Abstract for: The Problem with Workarounds is that They Work

Resource shortages are a fact of life in most organizations and in the currently challenging economic climate will be even more common. There is little doubt that resource shortages are widespread and that they lead to undesirable outcomes, yet there has been surprisingly little attention to questions about why they occur and even more insidiously why they persist despite the apparently clear adverse consequences. This paper develops a grounded theory that helps to understand chronic resource shortages, drawing on data from field work at a manufacturing firm adopting lean manufacturing. The paper examines how the actions of various groups (e.g., managers, production workers, and other shop floor workers) interact with each other and with the physical characteristics of the workplace to sustain problematic resource shortages. The paper uses a causal loop diagram and a stylized system dynamics model to highlight some important features of the dynamics.