Fit for purpose is in the eye of the beholder

Last week I was talking to someone from an organisation, who sadly are in a bit of a mess at the moment, because they have invested a lot of time and money into a tool, that is totally inappropriate for what they need.

So the question is, how did they end up with this tool? which to me (and most other people) is obviously not designed for their needs, and doesn’t have a chance of working.

The answer to this question is that a senior manager, had used this same tool at his previous employment, where it had been a huge success, so he assumed that it would be a huge success everywhere. The difference is, that his previous employment was a University, with predominately full time learners, studying higher level programmes, whereas his current employment is a smaller provider working with lots of part time tutors and learners on short programmes, for people with low IT skills and confidence.

So how can someone think that something that isn’t fit for purpose, would be suitable? – The answer lies in the old phrase that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – what one person thinks is beautiful, another person will find repulsive, and here – what one person thinks is ideal, another person thinks is rubbish.

Image of a wrist watchThis reminds me of a similar situation that I am in with my mother. When my father died, she insisted that I took ownership of his wrist watch. This isn’t an expensive watch (as the picture confirms), it isn’t an heirloom, but for my father it was an excellent watch – because he had gnarled, clumsy fingers, which had a Midas touch in reverse of breaking anything they touched. But this watch was tough – and survived the rigours of his fingers, and had never been to the menders, even though he had owned it for over 15 years. So my mother expected that I would adopt and start using this excellent watch with thanks, but I didn’t – not because I have a perfectly good watch – but because the watch doesn’t keep accurate time. Over the course of a day, it could gain or lose up to 5 minutes, which for someone like me that catches trains regularly and works professionally is of no use whatsoever. The time inaccuracy for my father wasn’t a problem – as long as he knew roughly when to make his ‘elevensies’ coffee, or when to turn the TV on for Country File he was fine. Even though I have tried to explain to my mother, that a watch that doesn’t tell me the time is no use to me, she is still clearly disappointed to see me wearing my watch and not his. So she thinks the watch is excellent, I think it is useless.

So what is the moral of this story? Although I am not a big fan of pointless committees, and designing something by committee is usually a bad idea – having the opposite (one person making decisions without consultation) can be a very bad idea, as that one person could easily choose something that isn’t fit for purpose. If I go back to the organisation at the start of the story, what is worse for them, is rather than doing the sensible thing of accepting the mistake and scrapping what they are doing, they are being forced into trying to use this inappropriate tool to try and make it work, which is having a very negative effect overall for them.

But to prove that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I did eventually use my father’s watch – when one of the pins broke in the strap of my watch, I could use one out of his watch for the repair!


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