Every student of Lean Thinking is familiar with process waste and the relentless effort to minimize or preferably eliminate it. Few, however, are as aware of the value of the three primary ways of doing so: workaround, countermeasure, and solution.
Most important, and often most disregarded, are the efforts of most workers to create workarounds. This approach is disdained by Lean experts almost as a waste itself. There is no effort to find the root cause; it’s just to avoid a problem and get the process moving. It’s almost a sin to work around because the outcome is promoted at the expense of process. A workaround could be something like two workers lifting a part from one point of assembly to another, just to get it done.
On the contrary, our view is that workarounds can be the productive first step to creating a Lean process. Get the process to continue with a workaround, and then look for a countermeasure, something that reduces the waste in the process, not just helps produce the product. The two workers lifting that part might create a counter-measure by designing a swivel jack to both lift and move the part.
This approach might work until a true solution is found for the root cause of the problem, one that eliminates the waste of lifting and moving the part. For our example, the root cause was the order of assembly. The part had to be lifted and moved to attach a rubber gasket. Moving that action to later in assembly eliminated lifting and moving. No more waste.
In Lean, nothing that works should be discouraged. Workarounds are the precursor to Lean just as a pig is a precursor to bacon. People are creating a better way to get the work done, just not the best way.
If you observe workers creating and using workarounds, say “Great!” then help them find the next step of Lean, maybe only a countermeasure, but maybe a solution.