CM — Protecting Us from Ourselves

One of the principal roles of configuration management (CM) is to protect us from ourselves. In so doing, we also protect our suppliers and our customers. When high school or college students first encounter bills of materials, they experience shock and awe. An automotive wire harness with 368 leads must have a bill of materials with at least 368 components (some will be common, but we must still account for their presence), associated connectors, solder, anti-fretting compound, and so on. Every possible component falls under CM.

When we don’t practice good CM, we end up in situations where we ship products to a customer without knowing what we are shipping. At every given slice in time, we have a configuration, parts of which we decide to control. Some items that are truly CM are:

  • Raw material inventory
  • Material released to the floor
  • Production equipment
  • Development equipment
  • Support equipment
  • Utility pipes, wires, etc.
  • Labels
  • Colors
  • Paint
  • Plastic
  • Packaging
  • Drawings
  • Records of decisions

What is difficult is to try and develop items that are not ultimately part of CM. Perhaps the ephemera we call “thoughts, feeling, and emotions” fall into this category. Of course, we don’t necessarily track everything, because not everything has equal importance. A readily replaceable item like printer paper is probably very low priority; but, any item that is part of a product must fall under CM.

We have seen companies deliver products with unknown software, unknown hardware, and unknown features to customers for evaluation. Every time we have seen this kind of rushed event occur, it resulted in a marketing fiasco. The moral of the story lies in determining what is important and establishing realistic controls so that we always know what we are working with.

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