Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency (英語) ハードカバー – 2001/4/10
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To most companies, efficiency means profits and growth. But what if your “efficient” company—the one with the reduced headcount and the “stretch” goals—is actually slowing down and losing money? What if your employees are burning out doing the work of two or more people, leaving them no time for planning, prioritizing, or even lunch? What if you’re losing employees faster than you can hire them? What if your superefficient company is suddenly falling behind?
Tom DeMarco, a leading management consultant to both Fortune 500 and up-and-coming companies, has discovered a counterintuitive principle that explains why efficiency improvement can sometimes make a company slow. If your real organizational goal is to become fast (responsive and agile), then he proposes that what you need is not more efficiency, but more slack.
What is “slack”? Slack is the degree of freedom in a company that allows it to change. It could be something as simple as adding an assistant to a department, letting high-priced talent spend less time at the photo copier and more time making key decisions. Slack could also appear in the way a company treats employees: instead of loading them up with overwork, a company designed with slack allows its people room to breathe, increase effectiveness, and reinvent themselves.
In thirty—three short chapters filled with creative learning tools and charts, you and your company can learn how to:
∑make sense of the Efficiency/Flexibility quandary
∑run directly toward risk instead of away from it
∑strengthen the creative role of middle management
∑make change and growth work together for even greater profits
A innovative approach that works for new- and old-economy companies alike, this revolutionary handbook will debunk commonly held assumptions about real-world management, and give you and your company a brand-new model for achieving and maintaining true effectiveness—and a healthier bottom line.
"An irreverent counterpoint to treatises about corporate efficiency. Brisk, compelling, and hard to put down." –Financial Executive
"Tom DeMarco goes after one of the most pervasive and pernicious myths of business--that humans are efficient the same way machines are. Slack will change the way you manage and understand your business." –David Weinberger, author of The Cluetrain Manifesto
"In times of many layoffs, shrinking staffs, vanishing 'think time,' middle managerial heads rolling, and mounting pressure to produce more faster . . . there are few limits on who can get some thoughts from [Slack].” –CNN.com
From the Trade Paperback edition.
I have long believed the drive to long hours with people working under the gun and advocating multi-tasking in business is fundamentally flawed. Tom shows good basics and data to clearly illustrate why these practices can get you into trouble if not managed. Kanban usage in software was not in vogue when Tom wrote this book, but it it is a good methodology to help put many of this ideas into practice.
If you manage software teams this is a MUST read in my opinion
There are fundamental differences between a building full of factory workers and a building full of code monkeys, engineers, accountants, etc....duh. DeMarco asserts that current management practices don't really account for this, namely that at crunch time you can push the laborers harder but "thinking" jobs occur at a fixed rate. A little free time, or slack, for all employees is in fact a good thing, because it allows for beneficial change to happen, or certain tasks to occur right away. Standing over a cubicle with a stopwatch won't help the worker or the organization. Laying off a full time secretary and splitting another half-time between two departments because she was timed to be busy only 50% of the day is a bad idea, because then the secretary is then always busy and you then have six-figure salary workers wasting their time making photocopies. The whole idea of slack is also useful when looking at risk analysis and planning, and many other aspects of corporate life.
While I certainly don't agree with everything DeMarco presents, a lot of the ideas do seem very well founded in reality and are just plain all-around good concepts. I think it's worth a read and discussion with your colleagues if you manage people in polo shirts or neckties, but I don't think this is the end-all of management books.
For knowledge work, I generally agree with his main points, and I have gained some inspiration in some other areas as well (for example, some specific cases where matrix management might actually be optimal).
However, some other reviewers have misunderstood DeMarco's main point. Efficiency and flexibility are opposite ends of the spectrum. If you want real agility, you have to give up some efficiency, and the opposite is true too. This isn't a matter of work less and get more done (aside from issues of long-term overtime, where it is a valid point) but rather work a little less and regain some capacity to change direction.
The second point though is that without slack, one cannot adequately manage risks. This slack not only gives you the ability to change direction to avoid risks, but it provides you with extra resources to overcome temporary and unexpected challenges.
In general, I think these are important points and I think that most companies would do well to at least consider these two points.
I totally disagree with the one bad reviewer who claims the book is below the bar of even anecdotal, and boring. On the contrary, much of what is argued here is a logical, or purely rhetorical position, but that is the part that is the most refreshing! Whereas Peopleware may be more comprehensive, it is also less bold and rhetorically less daring. I love to see someone like DeMarco, who has proven all he needs to, instead of just churn out another episode in his established realm, provoke, argue, and show the amount of passion this book contains. Only someone who considers rhetoric sinful could find this book boring.
That said, this book is also not from left field: it owes a lot to Lean, et al, on the biz and IT process side, and it is also of a piece with other writings like Mythical Man Month. Personally, I think the most important thing about this book is that it is original in its approach and size, etc.: computer science, folks, is not a science, and the fact that it has been controlled by science people all these years, is one of the reasons it has denied many of the hugely important aspects of its reality, e.g. psychology, sociology, etc. We desperately need more books like this that are broadly rhetorical, small, quick reads, that can penetrate into the more densely forested parts of the realm.