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


Rating: (Recommended)


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If you’re fed up with burnout, downsizing, and a manic focus on maximum efficiency, then Tom DeMarco’s book, Slack, is just what you’re looking for. DeMarco’s tone is irreverent, and his attitude comes across clearly on every page. He approaches issues from a fresh perspective, and a point of view that’s different from many managers in your organization. Here are some key points he makes in the four sections of this book:

1.      Organizations get more efficient by sacrificing their ability to change. Slack comes to the rescue.

2.      Stress pushes organizations off course and often redoubles their speed. DeMarco proposes cures for corporate stress.

3.      There are key differences between those companies that can learn and those that can’t.

4.      Running toward risk and managing it sensibly makes the most sense for organizations.

While DeMarco presents no solid facts to support his claims and opinions, this diatribe is enjoyable to read, and allows a reader to think differently about areas of concern for most managers. Here’s an excerpt from early in the book:

“A mainstay of corporate restructuring in the past decade has been to get rid of people and share their work among those remaining. This has drastically increased fragmentation of workers. Such a restructuring tactic only makes sense if the task-switching penalty is smaller than the potential savings. In practice, it only makes sense if the penalty is essentially zero, but it never is.
To the extent that a hidden task-switching penalty is now using up the resources of an overfragmented organization, the savings have been illusory. Fragmented knowledge workers may look busy, but a lot of their busyness is just thrashing, switching continually from one activity to another.
To make matters worse, the decision about who should go and who should stay was usually based on proven performance. But work performance is not an abstraction: You can’t say that Ted is a high-performance worker in general, only that he has proved himself good at doing some one particular thing. Fragmentation will result in his doing less of that thing and more of something else, something he probably isn’t so good at. Even without the task-switching penalty, his performance is worsened.
Knowledge workers aren’t fungible. Treating them as if they were will increase busyness but make it harder for them to get useful work done.”

Cut yourself some slack, and enjoy reading Tom DeMarco’s latest book.

Steve Hopkins, May 22, 2002


ă 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2002 issue of Executive Times


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