Which projects need configuration management?

What kinds of projects need configuration management, and what gets managed?
It's a project manager's worst nightmare: "configuration chaos." You wouldn't be happy if your new home was built from the wrong version of the plans. Every project requires at least some level of configuration management; exactly how much depends on the type of project and its size.

As we noted in "What is configuration management, and why is it important?" all products have two aspects: the physical product itself, and the paper (or digital) specs that define its form, fit, and function.

Even if the only deliverable your project will generate is a written report, you'll need a method to ensure that the final document you hand the customer is the correct revision. For a project of this type, configuration management will include tracking the document's revision history, and possibly the histories of separate document sections created by various contributors.

Similarly, for a project that delivers a service, you'll need to track and manage the knowledge base used by the service providers, to ensure that it stays up-to-date, consistent, and meets the terms of your contract or agreement with the customer.

If your project has many deliverables, perhaps of more than one type, you'll need to devote even greater attention to the configuration management process. Most of us have experienced the cyclical process of creation, evaluation, and revision, which can occur many times over the development history of a new product. When a product has multiple parts, each with its own iterative development process, the effort required to track and manage the configuration multiplies.

What gets managed by configuration management is everything your team creates that defines the product. Physical products are defined by drawings and specifications. Software products are defined by code listings, developer notes, specifications, instructions, etc. Services are defined by the provider's knowledge base and the terms under which the service is provided.

Configuration management gives you a reliable way to keep the development process orderly and under control. Good configuration management enables you to access all past and present versions of the various product elements—for example, any testing that has been completed, and any other details that define the project's level of maturity. Configuration management ensures a smooth, healthy workflow, free of version chaos, as the various contributors incorporate the project elements into their efforts.

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