Communications of the Association for Information Systems

Article Title

Theory of Workarounds


Although mentioned frequently in the organization, management, public administration, and technology literatures, workarounds are understudied and undertheorized. This article provides an integrated theory of workarounds that describes how and why workarounds are created. The theory covers most types of workarounds and most situations in which workarounds occur in operational systems. This theory is based on a broad but useful definition of workaround that clarifies the preconditions for the occurrence of a workaround. The literature review is organized around a diagram that combines the five “voices” in the literature of workarounds. That diagram is modeled after the diagram summarizing Orton and Weick’s [1990] loose coupling theory, which identified and combined five similar voices in the literature about loose coupling. Building on that basis, the theory of workarounds is a process theory driven by the interaction of key factors that determine whether possible workarounds are considered and how they are executed. This theory is useful for classifying workarounds and analyzing how they occur, for understanding compliance and noncompliance to methods and management mandates, for incorporating consideration of possible workarounds into systems analysis and design, and for studying how workarounds and other adaptations sometimes lead to larger planned changes in systems.