Too much Slack?

In class today we learned about the concept of slack when looking at a project layout. Each step of the project has so many days to complete, and each project step may have some slack time so long as it isn’t in the project’s main path. Many projects are dissected down to every bit of detail to where we know each steps time frame. Again like we did in class today or through a Microsoft Project program you can layout the full project and each steps time frame to get you that given slack time. Throughout much of class today though I was thinking in many cases this could lead to problems especially if departments have this information. Employees may wait until the last possible minute to complete their scheduled task, or take a bit more time than they should to complete coding, or whatever it is they may be assigned to.

Now of course a simple solution to this problem is to have a strong project manager that can continuously motivate employees and keep everyone on task, but still when most employees are presented with the fact that they have some extra leeway not much will stop them from taking advantage of it. Through a work experience of my own, even I as the project / event manager took advantage of this time at a previous job. I was in charge of several large bowling events throughout Illinois, we had the projects lined out much like we have done in class, we had the time frames mapped out, we knew the tasks, and we knew that we would always give ourselves that cushion to get the project fully done of a couple weeks. Sure enough we took every tournament preparation right down to the wire, there were many late nights spent the day before a tournament getting everything prepped and ready for the next day. Every single time we would ask ourselves why did we wait till the last minute? Every single time we would just go back and do it again. Sure we got the project completed, and did it quite well, but we took full advantage of the time we had.

So my question is how do your employers handle this type of issue to ensure a certain department or team doesn’t take advantage of the “extra 10%” of the slack, or even the budget for that matter? Is there a way to do it without offering an incentive to project team or departments to be on time or is that the only solution?

6 thoughts on “Too much Slack?

  1. The purpose of the “extra 10%” and slack time is to allow employees to get the work done without rushing and stay focused. Sometimes time pressure can lead to bad decision making, cutting corners, etc. I tend to be a procrastinator. When I have work that needs to be done I divide the workload into mini-projects. I finish the simplest task first. Then I am motived to try something more time intensive. Also if I catch myself ‘slacking’ I think about how much I would value having that time that I am wasting when I am frantically trying to meet a deadline at the end. Have you ever said to yourself, if I only had one more day to finish this project?

    A team needs a manager that makes the first day of a project just as important as the last. The time will be used wisely and slack/budget allowances will not be an issue but a perk.

  2. We are handling this type of problem by not telling each area/department the real time that we need a task completed by. We give them a must completion date that has slack time built in for us to complete other tasks downstream. This way if they are a little late the project isn’t delayed. This also gives us a little slack time as well to complete our tasks that are dependent on these other areas.

  3. You brought up great point Michael. We practice similar thing at our organization. There is 2 sets of deadlines that exist on most of our projects. There is deadlines that are communicated to external teams which include slack, except they don’t know it. Internally, we also build time on top of what was communicated in order to ensure we can deliver on time. While it may not be the best practice, our projects spread across many cross functional teams. If true timelines are communicated and teams don’t strive to meet them, we have found ourselves in tight positions so creating multiple deadlines has become a common practice.

  4. One way to avoid people taking advantage of the 10% slack is to establish an incentive for early completion. You may have noticed how many road construction projects are now bid with an incentive payment for each day the project is finished ahead of schedule. If a carrot is used and an early completion resuts in cost savings, why not share in the savings?

  5. Hi there,

    This post gave me a lot to think about, because my class also just learned about the concept of slack. However, you gave me a different view point to consider. While sitting in class, I thought about how having slack could be essential to a project. Inevitably, something will go wrong or be delayed. Having slack could be the difference between fixing a problem or failing the project. I still believe that projects need some slack to succeed, but now, as a procrastinator myself, I see the potential harms of having too much slack. If project members were initially told how much slack they have, they may abuse it. So therefore, I think the team members should be given the finish time required and depending on how the project proceeds, the manager can give slack when needed. I think that could be a good middle between feeling rushed to finish and procrastinating the project, but this depends heavily on the manager monitoring the progress and being understanding.

  6. Honestly this is a great post to put up because slack is a HUGE issue for any company. I just learned a little about what slack is in class this week and I can completely relate to you when you were the event/project manager. When I was the event coordinator for a country club I had 3 other people to manage. In the beginning of each event it seemed as though it would go smoothly because of the planning and delegating duties to each person. It was as we were getting close to the event where the slack would pop up and create all types of problems (and this especially wasn’t good when it came to weddings). It’s not that we procrastinated and waited until the last minute, I think the problem was that we weren’t working fast enough. One way to solve this is by incentive, but we were all getting paid the same amount so I took it upon myself to truly oversee and make sure I had enough people to execute the event.

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