Radically Honest Blog

Using the IDEA Feedback Model for Better Results

Little acronyms often hold a lot more power than they might appear to at first glance. 

Just look at the IDEA feedback model – just four simple letters that hold the secret to shifting your feedback skills from good to great. And it’s a secret that, when grasped, doesn’t require a steep learning curve. It’s a straightforward model that works to uncomplicate the feedback process.

We’ll be exploring:

  • What the IDEA feedback model is, and how it works
  • Why it’s such a mainstay for giving and receiving feedback
  • Cases where IDEA isn’t exactly the right tool to use

What is the IDEA Feedback Model?

The IDEA feedback model provides a four-step process to improve the effectiveness of giving and receiving feedback. It can be compared to what the SMART acronym is to goal setting – a framework that gives the entire process a lot more structure. 

With bated breath, you’ve probably been wondering what IDEA actually stands for. Although you’ll find different variations of the acronym, they all cover the same points. Let’s break it down:

  • I: The letter I stands for Identify. It’s the first stage of the feedback process, where you pick out the specific behavior or action that is the subject of the feedback. You’re not making any judgments or conclusions just yet; rather, you’ll simply look at what caught your attention.
  • D: D is for Describe. Here, you describe what sort of impact or effect the action has. You’ll go over what happened as a result, using concrete information and actual events rather than vague and biased personal opinions. It’s an important step that gives a clear picture of the why and how.
  • E: E represents Express. The next step involves expressing your feelings about the behavior or its impact. Unlike the Describe stage, these feelings need to be subjective – about your specific feelings and not general statements.
  • A: A signifies Agree. Cool, you’ve conveyed the descriptions, impact, and how you feel about it all, but what should happen next? That’s why this stage exists. It fosters a dialogue between the feedback-giver and receiver, where they’ll agree on a game plan for the future. 

Why Does the IDEA Feedback Model Help You Give and Get Effective Feedback?

Feedback is feedback – people often say they hate things or like things because of a reason – and that’s useful to hear. But think of a building without a blueprint or a class without a lesson plan. It’s sort of…aimless. There’s not really a goal or a direction to follow. And that’s why the IDEA feedback model works so well – because it’s clear and structured. 

If you’re a product manager, for example, and you’re constantly wearing a variety of hats and finding yourself in all sorts of situations, IDEA can be a useful tool. Maybe a team member is struggling to meet project deadlines, causing delays in a product timeline. Using the IDEA model, you could provide constructive feedback without falling into the trap of personal attacks.

Identify: “Hey Jane, I noticed that the milestone we scheduled for last week wasn’t completed on time.”

Describe: “This sets the product launch back significantly, and it meant that all other teams had to readjust their deadlines.”

Express: “I was worried about the sort of impact the delay had on the team’s workload and our planned product timeline.”

Agree: “For future projects, let’s communicate any potential delays as soon as possible – even if a delay might not necessarily happen – so we can manage expectations rather than leave things up to chance.”

In the same vein, you can also use it to give feedback on broader issues, such as feedback for an entire team on how an app interface needs work. Rather than just letting the team members know the app design isn’t good enough, using the IDEA feedback model could be more helpful and encouraging.

Identify: “I’ve noticed that some elements of our app’s user interface aren’t as intuitive as they could be. Quite a few users have said they struggle to find the settings to customize their dashboard.”

Describe: “During user testing, I saw that users had to click around multiple times before they could find the settings tab. This could be a big reason why more people are abandoning our app over time.”

Express: “I think we need to make app navigation a lot more intuitive to improve user experience. We want our users to find our app user-friendly and easy to navigate.”

Advice: “Based on these findings, let’s consider having our UX/UI designers refine the tab layout. We could also send out a survey asking our users for feedback about our user interface.”

When Not to Use the IDEA Feedback Model

While the IDEA model is applicable for many purposes, product managers might want to look for other methods in certain situations. If you’ve got urgent issues such as bugs or a complete app shutdown, there’s no time for constructing nuanced feedback – it’s a here-and-now situation that needs immediate communication.

Same with recurring problems – if problems persist or team members continue to repeat the same mistake over and over again, the IDEA model isn’t the way to go. These issues require other tactics, like training or mentorship, to solve those gaps in skill.

The IDEA feedback model can also be overkill if you’re just looking at a simple correction like a color or font change. If you’re able to simply let a team member know that a change is required, stick to direct communication.

The PM’s Hot Take

The IDEA feedback model is a fantastic and constructive tool, but it’s not a must in every scenario. Don’t mistake lots of conversation as valuable – if you want to communicate effectively, it’s more about what you say and how you say it. The IDEA model helps us communicate intelligently, but sometimes it’s better just to ditch diplomacy and be direct instead. 


Want to go beyond “this needs improvement” and “that was a job well done”? The IDEA feedback model makes feedback actionable and more impactful, avoiding soured team dynamics and providing clear next steps to take. 

Fibery can transform your work process with effective feedback models and consolidation methods. With a 14-day free trial, you can see the difference in your team’s communication. For other insights on product management frameworks, check out our blog.

Psst... Wanna try Fibery? 👀

Infinitely flexible product discovery & development platform.