Slack

I hate wasting time. If you have time don’t wait for (more) time, that’s one of my favorite savings.When I started working I had a small commute by car and some time got wasted waiting for the traffic light to become green. So I started reading books in those waits.
With my MS-Windows becoming slower and slower at startup, I decided to spend the waiting time reading books. At work I started a copy of “Slack” by Tom De Marco. Being a book on efficiency I found fitting to read it in recycled time.
If you work in software development (or if you are a “white collar” at large) you ought know who Tom De Marco is. Or, at least, you should have heard about the book he wrote with Timothy Lister – Peopleware. This is one of the most referenced book, almost every book on project management written in recent years quotes Peopleware.
Back to Slack, this is a book intended to be read in a short time to convey good an bad practice about efficiency, innovation and risk taking in today’s organizations.
The author states about an hour and half as reading time, I guess it is somewhat more even if you read from page 1 to the end at the same time (and not scattered over a couple of month of PC boots), nonetheless the thought-provoking stuff is very dense. Chapter are short and almost everyone made me think.
It is possible I will write a resume of it in the future, but I strongly encourage you to read by yourself.
Tom hacks through myths trying to grasp what is needed by an organization to survive in times of change and crisis. First myth to fall is the one of total efficiency. Total efficiency means total rigidity. An organization that maximizes efficiency cannot withstand change because lacks of the buffer and the spaces to react to change and adapt.
Then he digs through the (wrong) assumptions about making the organization more productive – pressure, competition, fear and so on.
Eventually he bashes the Management By Objects and illustrates what really means to deal with risk.
For example planning should be an estimation and as a such should offer a range defined by: cannot complete before X and surely completed after Z, with a best estimation at Y, with X <= Y <= Z. Now that’s a planning, that’s quite different by setting a goal. From my experience, someone defines a planning, someone else carves it in stone and says that’s the goal. This way of operation ignores the risk, ignores that an estimation is just an estimation, not a commitment, and it is just a sure way to have a delay on the completion. In fact, even if the most likely date (Y in the example above) is taken, this is usually achievable only with a probability of 33%.
De Marco also marks “Management by Objectives” (MBO) as “don’t”. I already read about criticisms at MBO, but more about the bonus system rather than objectives by themselves. De Marco states that it is hard, if not impossible, that the defined objectives for employees lead the organization toward company objectives. Also in a time of changes it is hard to hit an objective even if the actions taken are excellent for the company.
I found this particular opinion a little forced on software development. I think that an objective and bonus scheme over the course of a project, if properly done, could be helpful. Maybe MBO is just crap if applied to vending or other areas.
I liked the book a lot and I think it is not just for managers (regardless of their level). The more widespread the ideas here contained the better the life of fellow programmers.

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