Idealized Design is Ideal

If you haven’t already gotten into it, I implore you. Idealized Design is a practice and set of tools developed for workflow re-engineering and business process improvement. And it’s great. Russell L. Ackoff, Jason Magidson and Herbert J. Addison built upon a simple concept. They propose that, “the way to get to the best outcome is to imagine what the ideal solution would be and then work backward to where you are today.”

What is Idealized Design?

In a nutshell, the idea is to suspend your beliefs and disbelief. Working with your team, start from scratch. Imagine, if you started from the very beginning, how the process could unfold to produce the very best outcome. It’s somewhat like brainstorming with the exception that it’s about the entire workflow and begs the question: “What’s the best way to accomplish this process and produce the results we really want?”

 The practice or methodology also suspends limitations related to supporting systems and other infrastructure resources. It sort of blows up the architecture and rebuilds it in an idealized fashion by working backwards. Each reintroduced layer of architecture helps to reshape the process yet the team has a chance at every juncture to ask why those constraints are there. It’s an approach that was applied at Bell Labs as described in the book, Idealized Design by the authors named earlier.

It isn’t uncommon for people – say IT folks – to answer: “Those constraints don’t have to be there if you don’t want them to be.” The same is true for human resources. It’s surprising to folks to hear: “If you need additional staff in that area and we can free up resources in this other area, let’s do it.”


I think I like this aspect most. Idealized Design allows everyone to question everything. Nothing is sacred. The object is rapid process improvement and the constraints are lifted long enough to reveal that some of the cherished myths about constraints and limitations aren’t true.

Give Idealized Design a good shot. Look it up on Google and let me know what you discover when you apply it in your shop. 


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