When the fifth revision is made to the blueprints, the electricians and plumbers may still be working from the third version, and the roofers from the first version. At this point, someone is bound to notice that the chimney and the fireplace are on different sides of the house. Configuration management prevents disasters like these by limiting the changes to control documents and other project deliverables. It is a subset of change management, which focuses specifically on how to implement approved changes. It keeps everyone in a project “reading from the same sheet of music.”
What Products Are Subject to Configuration Management?
It is unlikely that a driveway or building foundation, once completed, will be lost or a second one will be mistakenly installed. But when products are less tangible, these kinds of mistakes are more likely to happen. The items that should be subject to configuration management come from a wide variety of sources (and many are every bit as tangible as a driveway). So, what should be subject to configuration management? The answer is: any product that might have multiple versions during the project. This list includes many possible candidates.
Control documents are obvious candidates for configuration management because they are the basis for project action.
In addition, they are easily changed, since many of them are stored electronically as computer files. (Because they are easily changed, this increases the possibility that the change will be performed without the knowledge of other groups in the project.)
Any products produced by computer and stored on electronic files, including computer programs, word processing documents, drawings, and so on.
Prototypes or product mock-ups may be revised and upgraded many times during a project.
A test lab may contain models of many ideas, some of which are actively being pursued, while others may have been long since discarded. Configuration management prevents these discarded prototypes from being confused with the latest models.
Test environments are set up to simulate real-life product behavior. These can be costly to create and might lead to incorrect test results if changes were randomly introduced.
How Is Configuration Management Accomplished?
Configuration management is practiced most robustly in the manufacturing of complex products, such as automobiles and aircraft. Each revision or upgrade to a component of the product is formally controlled by the product’s configuration management process.
The fundamental process for configuration management is the same at any level of complexity: Identify the items that will be controlled, set up the control structure, and assign responsibility for control. Let’s look at the steps Involved in this process.
Step One: Identify Items/Products
There are two sets of items to control: the end products and the intermediate deliverables. Both types of products need to be identified by using the work breakdown structure. (As we mentioned earlier, the control documents are obvious candidates for configuration management.
Step Two: Establish the Control Structure
Several questions must be answered in order to design the configuration management structure.
- How will access to the controlled item be restricted? If an engineering drawing is stored electronically on a computer file, or on paper in a filing cabinet, how will you control who can update it?
- Do you need a record of the changes? At the end of the project, will it be useful to compare the first approved version of a design document to the final version? Will it be valuable to know not only the changes made along the way, but also the reasons for the changes? If the answer is yes, the next question is, how much are you willing to spend? If you need a record of the changes, the change log might be sufficient—or you may need a log for every controlled item. If, on the other hand, you don’t need a record of the changes, or the final product is the only one that matters, this win simplify your control structures (because each outdated version can be discarded or deleted).
- How will everyone know if they have the most recent version? This can be accomplished with version numbers or revision dates in electronic documents and files. Tangible products require labels.
Step Three: Assign Configuration Management Responsibility
Somebody, preferably not the project manager, needs to be responsible for implementing and administering the
structure. This is an administrative chore that doesn’t require the project manager’s authority or broad knowledge of the project; it can be accomplished effectively by team members. Everyone on the team needs to respect the controls and follow the rules, but unless the responsibility is specifically assigned, the controls may not be fully implemented and their value fully realized.
Change Management Guidelines Are Essential For Managing Expectation
While you are carrying out all these change management guidelines, don’t forget that the ultimate goal of change management is to maintain realistic expectations. Too often, the project manager and customer will sign off every $1,000 change, never considering that all the changes together are adding $100,000 to the project.
Change management is more than recording the cost-schedule-quality impact of each potential change; its purpose is to keep the overall cost-schedule-quality equilibrium realistic and desirable.