As a startup, we try to move as fast as possible. Our chairman, Kevin Ryan, says moving fast is one of his keys to success.
But sometimes, going full out, we forget about slack. It’s an operational paradox that in order to operate efficiently, systems need slack.
Consider this: if your “system”–a factory line, a retail bank branch, a B2B web site, whatever–is operating at 100% capacity and runs into a delay, it can never recover. What, you say?! Of course it can – you can just try harder, go faster, hustle, right? No. Without slack in the system, you’ll fall behind and never catch up. Remember, you’re already going at 100% capacity. You have no room to catch up.
For us, building a reasonable amount of slack into our operations is something we need to do more of. It means remembering that even with the best-laid plans, delays happen. Computers fail, people get sick, servers have hiccups, subways have slowdowns. For example, it *should* only take 15 minutes to set up an average ad campaign in the ad server. But if we don’t leave some extra time for each new campaign–slack–we’ll be derailed by problems with the creative, or click-through URLs that don’t work, or whatever other issue crops up. And as much as we hustle, we can’t recover from these contingencies without a little slack.
Note that “slack” is different from “slacker.” I’m not advocating time just to hang around and chat with colleagues. Nor do I mean tolerating sub-par work, such as staff who consistently show up late or are simply inefficient (there is no reason to tolerate that!). I do mean taking the earlier plane for a business meeting, ordering an extra computer in case one fails, or generally planning for contingencies in our daily operations.
And on those rare days when everything goes perfectly, we can use that excess slack time to think.
Photo by Azmil77/Flickr.
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