Anna Shipman : JFDI

Slack

31 December 2019

I’ve written briefly about Slack before (at the end of my post on High Output Management), but this year I decided to re-read it. It’s good. Here are my notes from the second read.

The idea of maximum efficiency is a myth

Using the analogy of a sliding tile puzzle he points out that if you fill the empty slot, it’s a more more efficient use of space, but then it’s impossible to change. That’s why you need slack at work; if your time is already filled to capacity you will not be able to deal with emerging issues, or (as Drucker points out, plan for the future).

By seeming to thriving under pressure you put pressure on your peer managers.

Leadership and strategy

When an organisation is in drift and a leader takes the helm, there is relief.

Leadership is encouraging people to take short term pain for long term gain, because we all tend to be short term thinkers. Giving trust is a way to get trust.

However, he is not a fan of OKRs: he says management by objectives guides you to make tactical adjustments only, under the limitation that you don’t mess with current strategy, whatever it might be.

You need to make explicit provision for failing safely

Being safe to fail means making explicit provision for lots of small but expensive failures along the way to big success.

You can’t count on all your risks paying off; you need to set aside time and money. The science of risk management guides you as to how much.

Risk management is probabilistic

The explicit declaration of uncertainties allow you to manage a sensible risk reserve across the whole portfolio. Organisations can’t be aggressive about risk-taking without meaningful assessment of the extent of the uncertainties.

Without sensible risk management, organisations become risk averse.

How to maintain a risk register

  1. List each risk
  2. Have an ongoing process for discovering new risks
  3. Quantify each one as to potential impact and likelihood
  4. Designate a transition indicator for each one that will tell you if the risk is beginning to materialise
  5. Set down in advance what the mitigation plan is for each risk

Set aside a risk reserve of cash

This should be such that you have at least a 50/50 chance you’ll have enough to cover the risks that do materialise.

You may have to undertake activity that you won’t need if risks don’t materialise in order to be prepared for if they do.

Stop doing risk-free stuff

You need the resources for transformational work, and you’ll never get them if you keep on doing non-transformational stuff.

You need slack to be able to get things done

The difference between the time it takes you to arrive at all prudent speed and breakneck speed is slack. Slack is what helps you arrive quickly but with an unbroken neck.

But how do you get more slack?

I enjoyed this book, and it’s a quick read with some good ideas. However, while it’s a good explanation of why you need slack, it’s light on actual suggestions for how to arrange your life to get it.

One resource I’ve found useful is this exercise, make time for the work that matters, but for practical suggestions for how to manage your working life with rigour and direction, my go-to book is still High Output Management.

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