Section 3.1. Using IDEAL

3.1. Using IDEAL

The ideas that drive introducing process are pretty standard. People want to help make the workplace more predictable, help it become more stable, shape it for better controlin short, help the environment as a whole focus on its potential. And so it's a good idea to follow something of a predictable path when you want to establish a process program: a method that will help shape the program as smoothly as possible, in an orderly and manageable way. One approach to this can be found in the IDEAL model: Initiate, Diagnose, Establish, Act, and Learn. IDEAL is a general approach to process improvement. You may find it helpful as an approach to your own process efforts. Let's take a look at IDEAL.

IDEAL can be thought of as an umbrella philosophy covering process improvement. In many ways IDEAL is a formulation of the famous Plan-Do-Act-Check mantra. IDEAL isn't a process itself; it's a model designed to help you manage your process management activities. Here is a brief breakdown of how IDEAL is structured (see Figure 3-1).

Figure 3-1. The concept of IDEAL is to Initiate, Diagnose, Establish, Act, and Learn. Its circular nature has an important implication. The process is ongoing. Process improvement programs are long-term commitments to evaluation and measurement.

An important aspect to IDEAL is its shape. It is circular, and the meaning of that shape is clear: you cycle through a series of activities, and when you close out the last step, you repeat, either in the same area for continuous improvement or in new areas for fresh improvement. Just about any improvement program can be managed following the concepts of IDEAL. Let's look at each phase of IDEAL:

Phase 1: Initiate

This first stage is one of realization, decision, and then dedication. In the Initiate phase, an organization typically reaches the understanding that it has operational issues that need to be addressed. This realization is often predicated by some symptomatic imbalance within the organization: falling sales, rising costs, increased complaints, low morale, or even the appreciation for general improvement, for strengthening the organization's current position. It can be many things, but it's always a trigger for action.

Out of this realization, the organization makes a conscious decision to initiate action, to act on its needs. This decision is then followed by the critical impetus of dedicationdedication to act.[*]

[*] Few people familiar with process would argue that the single most common reason that process improvement programs fail to deliver on their promises is that the organization's dedication to seeing the programs through fizzles over time.

The Initiate phase is typically the point at which you acquire executive sponsorship and begin to formulate the scope of what you want to address in your process program.

Phase 2: Diagnose

I used the word "symptomatic" earlier. The value of any symptom is its visibilityor, maybe, its distracting presence. But the symptom is rarely the cause, and in the field of improvement the trick is not to remove the symptom but to identify and isolate the cause. This is often easier said than done, given the complexities of technology and software development. But it is an essential and high-value activity: diagnosing what the organization should change, where it should focus its improvement activities. Many process managers would argue that this is the stage where you should devote most of your energy, most of your creative thinking. The better the diagnosis, the better the chance for a highly successful solution.

In the Diagnose phase, you typically determine the organization's current quality and process positions, its strengths and weaknesses, and what areas for improvement should be addressed by this effort.

Phase 3: Establish

Here, the organization establishes the solution to the problem (or the enhancements to its strengths). It's important that this solution carry a trio of trademarks, and so careful design during this step becomes very important. First, the solution should show "goodness-of-fit." It should be designed with organizational use in mind. That is, you should be pretty certain that if you implement it, it will work. Next, the solution should be designed not to impact the integrity of any up-line or down-line activity. You don't want to cause other problems by fixing one. And finally, the solution should be in some way measurable. The best way to test if any solution works is to measure its activity. (This use of the measurement data comes into play during the Learn portion of IDEAL.)

In the Establish phase, you typically create your process components or refine existing ones. The key to successful establishment (as we'll see in following sections) is to create solutions that reflect the way your people work, solutions that possess a strong goodness-of-fit to the culture of the organization.

Phase 4: Act

This may be the most straightforward step of them all. Here, you implement the solutions you designed. Act may require a series of support steps, such as training or documentation preparation, but the real goal here is to act on your design: put it effectively into place, monitor its use, and then move to the final step, Learn.

Act is the phase during which you typically train your people, provide them with program support materials, and then implement the program in the organization.

Phase 5: Learn

Process improvement is all about learning. That's a core trait of the discipline: it's a cultural commitment to continued learning. Learning, however, takes time, and it takes data, and you'll find that there should be an extended observation period between acting and learning. What that observation period largely depends on is the nature of your environment and the solutions you've added into the environment. But keep in mind two things. First, give the solution time to prove its viability. Second, as early as practical, begin measuring the performance of the solution. Time and data will give you the factual base you need to determine the success of your efforts and may also point you to new opportunities for strengthening the system.

You may find that IDEAL is a good path to follow as you build a process program for your shop. But whatever path you take, it's helpful to think through a series of considerations that are generally accounted for in any process program. It's a good idea to address each of these, at least on the surface. These considerations (and the recommendations they contain) can be used to guide you through a series of activities that help ensure an orderly and accountable approach to program preparation, design, and deployment, one that is focused, well-communicated, supported by management, and keyed to deliver specific benefits to the groups using it.

Though I present them in a sequential order, the following sections should not be viewed as a set of prescribed steps. Rather, read them as a set of common considerations, each one accounting for an organizational aspect that can help your program take root, grow, and prosper. The points you elect to use will naturally depend upon a set of conditions: the current state of your organization; its size, culture, and temperament; the style of management; the industries you serve; and other environmental traits.

The first recommendation falls under the IDEAL domain Initiate. It is designed to help you take your process initiative from being a basic idea for improvement to ascertaining what degree of improvement might be right for the moment. A key starting point here involves obtaining executive sponsorship for your initiative.

Let's look at this topic in more detail.


When you build a process program, the only real requirement is to build a program that fits the working style of your people. After that, you're free to go in any direction you see as best. But one thing you will need, in some form or another, is a set of documented processes. What goes into a good process? Here are some traditional components you might want to include:

Purpose description

Provide a brief description of the purpose and use of the process.

Entry criteria

Describe the entry criteria. These are previous activities or preconditions that may need to have occurred in order for the activities of this process to be successfully carried out.


Describe any work products that may be required as inputs into the process. This may include any documents or plans that are needed in order to conduct the activities described in the process.


Here you describe the roles that people will undertake in order to carry out the process activities. Primary actors are typically the people who execute the process. Secondary actors are typically people who support the process or who may be impacted by the process.


This is the heart of the process description. Here you describe the steps that are taken to see the process through. These can be expressed as numbered steps, as a narrative description, or in any manner suitable to the actors who will use them.


Most processes are in place to produce something or to refine something already in existence. And so it's beneficial to identify what outputs should appears as a result of the process activities.

Exit criteria

Describe the exit criteria. These are results that should be in place in order to conclude that the process has been successfully run through and that its responsibilities have been properly accounted for.


Finally, you can define the measures that you will collect for this process. These should be selected so that they provide insight into how well the process performs for your teams.


A process program can contain any set of elements that you deem fit for it. The key is to furnish it with those assets and components that will help you set up your program effectively, in a way that will give your people the tools they need to carry it out as intended:


These are the overall processes that will be used to help govern and manage project activities.


These are supporting subprocesses that may be used to help carry out the processes.


These are outlines and guides that help you create documents in a consistent manner.

Forms and checklists

These are process aids that help you plan and follow task completion and help you document activity progress and progression.


These are instructions that your people can use to properly execute the program and its components.


These are the locations where you store your program elements for use by your project teams.

Training materials

These are the materials you develop to ensure that your people are able to use program elements in an informed and directed manner.

Process Improvement Essentials
Process Improvement Essentials: CMMI, Six SIGMA, and ISO 9001
ISBN: 0596102178
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 116

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