March 16, 2010

Workarounds Don’t

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:01 am by lindaslongview

I was reminded recently of one of my long view axioms – workarounds don’t work (for long).

Workarounds have a finite duration for which they will enable correction/detection of an existing problem.  This is because they require extra effort for what is usually an infrequent problem.  Thus, as humans, we tend to forget, begin to believe it is unnecessary (it doesn’t really matter), or it was simply too much effort (not worth it to me), so it just does not happen.

I was reminded about this axiom last week when my 16-year-old daughter passed her driver’s license exam.  Although she passed, she couldn’t get her license because the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) computer system had a known counting error that indicated that she was two days short of her required permit duration, yet the workaround had been forgotten.

The time-based requirement for teenagers to receive a full license is that they must have held their permit a minimum of six months.  My daughter received her permit on 09/09/2009.  She scheduled and passed for her driving exam on 03/09/2010 – exactly six months later.  So, how could she be two days short?

It turns out if you assume that SIX MONTHS = HALF-YEAR = 365/2 DAYS = 182.5 DAYS and then assume that a minimum of 183 DAYS is the appropriate standard to apply to ensure completion, then the criteria FAILS six-months of the year:  March, April, May, June, July, and August, (see graphic) for the condition when a teenager schedules their six-month driving appointment exactly six-months out (date to date).  This happens because there are only 181-182 cumulative days in the six-month periods, falling immediately after February, which has only 28 days.

Can you imagine how frustrated and aggravated the two of us were?!  She was quite disappointed at not receiving her license and thus not being able to drive her planned excursion the following day, not to mention it was rather anti-climactic to return two days later to get her license.  I was aggravated on her behalf and because of the hassle of having to go to the DMV twice in two days.

I was sufficiently aggravated about the situation to contact Gary, the Drive columnist in my local paper, to help me get the problem fixed.  Gary successfully got to the right folks at the DMV.  The DMV confirmed that the problem was a known counting issue (the computer had been programmed with a 183 DAY threshold rather than programmed for six MONTH threshold). The DMV agent also informed me that a fix was in the queue to convert the counting from DAYS to MONTHS (but there wasn’t any priority for it) AND that there was a workaround in place to allow the field offices to allow a DMV manager override the system but that my local office had forgotten the procedure.  (My daughter should have been able to get her license on the day she passed her driving exam.)

Although the DMV representative was very apologetic and promised to write a memo to all the field offices reminding them of the workaround, I was disheartened by the futility.  How much work was created because because they did not expeditiously fix this known problem and allowed a persistent workaround?  For example they could simply change threshold from 183 days to 181 days – one line of computer code!  What’s the risk – a teenager sneaking in to get his/her license a few days early in November?  How many managers at the hundreds of field offices will have to read another memo about the workaround and remind their staff to override when needed?  Of course, all will be forgotten come September and experienced again come March!

My long view advice:

  • Expeditiously fix problems – workarounds don’t work.
  • Do not allow workarounds to persist for any more time than it takes to solve the problem permanently.  (It costs more than you are probably aware.)

Are you avoiding workarounds in favor of solutions?

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1 Comment »

  1. Gayle said,

    I couldn’t agree more. And because workarounds are typically not well documented, the collective memory fades fast. Workarounds depend way too heavily on human memory and action.


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