The Workaround

“Pardon me, just hold up a second.  What is a workaround?”

“Well, it is how we get the activity accomplished by working around the problem.”

“No, no I still don’t understand, can you define the term workaround?”

I look confusing at this executive thinking “Really, you don’t understand what the word workaround means?”

This conversation actually happened and during it, it was explained to me that this is an example of the ‘tech’ talk I use that other people do not understand and I assume they do.

I could see that in the case of the endless acronyms we use in IT with everything from WiFi to ITIL and ERP.  But, workaround, really?  Come on!

Wikipedia states that a workaround is a bypass of a recognized problem in a system.      

Whatis states that a workaround is a method, sometimes used temporarily, for achieving a task or goal when the usual or planned method isn’t working.

Heck there is even a workaround.org blog.

To me the workaround is when the existing process or system steps (mechanical or information system) does not deliver the results desired and a ‘temporary’, often unapproved, change is implemented that does not use the standard mechanical or information system.     

I put temporary in quotes because it is widely known and accepted that those temporary solutions become permanent based out of –

Changing priorities pull the focus onto the next problem and workaround   

Or

Culture of the company is ‘just make it work’ that promotes workarounds as solutions

(great article on the dangers of a workaround culture)

Lastly, that the workaround is a shadow process or system change that supervisors choose to ignore and upper management are not aware that it occurs at all.

My favorite example of this is a major news service 10 years ago discovered during an assessment of their email system that the email system was used for up to 30% for news content delivery to editorial from the field globally.  The email system was labeled as business critical, thus could be down for up to a day compared to mission critical editorial content delivery systems were downtime was measured in minutes.

No one in upper management in IT or Editorial was aware of this workaround.  Why the workaround, well many areas in the world had poor connectivity (wired) to access the core editorial systems, so they would hope on a local ISP, use a yahoo account and email to editorial their stories.  Editorial at the regional offices would copy and paste the story into the editorial system.    

That was a potentially costly workaround that required a revamping of the email redundancy and also a change in the future editorial system replacement requirements.

So there you have the workaround.  Look around your home and office, how many workarounds can you spot?

Note: Workaround book

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So, what is this ERP you speak of?

I was recently asked to create a definition of ERP for a client to use in explaining it to their executives.  In other words, communicate so they understand.  I started with the below.

Enterprise Resource Planning definitions:

  • Software industry definition – a system the will, through automation and best practices, optimize your business processes for greater profitability.  
  • Customer definition – a system that will help us run our business and provide the necessary information to make better decisions, but won’t kill our business.

Then thinking that this would need to be expanded I dissected the components of an ERP (not really) system (see previous posting about how ERP is not really ERP any longer).

Three pieces of a solution:

  1. The database – the most important as it is the core of not just what the applications use to input, process and publish (output) data, but also critical for integrating with other applications internally and from your customers and suppliers
  2. The applications – ranging from a core of financials, order management, inventory management and production management to customer relation management, e-commerce, performance management and so on.
  3. The reporting tool – not just paper reports, but downloads to Excel and exports out to customers/suppliers allowing the ability to track data quality and correlate data not just from the system, but also from other sources.

The important part of the above is 1 and 3.  Frankly, the applications not only the boring part of the system, but are the least impactful of the pieces.  After all, your data what you take with you when you divorce yourself from your old ERP system.  Now, the data tends to be in not so great condition, but it is priceless.  The reporting tool, call it business intelligence, analytics or magic 8 ball, is how you use that data in making GOOD business decisions.    

Yes, the applications do transform some of the data as in order to cash and product configuration, but how does an application make decisions better?

How does a processing a purchase order or updating an inventory quantity improve your integration with a customer leading to a greater share of the available spend?

Following this I moved into the territory of what is a general reason to install a new ERP.

When deciding on taking the large impacting act of selecting and implementing a new ERP you must first, and most importantly, think about where you want to be in a year, two years, or more.  If your business isn’t at optimal capacity now but your plan is to get there within a year or even two, now is the time to buy.

Second, is the fact that ERP companies are also still looking to make sales (read deals!) and are offering more tailored, industry-specific packages.

Will ERP launch a business into a higher stratosphere?

Nope.

But, can it give you the information that you can make the decisions to hit those bigger goals?

Certainly.

There is more to it than those two points, but do not dismiss them.  Especially the first one.

Rule #8 There are no bad ideas, some just need more time to age

I owe this rule to my time at 3M.

Innovative Culture

Their culture of innovation was based on several things, but the one that resonated with me was how conceptual failures by 3M’s engineering and science areas (so-called bad ideas) were not tossed away.

 

Of course there is the famous Post It Note story.     

 

There are many more were an idea that was first, second or even longer a failure. But, thanks to good process of documenting the idea and the failures, with the most important part of having the ‘failure’ reviewed occasionally to give it another shot.

 

The innovative companies understand that you should never give up on any idea.

Some ideas are just not ready due to –

 

  • the organization is not ready for that large a leap
  • the technology is not available to make it a reality
  • the solution to make it successful is not present

 

Regardless of your organizations industry or role, you can have it be highly innovative, by being fostering an atmosphere of tolerating failure and reviewing your failures for future successes.

The more innovative you want to be the higher level of failure you need to be able to tolerate.

Article Review – The most important morning ritual

The article ‘The most important morning ritual for every great boss’

is one of those 60 second reads that serves as a great reminder for us executives

 

 

who have been through MBA to Center for Creative Leadership training, but

 

 

 

like a golf swing that is Ernie Els one minute

 

 

 

 

and Charles Barkley the next,

 

 

 

 

 

 

your fundamentals break down and you need to remember the basics.

This is a back to basics reminder on leadership.

The line sometimes the only person you can count on to tell you the unvarnished truth is you.”  is ever so poignant in the down economy as your staff and peers are worried about their jobs, their financial condition, their future in general and tailor their responses to protect themselves.

I am often one to cherry pick what I like about a book, lecture or presentation.  After all, I only chose to follow four of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

The only modification I would say for myself, is not performing this function every morning, but weekly.