Slack is what makes it possible for a system to handle shocks. It is often misunderstood to be inefficiency
St John’s hospital did not have enough operating rooms ever.
They had their operating rooms scheduled with elective surgeries all the time. Then an emergency operation would show up and throw the schedule off. Doctors were often left waiting till 3 AM to undertake a 2-hour procedure.
This was not good for the hospital, not good for the doctors and definitely not good for the patients.
The solution proposed was to leave one operating room vacant. The empty room created slack. The schedules of the fixed surgeries no longer had to be moved to accommodate emergencies. This increased doctor and patient satisfaction and also resulted in an increase in revenues and profits.
An empty operating room might feel like an indulgence. It seems wasteful. Its presence increases profits!
Sometimes organisations accumulate fat as they operate and in downturns, this fat needs to be reduced. But often in the absence of complete understanding, organisations eliminate slack instead of fat and make the entire organisation less productive.
As companies decide to cut staffing in the current environment, many are eliminating slack, assuming it is fat. How many are sowing the seeds to meet their destiny on the road they take to avoid it?