Why you should worry about workarounds

Every morning I’d arrive at the 30-storey building which houses Quintiq’s Malaysian offices and join the queue for the elevator. There were six elevators in total, three on either side, and four buttons. Of course, if I was the first person to arrive, I had to push one of those buttons to call the elevator. The first button on my right as I arrived – the one closest to the car park – seemed to be permanently out of order. The light wouldn’t go on and the elevator wouldn’t arrive no matter how many times I pushed the button, so I always bypassed this button and pressed the second closest one instead.

After a few days I got irritated by it – why wasn’t it fixed yet? – so, I looked around me to see how other people behaved. I was surprised by how many people hadn’t realized the button was broken, and didn’t seem to care, not even after it had been broken for a month or so. They kept pressing the button, kept waiting for the elevator to arrive, until they or someone else finally pressed a button that worked. (Sometimes I’d be watching them for minutes and minutes before they realized the button just wasn’t working).The same happens in everyday working life. When a step in a process is broken, most people tend to ignore it or work around it. Sometimes they are so used to doing something in a certain way (for example, always pressing the second lift button) that they don’t realize they are working around the standard process (pressing the lift button within reach). If you work to tight deadlines and deal with customers, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up working around problems rather than identifying and solving them. You need to deliver, no matter what, so if you find a step in a process that doesn’t make sense you’ll probably skip it or find an alternative.

However, the process was probably designed by well-intentioned managers with the aim of serving a higher goal: quality. So, while a broken process has a negative impact on quality, side stepping that process has the same effect; workarounds lead to inconsistencies, and inconsistencies, whether in your product or service, result in quality issues.

In order to get a process fixed so that others don’t have to spend some time ignoring it and then more time searching for a workaround, you need someone to notice it so it can be fixed. Having this eye for detail is crucial in a quality management role.

From the perspective of maintaining quality in business, I always suggest the following approach when a process is broken or doesn’t work for you: first, achieve your goal by working around it; second, indicate to the responsible person that something is broken. This can be as easy as sending an e-mail to your quality department. They appreciate it.

This behavior of voicing out problems with existing processes requires a mental shift for many people. Therefore in my introduction with new Quintiq employees I emphasize that it’s their responsibility to make their lives better, and ask them to come up with a something they would like to change. It’s also related to one of Quintiq’s core values: the freedom to innovate.

You might wonder what happened with the elevator button. Well, as quality manager I sometimes need to let things go. So, I did. It did help that we moved to a new office a few weeks later 🙂