Interactive planning

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Interactive planning, as defined and disseminated on by Russell L. Ackoff, focuses on creating the future by designing a desirable present. Interactive planning is unlike other types of planning, such as reactive planning, inactive planning, and preactive planning.

This is because interactive planning is focused in systems thinking and is "based on the belief that an organization's future depends at least as much on what it does between now and then, as on what is done to it".[1] The organization will then create its future by continuously closing the gap between its current state and its desirable current state.

Interactive planning has three unique characteristics:[2]

  1. Interactive planning works backwards from where an organization wants to be now to where it is now.
  2. Interactive planning is continuous; it does not start and stop.
  3. Interactive planning lets the organization’s stakeholders to be involved in the planning process.

Interactive Planning has six phases, divided into two parts: Idealization and Realization.


Formulating the mess[edit]

This is the process of understanding the organization's current state, capabilities and changes necessary for improvement. To adequately begin formulating the mess, great effort must be taken to understand and learn about the current state of an organization and its environment. This can be called the "state of the organization or situational analysis". Formulating the mess by understanding the state of the organization and by creating a reference projection will enable the organization to "control or influence" its future.

The State of the Organization provides a description of what the organization does. It can be illustrated by flow charts; identification of rules and customs practiced by the organization; disclosure of internal and external conflicts which affect organization performance; and identifying trends that could affect organization performance if it continued on the same path. Once the State of the Organization is made, the next critical step in formulating the mess starts with setting up a reference projection.

A reference projection is a projection of the future of the organization based on two false assumptions:

  1. There will be no change in the organizations behavior.
  2. The relevant future predicted by the organization is complete and correct.

The reference projection should be formed based on the critical success factors of the organization that will lead to its destruction in its projected future. This method of analysis a reference projection will produce "how and why the organization will destroy itself". Critical success factors could include an organization's expenses, revenues, return on investments, and safety records. In all instances, the reference projection should sufficiently illustrate the future of the organization if it did not change its behavior. In this sense the reference projection provides a means to identify potential limiting business strategies and suggest ways to avoid serious future failures.

Ends planning[edit]

This is the process of defining the desired present state, and identifying gaps between the desired present and the current reference projections of the organization. This process is achieved by making explicit exactly what is wanted by an organization. In an organization three specific types of ends are ideals, objectives, and goals.

  1. Ideals like a certain limits in a mathematical formula can be approached endlessly but can never be reached. Therefore, the gaps between the current state of the organization and an ideal can be reached.
  2. Objectives are a type of end that can only be attainable in the long run.
  3. Goals are a type of end that can only be attainable in the short run.


Means Planning[edit]

This is the process of determining what needs to be done to close the gaps between the desired present and the current reference projections of the organization. The main objective of means planning is to determine how the gaps are to be closed or reduced, which will provide the instructions needed to close or reduce those gaps. Means come in different forms, depending on the complexity of the gaps. Types of means include: acts, courses of action or procedures, practices, processes, projects, programs, and policies.

Resource Planning[edit]

This is the process of identifying what resources are needed, when they will be needed and what to do in case of shortages/excesses. Resource planning relies heavily on means planning because it provides the backbone from how much resources are inevitably needed. Typically in the resource planning stage of interactive planning five types of resources are focused on: money, capital goods, people, consumables, data. For each resource type, questions to be addressed are:

  • How much will be required, where and when?
  • How much will be available at the required time and place?
  • How should each shortage or excess be treated?

Design of Implementation[edit]

This is the process of determining "who, what, when, where and how" the plan will be put into action. Implementation is achieved by creating specific instructions based on the means (selected during the means planning process of interactive planning). It consists of implementation decisions and expectations, which should always be monitored and controlled. In addition, the individuals who make the decisions should be available to those responsible for carrying out the decision.

Design of Controls[edit]

This is the process of deciding how to monitor the implementation phase and how to evaluate the plan once implemented. In the control process procedures are created to: identify expectations, monitor decisions, diagnose problems, prescribe corrective action, and providing feedback to facilitate organizational learning and adaptation.

Interactive planning can be used to design and implement many different areas in management systems. For example, interactive planning can be used in assessing whether or not the organization's occupational safety and health goals meet their present and future needs and are seen as a vital part of a corporation’s on-going success.

In addition, interactive planning establishes a model for evaluating, comprehending, and initiating change management within a corporation's safety and health program. This model enables Environmental Health and Safety professionals to create a process safety management framework to perform a gap analysis of current work practices compared with current company means to re-direct resources. There are circumstances that corporate safety management need to re-align the prism to provide clear, concise direction to employees and/or responsible senior executives.


  1. ^ Ackoff, Russell L. "A brief guide to interactive planning and idealized design." 31 May 2001. Linkoping University. 26 October 2008. Ackoff Guide to Idealised Redesign.
  2. ^ Ackoff, Russell L. Re-creating the corporation: A design of organizations for the 21st century. New York:Oxford University Press, 1999.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ackoff, Russell L. Re-creating the corporation: A design of organization for the 21st century. New York: Oxford University Press, 63–80. 1999.