Work-a-round (noun) is defined by Webster as: “a method for overcoming a problem or limitation in a program or system”.  It is further defined in Wikipedia as: …”a bypass of a recognized problem in a system”.  A workaround is typically a temporary fix that implies that a genuine solution to the problem is needed.  But workarounds are frequently as creative as true solutions – thus can be difficult to spot.

The Institute for HealthCare Improvement (IHI) recently produced a great video short to teach how to (1) identify workarounds; (2) discuss how workarounds can lead to problems within a system; and (3) how to apply a framework that can convert workarounds into learning loops (PDSAs/small tests of change). IHI Content

A few years ago I had the opportunity to work with Anita Tucker, a professor with the Harvard Business School, to identify and tackle some hospital workarounds.  We utilized the IHI methodologies as well as Human-Centered Design (Design Thinking) processes.  We published our initial findings here: HBS Workaround PDF

I want to encourage you to look at the problems you are currently faced with – determine if you are tackling the ‘true problem’ or a workaround.  Even push yourself when your team is designing the solution, by asking “is your solution a workaround or a ‘true solution’ to the problem”.

Good Luck and Happy Innovating!

If you want to learn more about Human-Centered Design contact us at 916-446-1082 or email


By Christine Folck
Christine manages multiple, innovation design processes and is our lead facilitator for ethnographic studies to develop new processes, technologies or applications for current technology. Christine is our go to technology and behavior change guru.