September 21, 2012

Slack is a Culture Shock

Yesterday on the 'yes, we Kanban! oder: Kanban auf Unternehmensebene' meetup at Immobilien Scout in Berlin Arne Rook said in his awesome and funny talk that slack is the ultimate tool for Kaizen. I think that is true and wonder why allowing slack time also is a culture shock for so many work places.

As I understand, the argument goes like this: In an environment where the purpose is clear, the problems are discussed open and the work is managed visible people have the chance to act intelligently without further advice and in most cases will do so. So, given an environment that allows people to make good decisions and assuming people are creative on their own, slack time enables a group to cope with complexity far better than if everybody would be fully loaded with work without time to look and think. I have experienced this happen many times, more in a Scrum context but this is not so relevant for the point - and believe that slack time in an Agile context is a good thing.

So why does slack time in our work culture still have such a bad reputation and the opposite, busyness, being valued so high? Why is it creating fear if you start a new job and after two weeks still are not 120% busy on a project? 

It's interesting to observe in the video 'The Trainee' of the Finish artist Pivli Takala the reactions that are provoked by a trainee, who just sits thinking at her desk without a computer. At least busyness is not solely a German issue. 


  1. To many slack is counter-intuitive as a means to improve anything. Nevertheless I agree it´s very important with regard to not only time, but other resources as well. Slack is an important buffer and enabler.

    However, I think we need to be careful to not overrate slack. And not to underestimate the effort to truely use it. Some more thoughts on that in my blog article here:

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