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The Process of Idealized Design

The process of interactive planning, called idealized design, has two parts:

  • Idealization
    1. Formulating the mess
    2. Ends planning
  • Realization
    1. Means planning
    2. Resource planning
    3. Design of implementation
    4. Design of controls

Here is how they work.


1. Formulating the Mess

Every organization or institution is faced with a set of interacting threats and opportunities. These form what we call a mess. The aim of formulating the mess is to determine how the organization would eventually destroy itself if it were to continue doing what it is doing currently—that is, if it were to fail to adapt to a changing internal and external environment, even if it could predict the course of this change perfectly. This process identifies an organization’s Achilles’ heel—the seeds of its self-destruction—and provides a focus for the planning that follows by identifying what the organization or institution must avoid at all costs.

There are instances in which an organization or institution is faced with a crisis here and now—not sometime in the future. This present mess needs to be understood ("formulated") in the same way as a future mess before an idealized design can be undertaken to avert the possible destruction of the organization. In both cases, the process of formulating the mess is essentially the same.

Formulating a mess involves four steps:

  1. Prepare a systems analysis—A detailed description of how the organization or institution currently operates. This is usually best revealed in a series of flow charts showing how material is acquired and processed though the organization. A similar chart for the flow of money and information is also helpful.
  2. Prepare an obstruction analysis—Identify those characteris-tics and properties of the organization or institution that obstruct its progress or resist change (for example, conflicts and customs).
  3. Prepare reference projections—Describe what the organization’s future would be, assuming no changes in either its current plans, policies, programs, and practices, or changes of what it expects in its environment. This will show how and why the organization or institution would destroy itself unless it makes significant changes. This, of course, is not a forecast but a foresight of how the organization could destroy itself. This projection should reveal how the obstructions described in Step 2 prevent the organization from making adaptive changes to changing conditions.
  4. Prepare a presentation of the mess—Combine the state of the organization and its reference projections into a scenario of the possible future of the organization, a future it would face if it were to make no changes in its current practices, policies, tactics, and strategies, and the environment changed only in expected ways.

2. Ends Planning

This stage of planning is at the heart of idealized design. It involves determining what planners would like the organization or institution to be now if it could be whatever they wanted. It then identifies the gaps between this idealized design and the organization as it is, thus revealing the gaps to be filled by the rest of the planning process. It is crucial to note here that the design must demonstrably prevent the self-destruction revealed in the formulation of the mess.


3. Means Planning

This phase requires planners to determine what should be done to approximate the ideal as closely as possible to avoid the self-destruction projected in the formulation of the mess. Planners must invent and select courses of action, practices, projects, programs, and policies to be implemented.

4. Resource Planning

Implementing idealized design requires planners to identify and marshal the resources needed to accomplish the planned changes, including the following:

  1. Determine how much of each type of resource—personnel; money; materials and services; facilities and equipment; and information, knowledge, and understanding and wisdom—are required. Also determine when and where to deploy the resources selected.
  2. Determine how much of each type of resource will be available at the desired times and places and determine the difference between what will be available in any event and what will be required.
  3. Decide what should be done about the shortages or excesses identified in Step 2.

5. Design of Implementation

Determine who is to do what, when, and where. Create a schedule and allocate resources to the tasks to be carried out.

6. Design of Controls

Determine (1) how to monitor these assignments and schedules, (2) how to adjust for failures to meet or exceed schedules, and (3) how to monitor planning decisions to determine whether they are producing expected results (and, if not, determine what is responsible for the errors and correct them).

These six phases of interactive planning do not need to be carried out in the same order presented here, but they are usually begun in this order. Because they are strongly interdependent, they usually take place simultaneously and interactively. Interactive planning is continuous; no phase is ever completed—that is, all parts of a plan are subject to subsequent revision. Plans are treated, at best, as still frames taken from a motion picture.

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