IT Project Management’s Missing Link – Configuration Management, An Improving but Misunderstood Discipline.

by E.R. Williams

(Sources: ITIL and DOD/MIL)

Configuration Management is a discipline that has always been applied as a complement to system engineering, hardware, software, and application development and production (a developed or engineered product/system ) but over the years has been misunderstood and distorted by some industries outside of the Military and aerospace (MIL /DOD Standards); often commercial IT industries…

Recently, and for the past two decades, there has been much debate on the definition of Configuration Management (CM), especially regarding the following topics and several issues that are at the forefront:

  1. What is CM? Is CM defined and applied the same through all affected industries?
  2. What is a CI or CSCI?
  3. Is documentation such as requirements documents, design documents, and interface documents CIs? (Traditionally no, they are controlled configuration documentation that specifies and documents the CI/CSCIs) (See Important Notes below)
  4. Are test and management documents CIs, and are they documents that specify or describe the product, hardware or software, system or applications? (Traditionally no, but they are put under change control.) (See Important Notes below)
  5. When do you establish and apply/use Configuration Management?
  6. When do you select Configuration Items/Computer Software Configuration Items (CI/CSCIs), what criteria is used?

There also have been several issues to be noted:

1. The elimination of full system or product life cycle configuration management in projects where functional requirements definition and specification/documentation is not part of the CM discipline but standing along as an activity not within CM

2. Some projects considering that configuration management begins with version and labeling identification (and not specifying/documenting functional and physical characteristics) of the system/product, its breakdown/composition and technically related documents. (But understand CM’s concerned is about content, the system/product, specified and documented in requirements and design and/or interface specifications or documents throughout its evolution to final system/product.)(Note: For Agile development limited documentation could be a combination of diagrams and text  – but mutually agreed to and approved by the client/customer and the developing company.)

3. Not including configuration control (process/activity) within the early establishment of the change management process; in the beginning of a project or program to address changes to scope, requirements, etc.

CM is not Documentation/Data Management (disciplines) but the discipline that includes and requires requirements and release (baseline) management. Often times in the IT and Commercial industries CM has been considered only version control and identification/labeling.

Re-education is required for the commercial IT Industries (and now for some areas of the DOD/MIL). This is also a challenge for some certifications. Information has been misleading and causing many individuals, and professional organizations, to define and misrepresent what is configuration management. (See definitions below, especially “configuration”)

The debate has been going on for too long with not enough progress in areas that need it, contributing to “ailing” and failing projects because CM was not understood and implemented successfully.

How is Configuration Management defined?

Let’s consider first the definitions of CM and several of its activities that allow us to see the different concepts for configuration management:

Definitions from two well known organizations or entities:

MIL  & DOD Standards, where it all began before being applied to commercial industries and other joint efforts/activities.

MIL & DOD Standards

“Configuration Management is a discipline applying technical and administrative direction and surveillance to (a) identify and document the functional and physical characteristics (configuration) of a configuration item (b) control changes to those characteristics and (c) record and report change processing and implementation status …” DOD-STD-480 – (also provides another item) “audit the Configuration Item (CI) to verify conformance to specifications, interface control documents and other contract requirements.” …DOD-2167 defines it further for CSCIs.”


What it Means
What It Means” (by its original definition). The projects and programs I had the pleasure of managing throughout my career from systems (hardware, software, etc.), software, and application to infrastructure, had the below perspective.

1. Identifies and technically describes (documented in specifications/documents) the functionality or capability and design of a hardware, software, firmware or database system/product – or an aggregation of hardware and software) (the CI/CSCI)
2. Controls changes to the baseline descriptions and the product during development and production.
3. Provides status of the changes to the baselined descriptions and product
4. Verifies that the product developed or produced functions or has the capability described in the specification(s) and physically reflects its documented design and “as built” code/drawings, technical documentation, etc.


“Configuration Management (ITILv2):    The process of planning for, identifying, controlling and verifying the Configurations Items (CIs) within a service, recording their status and, in support of Change Management, assessing the potential IT impact of changing those items.”

“Configuration Management (ITILv3):    [Service Transition] The Process responsible for maintaining information about Configuration Items required to deliver an IT Service, including their Relationships. This information is managed throughout the Lifecycle of the CI. Configuration Management is part of an overall Service Asset and Configuration Management Process.”

