Is “overimprovement” possible?

I’ve been enjoying Tom DeMarco’s book, Slack.  It addresses the myth of total efficiency.  I’m gratified in that the picture that popped into my head, when I first contemplated reading the book and the idea of slack, was effectively the same used in his illustration of his point.  Remember playing with one of these?

sliding smile puzzle

Imagine for a moment that this represents a person, a knowledge worker specifically, and each tile represents a percentage of your utilization.  An efficiency expert comes along and, seeing people as fungible (which we are not), he notices there is a percentage of unutilized time – or slack (the missing tile). The efficiency expert then decides (quickly) that this person has some available capacity that could be utilized by someone, or for something, else.  So he fills in your utilization to 100% capacity.  Totally efficient, right?

Now imagine the sliding tile puzzle with no slack – no empty tile.  …Getting the picture?

Without any slack, there’s no room for change. No room for reinventing the picture.  No ability to respond.    So is total efficiency a good thing? If you think yes, cut me some slack!!  We absolutely can overimprove to the point that we are no longer effectively growing, evolving and remaining competitively successful in the market.

Myself, I need space just to turn around in. I need “some space to breathe in” (38 Special). And some slack to think in.  Come to think of it, why don’t we narrow the lanes in the roadways to the width of the average vehicle to utilize more pavement and get more vehicles on the freeways?  Crazy thought!! No thanks!

It’s a must read for leadership at any level. I hope my friends currenty emmersed in Matrixed Management will embrace this.

I don’t subscribe to Tom’s advocacy of the “Eve” persona, but ‘she’ makes his point. We want to grow and we want to learn (hence we need some slack in which to think and  discern, to imagine and to experiment, to fail and to learn.  But, sometimes it is good to comply to order, because sometimes “Don’t” means “Don’t hurt yourself”.

Any thoughts or insights on being “Overimproved”, as Tom describes it? Or on his book and idea of “Slack”?

I’m off to finish the book.