Posts Tagged ‘Tom DeMarco’

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 in  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!

Long Live The King!

November 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Even though it has a title and cover design that only a Harvard MBA could love, I picked up Robert Austin’s “Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations” on a twitter tip from Torbjörn Gyllebring. As soon as I cracked the cover, I knew it was gonna be a classic. The foreword was written by one of my all time favorite software authors, Tom DeMarco.

org perf

Mr. Austin discovered perhaps the first recorded instance of the well worn “schedule is king!” management law:

Such scenarios, in which program managers or contractors attend to measurements of timeliness of delivery to the exclusion of all else, are reported as early as 1882. In that year, the newly built U.S.S. Omaha was discovered to have onboard-coal-room for only four days’ steaming; in the rush to stay on schedule, no one had been willing to force notice of this defect at a high enough level to ensure its correction.

sched kingSince there seems to be no worthy candidate on the horizon capable of dethroning the king, expect this monarch to live long indeed.

Every once in a blue moon, I finish a book so engrossing that I immediately reread it before cracking open a different one. Mr. Austin’s MAMPIO is one of those gems and I’m well into my second romp through it. Since it’s loaded with a gazillion ideas for blog posts, expect more over-the-top BD00 distortions to come. W00t!

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: ,

Small, Loose, Big, Tight

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This Tom DeMarco slide from his pitch at the Software Executive Summit caused me to stop and think (Uh oh!):

I find it ironic (and true) that when man-made system are composed of “large pieces tightly joined“, they, unlike natural systems of the same ilk, are brittle and fault-intolerant. Look at the man-made financial system and what happened during the financial meltdown. Since the large institutional components were tightly coupled, the system collapsed like dominoes when a problem arose. Injecting the system with capital has ameliorated the problem, but only the future will tell if the problem was dissolved. I suspect not. Since the structure, the players, and the behavior of the monolithic system have remained intact, it’s back to business as usual.

Similarly, as experienced professionals will confirm, man made software systems composed of “large pieces tightly joined” are fragile and fault-intolerant too. These contraptions often disintegrate before being placed into operation. The time is gone, the money is gone, and the damn thing don’t work. I hate when that happens.

On the other hand, look at the glorious human body composed of “large pieces tightly joined“. It’s natural, built-in robustness and tolerance to faults is unmatched by anything man-made. You can survive and still prosper with the loss of an eye, a kidney, a leg, and a host of other (but not all) parts. IMHO, the difference is that in natural systems, the purposes of the parts and the whole are in continuous, cooperative alignment.

When the individual purposes of a system’s parts become unaligned, let alone unaligned with the purpose of the whole as often happens in man made socio-technical systems when everyone is out for themselves, it’s just a matter of time before an internal or external disturbance brings the monstrosity down to its knees. D’oh!

Fierce Protection

December 6, 2010 4 comments

Delicious, just delicious. Pitches from Fred Brooks, Scott Berkun, Tom DeMarco, Tim Lister, and Steve McConnell all in one place:  the Construx (McConnell’s company) Software Executive Summit. You can download them from here:  Summit Materials.

Here’s a snapshot of one of Fred Brooks’s slides that struck me as paradoxical:

So…. who’s the “we” that Fred is addressing here and what’s the paradox? I’m pretty sure that Fred is addressing managers, right? The paradox is that he’s admonishing managers to protect great designers from…… managers. WTF?

But wait, I think I get it now. Fred is telling PHOR managers to “fiercely” protect designers from Bozo Managers (but in a non-offensive and politically correct way, of course). Alas, the fact that this slide appears at all in Fred’s deck implies that PHORs are rare and BMs are plentiful, no?

How do you interpret this slide?

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