Not too long ago I put this one word sign on my desk:  Workaround?

IMG_4177The meaning being that I should constantly ask myself “Is this a workaround?”  If yes, fix the root cause.  Perhaps I am working around a person I don’t trust?  That has to be addressed too.

Workarounds arise when you have to get your work done, but standard processes are broken, too cumbersome, or don’t exist.  Or the person in charge of the process is too hard to deal with.  Or, I just want to do it my way because it is easier. To heck with accountability, Education Code, and other inconveniences.  I have seen employees open rogue bank accounts where school donations are then deposited because it is easier to do that than follow the correct process.  Unfortunately the line between convenience and theft is hard to draw, especially when the same employees start writing checks to themselves to reimburse themselves for “expenses”.

In other words workarounds at best are a temporary response to something that is broken and at worst a defiance of important checks and balances.  In any case, the underlying causes need to be fixed.  When we were implementing a new financial/payroll system we found that we could not place a single employee into both a certificated and a classified job.  We ended up giving these few individuals two employee numbers, just to make sure the payroll went out on time.  This workaround created further issues that had to be worked around (one example: the Social Security limit could not function properly).  Upon consultation with the vendor it turned out that we just did not understand their system well enough.  The two ID numbers were fixed, and we proceeded properly after that.

Other workarounds occur when a missing functionality is backfilled with a manual or non-standard process.  The retirement system reporting module in our new system did not work properly.  We therefore downloaded that month’s payroll records into Excel, fixed what we needed to fix, and reimported the file into the system.  Problem solved.  The retirement information was reported correctly.  Except that it removed any impetus to pressure the vendor to correct the problem.  The coding fix took several years to be implemented, due to the fact that we had a workaround that had become the standard process.

Workarounds that workSo imagine my surprise when just the other day I ran across this book:   Workarounds that Work by Russell Bishop.  After looking at the author’s web site and reading excerpts from the book (disclosure: I haven’t read the entire book yet) I have come to the conclusion that he must be using the word in a way that differs from normal usage.  I believe that the author is describing a continuous improvement process.  Streamlining or replacing a cumbersome or broken process is an improvement, not a workaround.

By my definition, a workaround is an ad hoc process that must then be replaced with something more permanent and robust in order to truly fix the problem.  Workarounds are necessary and necessarily temporary.  Why?  Because their unintended consequences can create havoc.

%d bloggers like this: