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

What is "Slack"?

According to Tom DeMarco, slack is "building capacity to change into the modern enterprise. It looks into the heart of the efficiency-flexibility quandary".

The book is divided into four parts, each with its own theme:
  1. Efficiency has been pursued by sacrificing the ability to change
  2. Effectiveness has been diminished through high organisational stress
  3. Growth requires change and how to make change possible
  4. Risk is inherent i change, and risk can (must) be sensibly managed.

The removal of flexibility - that is, the ability to change - occurred in two ways according to DeMarco:
  1. Flattening of organisational hierarchy through the elimination of middle management
  2. Obsession with making workers "busy" - he sees a "Hurry Up" mantra driving modern enterprises.

A critical role of middle management is improvement, yet in modern organisations, fewer middle managers must manage more workers leading to a "steady state, … at the expense of the future". The workers themselves are required to do more for themselves as support roles, such as office assistants, have been eliminated. This leads to task switching and build up of work-in-progress. The result is increased waste and delay.

Organisational stress is a consequence - people try to work faster and work longer days. Excessive meetings take a further toll on the work day. Poor management practice - in the traditional management pursuits of planning, organising, staffing, directing/leading, controlling and improving - have a significant impact on organisational performance.

In the third part, DeMarco discusses familiar topics of vision, leadership, the dangers of fear in the workplace and the necessity of trust in a leader and how that trust is established and maintained, and organisational learning. He returns to the decimation of middle management emphasises their role in "reinvention" and how these middle managers must be able/allowed to work together as a team.

One chapter of Part 3 is devoted to "Quality" and it is here that I found myself disagreeing with DeMarco and feeling he has misunderstood the "quality movement". In essence, he has a narrow view of "quality" - seeing it as a "zero defects" approach at the expense of the "user experience". He must have had bad experiences himself with what he terms the "Corporate Quality Program". A more expansive view of "quality" - such as the Toyota Production System and its dual emphasis on "respect for people" and "continuous improvement" is perfectly consistent with the bulk of
Slack - one reason I enjoyed and recommend this work.

I first read Tom DeMarco's works sometime ago when his books were predominantly on topics related to software engineering and software project management. In Part 4 of this book, he reprises these teachings to an extent, emphasising that risk amazement is "planning for failure" and is critical to successful change.
Although not a long book (220 pages), and although I enjoyed reading it, my view is that tighter editing would have made it a more riveting and inspiring read.

Recommended

4th Generation Management - Brian L Joiner

Much is being written about Industry 4.0 (and a little about Service 4.0), but I4 and S4 will not fulfil their potential without "M4" - Management 4.0.

In this easy-to-read (289 pages) book, Barry Joiner describes his "Joiner Triangle", a simple conceptual framework for a new organisational culture - one based on "finding our what is important to customers and spending resources wisely" resulting in customers getting better service, security for employees, increasing sales for businesses and increased profits for shareholders.


Image:pscholtes.com/articles/total-quality-leadership.htm

This is his "4th Generation Management" model.

Joiner's approach leans heavily on the work of
W Edwards Deming, making it more practical than Deming's lecturing style (although I do recommend that all mangers read Deming's books Out of the Crisis and The New Economics).

The M3 paradigm of "management by objectives/outcomes/results" - that managers presently learn on-the-job and in business schools - has led to sub-optimal profits and customer satisfaction through "distortion of the system" and "distortion of the figures". M4 is about "improving the system" for the benefit of all.

Joiner discusses the differences between M4 and M3, making their differences in their philosophical bases stark:

  • Elimination of the causes of cost vs Cost cutting
  • Customer primacy vs Shareholder primacy
  • Respect for people vs Resources to be exploited
  • Systems thinking vs Sequential thinking
  • Understanding variation vs Meddling
  • Managing inputs vs Managing results
  • Motivating vs Incentivising
  • Cooperation vs Competition

Examples from Joiner's consultancy practice are used to support the text and they work very well.

The benefits of progressive management (Deming,
Lean, Toyota Production System, Ricardo Semler) have not been widely adopted and where they have the penetration has been limited to "operations". The "executive class" (see Bob Emigliani's The Triumph of Classical Management) has not changed it's ways. Joiner believes "every manager, indeed, every employee, needs to master" Management 4.0 for it - and thus Industry 4.0 and Service 4.0 - to be fully effective.

Highly recommended.