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on 13 January 2003
It's about 100 years since Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the philosophy of "scientific management", with its offspring such as the time-and-motion study and the mythical man-month. That's about how long it takes for a big idea to soak into the awareness of managers everywhere - especially those who are more committed to looking good than to managing well.
Tom DeMarco, co-author (with Tim Lister) of the magnificent "Peopleware", has done it again. Although "Slack" runs a little over 200 pages, you will probably read it in less than four hours because it is actually quite hard to put down. You will keep on thinking, "Yes, I've seen that!" and "Those words ring a bell".
In the course of his consultancy practice, which has taken him into many organizations including Apple, HP, Lucent and IBM, DeMarco has noticed a lot of counterproductive management behaviour. Many acts and policies that look good in the short term lead to corporate death in the longer term. More specifically, it is always possible to squeeze out a few more percentage points of "efficiency" - but only at the cost of damaging morale, precipitating burnout and losing the flexibility without which sensible decisions cannot be made.
Faster isn't always better. Effectiveness matters more than efficiency. People are not interchangeable "resources". Without challenge and growth, the best employees soon leave. Overheads are not necessarily bad. Consciously or subconsciously, we already know these things. DeMarco just hammers them home so we will never forget them again.
I really have only one quibble with "Slack". DeMarco has no business criticising Dilbert and his fellow engineers for "giving up" on their pointy-haired bosses. Sure, employees have a responsibility to make allowances and go the extra mile - but the PHBs systematically abuse every extra bit of slack that anyone cuts them. That's part of the joke, of course.
This is not just a book that will confirm your suspicions, and reassure you that you are not the one who is going mad. It's a simple, easily-understood message that everyone in business needs to hear. Most of all those right at the top - DeMarco says that many employees have told him, "I wish my boss could be here now to hear you say that".
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on 12 October 2001
Tom Demarco debunks much of the macho management practiced in many organsiations and encourages us to take a more considered people orientated approach. Slack is about using the time that naturally exists in ana organisation and using it to encourage change, or, to put it another way, do things better.
We have probably all tried to meet aggresive schedules and failed, well I have. DeMarco shows us why this is, why it will always be and how to take the pressure of ourselves and others and have altogether a more successful company.
He looks at practices such as management methodologies and recruitment methodolgies. I cringed at the latter. yes, i too recruited the perfect candidate but ignored the fact that he could n't do the job. One of the big messages in this is that it is people that count and that it is better to work together rather than against each other.
Heresy for the hell raising managers but Demarco makes so much common sense I would now like to face some of those past hell raisers and give them a dose of DeMarco.
Well Mr DeMarco you have given me a lot of ideas.
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on 9 July 2002
The ideas contained in this book are simple but revolutionary. Popular notions such as "busy is good" and "management equals total control" are examined in turn and dismantled. But there are also many positive suggestions to help those people with the responsibility of managing intelligent workers.
I was particularly drawn to the arguments relating to efficiency vs. effectiveness, and exposing the idea that "working long hours is the only way to get ahead" for what it is - a myth.
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on 6 February 2003
What means Cultural Management in the business context? Tom DeMarco shows in his new book, that Cultural Management become more and more important in the industry or the business world. In this world of lean companies with low structures and high efficiency, most of the people have no time for creativity and open minded thinking. But, to be fit for the big changes of the next years or to become a learning organisation, it is important to create open spaces for thinking and creativity. So Cultural Management in the business context means: the support and management of creative processes, the management of people with several concepts of living and thinking, the management of different cultures, means to create, implement and manage an open minded and creative corporate culture.
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VINE VOICEon 30 July 2005
Excellent read!
Very easy material to read and understand. Its obviously a pet topic for the author as you feel the points he makes are coming from a personal perspective. Often spills over into some soap-box ranting, but this prevents the material from being dry management material.
Definitely one of those cases when you've read the book try to get your manager to read it, and then their manager, and so on. Maybe then some of the good, sensible, and obvious ideas might appear in your workplace.
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on 28 February 2010
Slack by Tom DeMarco. Dorset House

Another superb piece of work from the legendary Tom DeMarco. The book, as he so aptly puts it is for people who don't have time to read it, so it's designed to take the length of a flight from New York to Chicago to read.

For all that it's short, it's packed with good advice. The central thesis is that many modern corporations are unable to respond to changes in the marketplace because they are now completely optimised for what they already do and sell, and have pared the staff down to a minimum which gives them what they believe is total efficiency.

The problem is that this leaves no one, especially the middle management, at whom the book is especially aimed, with any time for innovation when something comes along which undermines the current way of doing business. Along the way the book looks at Busyness, Burnout, Aggressive schedules, leadership, and risk, to name but a few topics covered.

This book is a great read for anyone interested in modern business, but I'd especially recommend it for anyone who is just starting to take up management responsibilities.

Highly recommended.
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on 3 November 2013
I had a copy of this a few years ago but foolishly lent it to a manager who I thought might appreciate (read "benefit from") it. However it was not returned (you know who you are) so I bought another copy and am currently re-discovering the gems it contains. Many are obvious when pointed out but they need pointing out if they are to be tackled.

For example: DeMarco points out that no "people under pressure don't think faster". So why do so many managers pile the pressure on? Because (A) it is herd mentality - they have pressure put on them so they push it downwards and (B) they have not thought this through falacy - they need this pointing out to them, often repeatedly.

If you work in IT, particularly software development but also any project management area, I would recommend considering this book. I cannot say you WILL benefit from it, but I have encountered enough managers (and directors) at large high-value organisations who would, that there is a good chance you would benefit from it.
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on 7 March 2004
"Slack" is the first book by T. DeMarco I've read. I had great expectations after a management consultant recommended it, and after having read it I must say this book is a valuable source of information and advice. The concepts are discussed with a direct style and Mr. Demarco clearly speaks out years of experience in the field. Personally I have learnt quite a lot from "Slack", and I think it is a must read for managers and lower rank knowledge workers alike. After all, as Mr. DeMarco clearly explains, natural leaders exercise influence even without strictly following the lines in the org chart.
I'm looking forward to reading "Peopleware" by the same author.
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on 19 May 2013
This book articulates what many of us who have been slogging away in the corporate world for years have thought. It explains how the recent mantra of 'lean and mean' in business actually leads to organisations that have less flexibility to respond to new changes and less adaptability to new circumstances. Whether the book will do any good is another matter. C-suite executives, keen to massage the quarter's results to improve their own bonuses are famously impervious to logic and, unfortunately, less concerned with the long-term success of their organisations than with making a quick buck before moving on to their next glorious triumph.
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on 16 February 2013
While the point the book makes could have been made in a fraction of the size, it is an insightful observation on a very important company flaw. Worth reading if you have any responsibility on a company.
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