Why is configuration management so difficult?
Configuration management is a difficult discipline because everyone involved must commit to the processes. More often than not, configuration management-related problems occur because the processes were not fully adhered to.
There are many potential configuration management headaches. There is configuration management and how it relates to options, variants in the products you manufacture and sell. There are internal factors such as poorly coordinated engineering change control and management. There is also how the process relates to different Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) where you have the same products and different places where you sell them.
In short, configuration management is difficult because… well, because it is a complex and difficult beast to manage.
I have seen both smaller and larger organizations battle against broken configuration control processes with increased scrap and rework and incomplete products assembled and delivered as a result.
In this article, I will focus on the first headache which relates to company cultural issues because configuration management – if done right – requires full commitment from everyone involved.
I will elaborate on that later in this article…
But first, why do we need configuration management?
Configuration management is intended to streamline and automate business processes, and to establish and maintain consistency of a product’s performance, the functional, and physical attributes with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life.
It is a formal discipline to help assure the quality and long-term support of complex products through consistent identification.
In short, we need configuration management because it is a systematic engineering process that carefully manages and keeps track of configuration changes to ensure traceability.
Having accurate records of the state of your products is essential and baselining attributes ensures formal configuration change control processes are effective. This helps with project management, asset management, and audit processes.
Other benefits include:
- Cost reduction by having detailed knowledge of all the elements of your configuration.
- Strict control of your processes by defining and enforcing formal policies and procedures that govern asset identification, status monitoring, and auditing.
- Greater agility and faster problem resolution.
- Efficient change management by knowing your baseline configuration and having the visibility to design changes that avoid problems.
- Better release management and clear status accounting.
“Just tell us how to do it”
Configuration management seems to be the place where most people cannot agree on which direction to go – or even where to start. Honestly, this process requires dedication into the process to obtain the desired outcome.
Configuration management is about understanding the items that make your product work and their relationships. It is a process that – when done right – is able to mitigate risk during change decisions, help in trending during problem management, and allow the product team to understand the impact of their operational decisions.
For more information, ISO 10007:2003 provides guidance on the formal use of configuration management within an organization.
Why is configuration management so difficult?
Along with project change control, why is configuration management so difficult to perform in the midst of complex product development?
We have established by now that configuration management requires a formalized and structured approach across the product lifecycle. There are clear responsibilities and authorities, processes and planning as well as four activities:
- Configuration identification, like determining the product structure and selecting configuration items, documenting items, interfaces, and changes.
- Configuration (change) control is a tool to address the changes made to a configuration item after the formal establishment of its configuration documents.
- Configuration status accounting is the formalized recording and reporting of the established documents, the status of proposed changes, and the status of the implementation of approved changes.
- Configuration audits are carried out to determine whether a configuration item conforms to its configuration documents.
The key reason behind the complexity and difficulty of these complex product development projects is the continuously changing environment. Product development`s key element is compatibility with the specific system requirements, but these are continually changing.
It can lead to a shift in needs which again influences the ability to manage system configurations.
It also requires complex, multiple developments and testing of different elements. Therefore, at the middle or later stage of the project, the need/requirement can change based on the test results.
If the company fails to anticipate any specific needs that can affect the budget and make fundamental changes to the system, they run the risk of producing a flawed product.
It is critical to make sure all information and changes are known, identified, controlled, and accounted for, and made available for every colleague and department involved.
Do also make sure to establish a work environment with specific cultural values, like reliability, well-organized structures, and instantly available, up-to-date information.