On Purpose

This machine is a Purpose Obfuscation O-meter. (Work out the acronym for yourself).

I know you love my drawings.

POO machine b-w2

A lot of organisations use these devices. This is how they work:

A customer or service user leans towards the ‘In’ funnel on the left hand side of the machine and states what he or she requires from the system. The machine scrambles the soundwaves into what it thinks is a pretty good interpretation of what the customer or service user has said. It then spits out its version of what it thinks the system’s purpose is into the ‘Out’ basket, giving the frontline workers instructions on what to do.

The machine is very versatile and can be utilised in many organisational settings, both in the public and private sectors. Let’s see it in action…


POO machine - burglaries

POO machine - ASB


POO machine - AandE


POO machine - schools


POO machine - sales

Call Centres

POO machine - call centres

As you can see, the machine is pretty rubbish and although the people who installed it were well-intentioned, their best efforts have resulted in something that actually distorts true purpose, as defined by the customer or service user. This causes the frontline workers to behave differently, in order to meet the new de facto purpose generated by the machine. Effort is then focused on this pseudo purpose, as it has now inadvertently supplanted the real purpose of the system.

Workers can become very adept at meeting the machine’s definition of ‘purpose’, whilst simultaneously failing to attain the real purpose, which has now been obfuscated (the machine does what it says on the tin). Sometimes, the workers still manage to meet true purpose, but fail to achieve what the machine thinks is the system’s purpose. This causes them to get in trouble. It also means that managers have to initiate a lot of audit and inspection to ensure that the machine is satisfied. Unfortunately this costs a lot of time, money and effort. It also makes the workers and customers or service users feel fed up.

The solution is simple. If your organisation uses one of these machines, just turn it off and LISTEN to what your customers or service users are asking for. Then, design the front end of your organisation to handle predictable demand. That way, you end up with a responsive system that is geared towards meeting its true purpose, which is no longer obfuscated by one of these silly machines.

Easy isn’t it?

The alternative is P.O.O.


About InspGuilfoyle

I am a serving Police Inspector and systems thinker. I am passionate about doing the right thing in policing. I dislike numerical targets and unnecessary bureaucracy.
This entry was posted in Systems thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to On Purpose

  1. inspectorgadget says:

    This is a brilliant post and sums up perfectly what we and the other ‘public sector service providers’ have become. But will anyone listen?


    We have a generation of senior police officers (and aspiring senior police officers) who no nothing else but the pseudo-American-business model approach.

    These guys are usually people who were rubbish cops. They excel at interview in direct proportion to how they failed on the street. This culture will not go until it becomes an unlawful order to demand targets from federated ranks.

    They simply cannot do anything else. Without the machine, they wouldn’t know what to do all day.

    I support direct entry at Superintendent level; we wouldn’t notice a lack of police experience from the Supers down here at street level. They don’t show any now!

  2. Dave Hasney says:

    As a certain little fury chap says…. Simples!

  3. Careca says:

    Inspector, I came here via Insp. Gadgets blog. I studied statistics for 5 years prior to joining the police. What you write about numerical targets being completely arbitrary, and how data is incompetently interpreted is undoubtedly true. Not only that, it has always seemed to me completely obvious. As an Inspector, what do Senior Management say when you point this out? It seems to be all they know. Do they just not understand what you are saying, or do they understand just fine but prefer to stick with what has earned them promotion? Genuinely interested in your thoughts.

  4. Neighbourly Inspector says:

    So, so true.
    And for this alone you ARE worthy!

  5. Met 2 SA says:

    A great post, and one that should be taught in Bramshill.

  6. Pingback: On Purpose | System Lean | Scoop.it

  7. Pingback: On Purpose | Management et organisation | Scoop.it

  8. leonard measures says:

    Similar devices have been employed by Hampshire PSD for several years now and coincidentally called a POO ometer initially but developed over time into its present form known as a CRAPometer, basically serving the same obfuscational duties as the original but with added extras providing hours of operator fun . In practiced hands solid substantial evidences can be easily manipulated, documents and witnesses avoided and subjected to auto laundering systems that result in clean shiny freshly washed investigation reports emerging from its bottom orifice. Running costs while rather high are born by the public. Needing only a steady stream of supervisory lubricant these devices are set to remain in service until such time as technology provides an accurate and reliable system such as the proposed new ETHICalometer .( smartAlex & co productions). Resistance is reported to be futile.

  9. BridgetB says:

    I work within the partnership world of the public sector and have been undertaking service reviews using systems methodology for a number of years now. I could list numerous examples like the above. I love the cartoons, they really help visually sum the problem up.

    I am currently doing some work around the changes in the benefits systems, in particular looking at how the LA can work with the voluntary sector to implement the transfer of the social fund from DWP to the council. Much of what I am finding is very challenging and the impact of targets is having a strong influence on behaviors within organizations, some of them extremely worrying . The link below demonstrates the danger of this culture in its severest form.


    The most telling and scary comment being:

    โ€˜ATOS have denied any wrong doing contributing to the mans death and state that they are only following the DWP rules to get 1 million people into work.โ€™

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