Where Will the Work Around Take You?

This is a guest post by Mark Davis

I hate to admit it, but my plumbing is starting to fail.

No, not my personal plumbing – that would be another issue entirely, and one I’d be more likely to share with my physician than with an international audience.

The topic here is the plumbing in my house, which is nearing 40 years old. Nearly every faucet drips no matter how tightly you cinch down the knobs. I’m sure I’ve seen a handy gasket kit that would fix this, but, you know that would mean I’d have to go all the way to the hardware store, find the right item, pay for it, bring it home, read the instructions, install several sets of these, realize to my horror that I’ve forgotten to shut off the water supply, frantically clean up the mess I’ve caused, say some things I shouldn’t and pretty much ruin a Saturday afternoon.

As former President Bush (the elder) would say, “Not gonna do it; not gonna do it.”

The birth of the work around

What I am willing to do, though, is find a work around. And this I’ve done for our peskiest faucet, the one in our master bath shower.

Tired of hearing the constant drip, I placed a plastic pail in the floor of the shower. This doesn’t stop the drip, but it does cure the intense frustration I’ve had that with every drop, money and a precious resource are going down the drain.

The pail is just the perfect size, too; over a day’s time, it fills to about halfway, at which point we’re ready to use the shower again. But what should we do with the water we’ve “saved?”

I put my mind to work on this problem. Hmmm … I know, we could water the plants on the back porch. No, the coming winter will put a damper on that idea (so to speak). How about washing the dishes? Oooh, okay, bad idea. Certainly there’s a use for this perfectly good water. We certainly don’t want to waste it, do we?

A second work around

Being a “process” guy, I came up with the master plan – whenever we flush the toilet, we’ll lift the tank cover and pour the “saved” water into the tank, replace the pail and repeat again later … and pat ourselves on the back for being such wise stewards of money and resources.

Work Around Process Flow

Whew. Problem solved.


OK, not really. To solve one problem, I’ve really created another – a whole new process designed to catch the waste and defects from the first one. What about all the time and effort I’m wasting with this work around process? Sure, I feel good about myself, but wouldn’t it be easier to just fix the real problem? After all, as they say, “quality matters” … even at home.

A third and final work around?

I know one thing, I am getting a little tired of moving all the nice trinkets off the toilet cover just to transfer the water from the pail to the tank. Maybe I should just relocate the candles, decorative soaps, magazines and other articles to another area so we can keep our workaround going.

No way my wife is going to go for that.

Has anybody got any ideas how we could work around her?

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Work Around

Mark H. Davis is President and Senior Cons ultant for Workflow Diagnostics, Inc. He shares his process improvement ideas through the “Quality Matters” blog.


  1. I would pour the bucket of water straight down the toilet bowl. This in effect flushes the toilet. In fact, you should do this when (ahem) “the flush isn’t powerful enough”.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Dan. I’ll consider this a work around improvement.

  3. Hello Mark
    I love your post.

    I love the way that you have caught all there is to catch about the essence of so much of organisational life. And human life. We do just about anything to avoid doing what needs to be done if that occurs to us as hard work. So we are addicted to quick fixes. That lead to more fixes, And more fixes….

    I wish you the very best.

  4. Maz,

    Thanks for your comments. It’s funny — this work around has caused more trouble than it has saved. One day, the tank lid slipped out of my hands and cracked the tank, all the way down to the base. I didn’t realize it right away; the shallow pool in the master bath gave it away later that evening. Of course, after working around the drip problem, no way was I going to directly fix the toilet tank problem. Took me a few hours talking to the experts at Home Depot — who, to their credit, tried desperately to sell me a low-volume tank for about $100US — to find the right combination of epoxies and putties to patch the foot-long, hairline crack. I’m not even sure an earthquake could break it apart now. Guess I could claim that as a benefit to justify my trouble. Now, if I could just get my wife to follow the work around process, I’d really have something going.

    Have a great day.

    • Hi Mark,
      From wikipedia:
      “A workaround is 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, involving outside the box thinking in their creation.

      Typically they are considered brittle in that they will not respond well to further pressure from a system beyond the original design. In implementing a workaround it is important to flag the change so as to later implement a proper solution.”

      So, when are you going to forget the senior Bush saying, sacrifice a Saturday afternoon :( and fix the original problem?


      • Adrian,

        Thanks for the definition. It’s almost a back-handed compliment … “creative … outside the box thinking.” As such, the workaround is a source of pride, an accomplishment of wit and adaptability. In business, we often put someone in charge of such things and eventually forget where they came from.

        But alas, I have not forgotten. With every knuckle-rasping grasp of the bucket handle, I am reminded of the source of my struggle, the bane that is my pain. With every strain of my lower back to lift several gallons of water — carefully, so as not to create a larger spill — I pledge to banish my nemesis once and for all by recruiting a crafty plumber, a savior with grease under his fingernails.

        Recruit one, I did. Crafty, he was — so crafty, in fact, he has managed to avoid sending me a cost estimate to fix the drip (and 3 others that we have) more than a week later. The drips continue. The workaround lives. I suspect it put a hit on the guy who threatened its existence. But I have no proof. Only creeping, dripping suspicion.

        In a moment of desperation, I did try to remove the shower knobs to locate the troublesome and worn O-rings that must be replaced. With decades of “sludge” holding them in place, the knobs would not budge. I tried everything this side of TNT. No success. I have a feeling the next owner of this house will be the next owner of my watery workaround process.

        Have a great week.

        • Hi Mark,
          Please forgive my cheekiness ;) and the ‘back-handed’ compliment :)

          I’ll pray that you find the plumber that you are looking for that can banish the source of your chagrin.

          Best of luck and stay out of the storms.


          • Thank you, Adrian. Prayers are good. We made it through the storm OK where I live. North of us was plastered. They will be recovering for weeks to come. My little water problem is nothing compared to theirs. Thanks for your comments.

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