Dysfunctionality: Get on the Same Page…

The famous tree swing picture (also known as tire swing, rope swing) depicting tire and rope swing in various states of dysfunctionality, illustrates the pitfalls of poor product design, or poor customer service, and the dangers of failing to properly listen to customers and interpret their needs.

The tree swing also demonstrates the dangers of departmental barriers, and failures of departments to talk to each other, and to talk to customers. As such, the tree swing is perfect for training these areas of quality, communications, customer care and inter-departmental relations. If you are using the tree swing to highlight a training subject most people very readily interpret the pictures into their own organizational situations.


Normally no pointers are needed – people very readily interpret the pictures into their own organizational situation. Here are a few typical ‘them and us’ reactions just in case:

Marketing – add unnecessary value, add complexity, bells and whistles, embellish, put their own mark onto things, fanciful, impractical, untested, untried, creativity for creativity’s sake, subjective not objective, theoretical not practical, clever ideas, think they know what’s best for the customers even if the survey feedback is utterly clear, fail to consult with engineering, production and anyone else in the organization.

Management – cost-conscious, process-led rather than output-aware, failure to understand and interpret real issues and implications, failure to ask questions, committee decisions produce impractical solutions, removed from reality, detached from customers and front-line staff, failure to consult with users and functional departments.

 Engineering – technical interpretation rather than practical, unconcerned with aesthetics and ergonomics, consideration stops after the ‘can we build it?’ stage, lack of consultation with specifiers and user representatives, meets specification but doesn’t work properly, inappropriate materials and absence of styling.

 Manufacturing – production specification over-rides design considerations, a law unto themselves, you get what you’re given, any color you like as long as it’s black, detached from users, specifiers, designers, and everyone else except other manufacturing staff, unconcerned with usability or functionality, certainly unconcerned with bells and whistles and added value, totally focused on production efficiency, cost and time, lack of liaison with all other departments.

 Maintenance – necessity is the mother of invention, very big tool-boxes, huge stocks of parts and ancillaries, materials, nuts, bolts and all other fixings known to man, happy to work all hours, especially evenings, weekends and public holidays at treble-time-and-a-half with days off in lieu, never consult with specifiers or customer specifications, enjoy quick-fixes, sticky-tape, mastic, bending bracket, planks of wood and extended tea-breaks, never liaise with any other departments and think management are all useless idiots who can’t even change a plug.

 Sales – if only we’d listened, understood, and checked with them once in a while….

Note: Uncertainty surrounds the origins of the tree swing cartoons. Several variations of the cartoons now exist, some extending to more than six pictures, in color and in more elaborate detail, covering additional departmental perspectives.

The simpler cartoons are re-drawn from the old photocopied versions of the tree-swing cartoon which hung on many office walls especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Those ‘original’ drawings seem to have provided the basis for the version which appeared in John Oakland’s book Total Quality Management, first published in 1989.