Posts Tagged ‘slack’

Dude, Cut Me Some Slack

October 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Since I enjoyed reading Tom DeMarco’s “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork and the Myth of Total Efficiency” years ago, this diagram inĀ  Jamshid Gharajedaghi’s “Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity” brought back some fond memories of that book:


The diagram shows the slow, insidious erosion in flexibility that occurs in a complex system when efficiency and optimization initiatives are relentlessly applied to the system by its uninformed stewards. As the “slack” is stretched out of the system due to increasing internal pressure, it: 1) loses its robustness to external stressors, 2) the tension between connected nodes increases, and 3) the inter-node couplings harden. At the system breaking point, one or more of the connections crack open, the nodes fly apart, and the conglomeration ceases to function as a whole – a system. I hate when that happens!

Slack Time

The best resource on the importance of “slack time” is Tom DeMarco‘s aptly titled book, “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency“. (I’ve loved everything Mr. DeMarco has produced since the 80’s.)


I’ve worked on projects where I had a lot of slack time available that allowed me to interlace learning with doing. I’ve also worked on projects where I was balls-to-the-wall; solely “doing” for the entire duration. While on the former, I felt grateful to be able to kill two birds with one stone. While on the latter, I felt angry at having no time for personal development.

Having too much slack time available on a project is certainly inefficient. It can lead to boredom and a guilty feeling of “not contributing” to the org. On the other hand, having no time to breathe can lead to unnecessary mistakes, corner-cutting, and an angry feeling of being exploited – especially if you perceive other teams as having too much slack time available.


Categories: management Tags: ,
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