Deadline.
“Quality takes time and reduces quantity, so it makes you, in a sense, less efficient. The efficiency-optimized organization recognizes quality as its enemy. That's why many corporate Quality Programs are really Quality Reduction Programs in disguise.” 6 likes
“People under time pressure don’t think faster.”    —Tim Lister Think rate is fixed. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you can’t pick up the pace of thinking.” 4 likes
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