The Importance of "Slack": The Misunderstood Virtue

Many businesses operate on the ethos of "do more with less." The idea is that a lean operation, characterized by tight schedules and limited resources, will yield maximum productivity...

The Importance of "Slack": The Misunderstood Virtue
Photo by Mille Sanders / Unsplash


In today's fast-paced work environment, "slack" is often seen as undesirable. It's commonly associated with laziness, inefficiency, and lack of productivity. However, Tom DeMarco, a leading figure in software engineering and team dynamics, calls for a reevaluation. He views slack not as a problem, but as a critical element for promoting innovation, growth, and well-being in organizations.

Slack: The Misunderstood Virtue

Lots of companies follow the "do more with less" motto. They believe that running a tight shipᅳstaying on schedule and using resources sparinglyᅳwill get the best results. But DeMarco thinks this misses the mark. He says that not having some slack can actually hurt a company's well-being and performance.

The Time Paradox

Here's the catch: When you don't allow any slack, time suddenly becomes super valuable. Everyone's calendar is jam-packed, so when something unexpected comes up, there's no way to deal with it. DeMarco says that makes people busy, but it doesn't make your company better.

The Innovation Gap

Innovation often happens when there's slack. It’s those chill moments that give people space to brainstorm and try new things. If every minute is spoken for, there's no room for creative thinking. DeMarco believes slack is actually good for productivity because it gives people the freedom to innovate.

Slack as a Strategic Resource

Against all odds, DeMarco champions slack as a vital resource. It gives organizations the wiggle room to adjust to curveballs, be it a sudden market shift, an unexpected bug, or a change in project direction. Having slack can mean the difference between adapting smoothly or stumbling into chaos.

The Human Side of Slack

Besides its role in strategy, DeMarco also talks about slack's effect on how happy and well employees feel. He says that always feeling rushed can make people stressed and worn out, which might make them leave their job. Adding some slack to work plans can help make people happier and less stressed.

Slack Without Direction: A Double-Edged Sword

Be warned, though—slack can backfire if there's no guidance from the top. Without clear goals, slack can morph from an asset into a liability, becoming a hotbed for laziness and disillusionment. DeMarco emphasizes that slack works best when it’s part of a bigger plan that includes good leadership and clear goals.

Balancing Act

The trick is to include some slack in planning, so it enhances productivity rather than harming it.


DeMarco's take on slack offers a critical lens through which to view current work practices. Slack isn't just nice to have; it's a must for any forward-thinking, humane organization. But for slack to really work its magic, it needs to be aligned with effective leadership and a well-defined direction. In a world where stress and burnout are becoming the norm, it's high time to give slack the credit it deserves, for giving us the space to breathe, think creatively, and succeed.