…and just for definition sake

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“Configuration management (CM) is a process for establishing and maintaining consistency of a product’s performance and functional and physical attributes with its requirements, design and operational information throughout its life.”


MIL and DOD Standards

Configuration: “Configuration, the functional and physical characteristics of hardware, firmware, software or a combination thereof as set forth in technical documentation and achieved in a product”

    Any group of Configuration Items (CIs) that need to be controlled in order to deliver IT services.

Configuration Identification

MIL-STD-973, 483, and DOD-STD-480A: (its origin)

 “Configuration Identification includes the selection of CIs, the determination of the type of configuration documentation required for each CI, the issuance of numbers and identifiers affixed to the CIs and to the technical documentation that defines the CI’s configuration, including external interfaces; the release of CIs and their associated configuration documentation; and the establishment of configuration baselines for CIs.” (Configuration Identification is not just selecting and determining the type of documentation, it is also describing a CI/CSCI technically, e.g., for a CSCI, its functions or capability and design and documents its code (the system/product).


Configuration Identification:    The selection, unique identification, description and labeling of assembly and component Configuration Items (CIs), and the relationships between them.


Configuration Item

MIL-STD-973/DOD-STD-480 – Configuration Item (CI). A configuration item is an aggregation of hardware or software that satisfies an end use function and is designated…for separate configuration management.


 Configuration Item (CI) (ITILv3):    [Service Transition] Any Component that needs to be managed in order to deliver an IT Service. Information about each CI is recorded in a Configuration Record within the Configuration Management System and is maintained throughout its Lifecycle by Configuration Management. CIs are under the control of Change Management. CIs typically include IT Services, hardware, software, buildings, people and formal documentation such as Process documentation and SLAs

Configuration Item (ITILv2):    A Configuration Item (CI) is any component of an IT Infrastructure, including a documentary item such as a Service Level Agreement or a Request For Change, which is (or is to be) under the control of Configuration Management and therefore subject to formal Change Control. The lowest level CI is normally the smallest unit that will be changed independently of other components. CIs may vary widely in complexity, size and type, from an entire service (including all its hardware, software, documentation, etc.) to a single program module or a minor hardware component. All existing or potential service Problems will be capable of being linked to one or more CIs.


Important note (1):

Although the definitions provide signficant information for Configuration Management (CM), the above definitions have differences, especially when it relates to “Configuration” and "Configuration Item".  You see what was lost in Configuration Management’s translation as it has evolved and been transferred to different industries; for (1), the product/system functional and performance requirements definition/specification (applies to traditional (e.g., waterfall, spiral), iterative/incremental or Agile development) and (2), the identification and selection of the technically related documentation required, reviewed and delivered (deliverables) for mutual agreement and approval by the customer/client and the developing company.

Important note (2):  How can a document be a CI/CSCI with the following criteria  or a developed or engineered product/system?

Identify the configuration items (CIs), based on the following criteria:

  • System allocation (major functions or capability of the system)
  • Application functionality or capability
  • Data and information requirements
  • Each processor
  • Criticality/safety
  • Size (source code lines)
  • Cost and schedule
  • Quality (reliability, reusability, maintainability, testability, modularity, etc.)
  • Logistics support
  • Maintenance

Note: CIs are also called Computer Software Configuration Items (CSCIs) for software systems development.  The configuration identification process was originally defined in MIL-STD-973, 483, and DOD-STD-480A.

Conclusion… Fix the Mistakes

It’s one thing to improve something, it is another to misrepresent or incorrectly state what it means and how to apply it. Our biggest hurdle will be accepting that we made some mistakes that have to be corrected and some clarifications have to be made.

What is required?

  1. Establish a standards Committee representing all affected industries
  2. Restate the definition of CM and any differences from past or current definitions that have to be clarified
  3. Educate and conduct training programs throughout the affected industries
  4. Establish a feedback mechanism and continue to improve the discipline
  5. Set up configuration management and QA/testing processes early ( upfront) whether  you use an Agile or traditional development  process/methodology and a change management  process which includes configuration control

Jointly, define and restate what Configuration Management is (for hardware and software), restate what a CI/CSCI really is, and conduct the required re-education. This is required for all affected industries.  We can begin dialogues and debates that are appropriate with some fairness and constructive exchange but we must do our homework (research/review/study). Understand the original meaning, the processes and activities of the CM discipline; where the meaning and use was documented first and originally. Using part of its definition or not understanding what it meant has misled many, at least from my view point.

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