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Main Takeaways
Reading Time: 5 minutes The IDEAL model realises a methodical infrastructure framework to guide organisations in planning and implementing effective process improvement programs for CMMI and alike initiatives. It is a process-improvement and defect-reduction methodology serving as the founding strategy employed by SEI in delivering many of their services.

IDEAL — Initiating, Diagnosing, Establishing, Acting & Learning

The IDEAL Cyle

The Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon Univ. has published the IDEAL method as an organisational improvement model for the CMMI product suite and alike process improvement initiative e.g. ISO 15504.
IDEAL serves as a kind of roadmap for initiating, planning, and implementing process improvement actions in the context of the CMMI product suite. It is a process-improvement and defect-reduction methodology.

The IDEAL model realises a methodical infrastructure framework to guide organisations in planning and implementing effective process improvement programs for CMMI and alike initiatives. It is a process-improvement and defect-reduction methodology serving as the founding strategy employed by SEI in delivering many of their services.

The IDEAL model is named for the five phases an organisation runs through in performing a change initiative: Initiating, Diagnosing, Establishing, Acting, Learning.

  • Initiating — Lay the groundwork for a successful improvement effort:
    Typically the Initiating phase is the direct response of some stimulus showing a need of urgency to change the current way of doing business. In return to this stimulus, the appropriate sponsorship is established, and the appropriate resources are allocated.
  • Diagnosing — Determine where you are relative to where you want to be:
    In the Diagnosing phase, a kind of analysis is performed to baseline the current practices and to probe potential improvement opportunities. For the CMMI Product Suite this is a SCAMP Appraisal, for ISO 15504 an assessment.
  • Establishing — Plan the specifics of how you will reach the objectives:
    In the Establishing phase, the recommendations of the analysis are prioritized, change implementation teams are established, and plans are developed to conduct the activities.
  • Acting — Do the work according to the plan:
    In the Acting phase, the planned activities are implemented.
  • Learning — Learn from the experience and improve the ability to adopt new improvements in the future:
    During the Learning phase lessons learned are collected that can then be applied to subsequent rounds of the IDEAL change cycle.

The IDEAL model

The IDEAL model structure is described best by the following picture:


IDEAL Cycle — Initiating, Diagnosing, Establishing, Acting & Learning


Initiating Phase

Stimulus for Change

Blow-by-blow, the stimulus for change is not part of any IDEAL activity. Rather it is the trigger event or condition indicating that some kind of change is needed. This stimulus also could come from outside, driven by market and/or business competition.
To be ready to initiate a change initiative, the enterprise CEO or Board of Directors must perceive a need to improve within the company. This need initiates the IDEAL cycle.

Establish Context

Establishing context ensures that the considered change initiative is aligned to business, i.e it is tied to key business drivers or critical success factors, such as market drivers.
This activity is part of the risk management process to determine what level of risk is acceptable to the organisation, knowing who it affects and what mission is affected if the risk is realized.

Build Sponsorship

Building sponsorship is a process of convincing all groups related to the change initiative and obtaining their agreement to become active, visible sponsors of the change initiative.

Charter Infrastructure

This activity identifies exactly who will be taking action, including the coordinator for this effort.

Diagnosing Phase

Characterize Current and Desired State

Although the stimulus for change activity, listed above, may have identified one or more problems, the outcome from this activity is a more thorough assessment of the organisation's process capability posture. In the context of CMMI Product Suite, SCAMPI appraisals are used, in ISO 15504 context assessments.

Develop Recommendations

Based on links and resources provided by the assessment results for specific areas of improvement, the assessment team develops recommendations, that is, the ways and means employed to get from the current state to a desired state.

Establishing Phase

Set Priorities

Prioritization criteria are developed based on business drivers, business area impact, and perhaps a recent risk assessment or audit. Each recommendation is evaluated against the criteria. Priorities could include funding, timely completion, and operational impact. Note that priorities are not always derived from recommendations, for example, employee safety may be a priority but not a recommendation.

Develop Approach

Up to this point, the recommendations are based only upon the results of the Establish Context and Characterize Current and Desired State activities. The IDEAL methode accounts for recommendations but is as flexible enough to expand or alter them as necessary to meet the priorities that have been set for the effort. Expansion may include requirements (awareness/training) for new skills and knowledge to adopt a particular improvement or aspects of the organisation's culture such as sources of resistance and market forces.

Plan Actions

The plan for an improvement program might differ from both the recommendations and the approach both in degree and in substance. First, it takes the necessary level of detail to come to the point. Everyone is told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and so on. Second, it translates an approach that exists outside of time and space into a scheduled event that is tied to specific days and hours. The execution of the plan is structured and managed like any project with schedules, tasks, assigned responsibilities, committed resources, milestones, decision points, reviews, measurement, status tracking, and risk management.

Acting Phase

Create Solution

This is the procedure or act required to take action and execute the implementation project plan.

Test/Pilot Solution

This activity involves implementing and observing the candidate solution in one or more pilot situations in which the risk can be contained. Notice that this activity should be one of "verification" rather than of "validation". The Analyze and Validate activity described below provides a formal opportunity for comparing the solution as implemented against the initial goals.

Refine Solution

Any problems found in the Test/Pilot Solution activity may or may not be corrected; this is a decision made by the project manager/coordinator based on risk, resources, and other business and rollout considerations.

Install Solution

This activity can be repeated more than once; multiple revisions of the solution can occur. But there is a difference between errors in the solution (which were identified and corrected in the past two activities) and errors in implementation.

Learning Phase

Analyze and Validate

The purpose of this activity in any effort is to compare the results of the improvement effort with its goals and requirements, in other words, to determine whether the original objective of the exercise had been met. One purpose of this IDEAL process is to collect and analyze the lessons learned from an effort and apply these to subsequent interactions.

Propose Future Actions

This activity identifies what additional actions need to be planned in the future.

Further Readings

  • SEI — IDEAL: A Users Guide for Software Process Improvement (PDF 492 KB)
  • Christof Ebert, Reiner Dumke: , Springer, Berlin, 2007.
  • Ralf Kneuper: Rocky Nook, Dezember 2008.
  • Chang-Kang Fan, Tzu-Lung Chang, Li-Hung Wu, Joseph Chin-Tsuan Liang, Lily Chen: CMMI practices and experiences. Implementing CMMI with the IDEAL Model. Journal of Software Engineering Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, 18-28. September 2006. © 2006 Software Engineering Association of Taiwan.

: Mark Hunter, via, .