Configuration Management is a set of inter-related processes meant to enable people to work together better. 

Configuration Management (CM) is like a seat belt: it might be uncomfortable, unfashionable, and painful, but without it, you just might be dead. When I say CM what am I talking about?

The Basics of Configuration Management

There are many aspects to this discipline and very few companies will likely apply all of them. However, I want to mention 4 areas where you can start to use CM to support innovation and collaboration today.

1) Initiate basic rules in your company that support CM – Many companies think too many rules will stifle creativity; nothing could be further from the truth. As I mentioned in my previous article, The Tortoise and the Hare: a PLM Story, there is no way to support collaboration and innovation if you do not have very strict, formal rules that are followed by everyone; that leads me to point #2:

2) Make sure people actually follow your rules – It doesn’t make much sense to spend time formalizing rules and procedures, only to allow people to do whatever the heck they want. Make sure you audit your processes and make sure people are following CM rules, whatever they are. If people know your rules are only weak suggestions, they will not follow them.

3) Automate as much of the CM process as possible. If you expect people to enter information or update details manually, it won’t happen. With good tools in place you can automate much of your work without depending on the potentially limited brains of your workers. But, remember, process leads, tools follow; when tools lead, fools follow. Create your business processes first, then use tools for support.

4) And, finally, don’t try to do everything at once. Remember, incremental improvement is better than delayed perfection. Start in one area, like Engineering Change Management, and walk the walk. Once you have processes and tools to support you in one area, you can grow into other areas. Your users will get use to following CM processes, and additional changes will seem less gruesome.

Change Processes

The first set of rules you should evaluate covers how changes are initiated, tracked, and completed. There should be as few options here as possible. Do not provide the ability for anyone to use any type of ad hoc process they choose. Two or three options is all you really need: Simple and Low Risk (75%-80%), Complex and Medium Risk (15%-20%), Complex and High Risk (0%-5%); that’s about it. Audit change processes, and make sure no one is going around them for a “unique” change. There should be accountability and penalties for those who do not follow the prescribed change processes. Your system should be set up so that NO WORK CAN BE DONE unless they have come through an approved change process.

Working on change practices can have a very significant impact on your projects. Those who have excellent change management practices are much more likely to achieve or exceed project objectives. This usually leads to happier customers, and more revenue for you.


The most basic approach to CM is to make sure the final product matches the original requirements. There must be a way to capture these requirements, and checks to measure conformance at each stage of product development. Many companies have some requirements that initiate a product, but as the process progresses there is no linkage back to these requirements. At the end of product development a working product may be produced, but if it matches the original requirements is anyone’s guess. Implement a strong PDM system that can track requirements and provide a global view of as-planned vs. as-released states. Hold people accountable for decisions they make that are not in line with these original requirements.


Create baselines to “freeze” the product at certain points in the development process. Baselines are very important since they allow us to go back to a valid design at any time. We can analyze these baselines, share them with partners and suppliers, evaluate with marketing and sales, and use these for product reuse to start a new valid project. Most companies do not have a good way to create a valid baseline. Have you ever sent something to a supplier, and then wondered what version you actually sent them? Baselines eliminate all these problems, and allow a smooth error-free design process.

Making CM an important part of your business will provide many benefits. It doesn’t happen overnight, so keep working on it. Once you make this part of how everyone works, it will become second nature.

What Happens When You Ignore Configuration Management

On the morning of April 20, 2010, several explosions rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and fires broke out. The platform was evacuated; coastguard and other ships were dispatched to fight the subsequent fire, and rescue the survivors. 11 men were killed in the initial devastation, and oil began to rush from the unsecured well head deep under the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, every oil rig is equipped with many safety devices. When BP engineers attempted to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment, it failed. The failure was a result of modified drawings of a variable bore ram, designed to seal the pipe, that did not match the current equipment drawings used by BP. The fail-safe in use did not match any of the drawings that had been given to BP from the equipment owner.

Transocean, the owner of the variable bore ram and of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig said any alterations would have come at BP’s instigation. BP said they never asked for any alteration. These alterations meant that BP spent several days unsuccessfully trying to cap the well. Only after several unsuccessful attempts did they figure out that the drawings they had did not match the actual equipment at the bottom of the gulf. The existing equipment would not cap the well properly, and more work had to be done to finally get the well capped.

It wasn’t until July 15, 2010 that the well was able to be capped; almost 3 months later. By this time, nearly 53,000 barrels per day of oil had spewed into the gulf with a total discharge of 4.9 million barrels. The impact on many aspects of the Gulf of Mexico are still being felt to this day, and the full impact may not be fully understood for many years.

Had BP and Transocean followed basic CM principles they would have been able to cap the well within a short time using the proper equipment. No changes could have been made that no one knew about, and all parties would have been able to sign off on any changes. 

Think about this disaster, and make sure you don’t get stuck with the same mess. Without CM practices that are followed by everyone, you risk your customers, your products, and your business.

Following strict rules around CM provides the foundation for product innovation. In this post I want to cover a few of the rules you should follow to make sure CM is helping support your business properly.