Tom DeMarco on Leadership, Trust, and Training

I re-read Tom DeMarco‘s “Slack” over the Thanksgiving break and came away with a couple of good ideas worth sharing.

Slack: Speed Difference Between Prudent and Breakneck

DeMarco Slack BookTom DeMarco offers the following definition of slack in the second to last chapter “Working at Breakneck Speed”

Back in the time of sailing ships, going anywhere by ship was a risky business. Going faster increased risk (more sail kept aloft in high winds, more changes taken in unknown and shoal waters, more fatigue and more human error). In such a time, the naval forces would instruct their captains to “proceed with all prudent speed” to arrive in a timely manner at an engagement. Prudent speed is something other than breakneck speed. It’s slower. We have to learn to move our knowledge endeavors “at all prudent speed.”
The difference between the time it takes you to arrive at “all prudent speed’ and the time it would take at “breakneck speed” is your slack. Slack is what helps you arrive quickly but with an unbroken neck.”
Tom DeMarco in “Slack

Tom DeMarco on Leadership, Trust, and Training

He offers insights on leadership, trust, and training that I found very applicable to entrepreneurs managing startups.

Leadership: there is no easy formula for real leadership (if there were we would see a lot more of it), but it seems clear that the following elements always need to be present:

  1. Clear articulation of a direction
  2. Frank admission of short-term pain
  3. Follow-up
  4. Follow-up
  5. Follow-up

Tom DeMarco in “Slack

Deciding what you will sacrifice or forgo to meet your objectives is a key element of developing realistic objectives and actions plans to support them. Adjusting your plan in light of intermediate results is also required. This same model also applies to any installation and bring-up plan you offer to prospects considering your offering.

“Trust: always give trust slightly in advance of demonstrated trustworthiness. New leaders acquire trust by giving trust.”

Tom DeMarco in “Slack

I think these rules apply to co-founders, employees, prospective customers, and partners. Trust but verify. Trust is the real currency of early customer relationships.

“Training is practice doing a new task much more slowly than an expert would do it.”

Tom DeMarco in “Slack

The concept of a learning curve or experience curve is that an individual or team’s proficiency at task is a function of their relevant experience doing it. You cannot be working at peak efficiency and peak learning at the same time. And you need to allot more time for rehearsal and reflection. Startups can outperform established firms by refusing to stall at an acceptable level of performance, instead continuing to refine their approach through mindful execution and deliberate practice.

Learning is faster and more effective when there is a facilitator or expert and peers or co-learners. Committing to learn as a team and seeking out or recognizing those with expertise are two elements of more effective training.

These are not the only insights in Slack, which anticipates the value of a flow based focused over resource efficiency and suggestions for change management and risk management.

The key tools of management in the knowledge organization are the tools of change management. Instead of authority and consequence (the management staples of the factory floor), the best knowledge-work managers are known for their powers of persuasion, negotiation, markers to call in, and their large reserves of accumulated trust.
Tom DeMarco in “Slack

Don’t Miss DeMarco’s Peopleware and Waltzing With Bears

Tom DeMarco has two other books that are definitely worth reading:

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