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NASA defines Configuration management (CM) as "the discipline of identifying and formalizing the functional and physical characteristics of a configuration item at discrete points in the product evolution for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of the product system and controlling changes to the baseline." Simply stated, configuration management is the method for controlling changes to the system hardware, software, firmware, processes, instructions, and documentation.

The project baseline contains all the technical requirements and related cost and schedule requirements. It consists of two parts: the technical baseline and the business baseline. The system engineer is responsible for managing the technical baseline and ensuring that it is consistent with the costs and schedules in the business baseline.

Configuration Management requires a formal agreement of buyer and seller to proceed according to the up-to-date, documented project requirements, and to change baseline requirements only by a formal configuration control process.

Why is CM useful?

Configuration Management is essential to:

  • Conducting an orderly development process;
  • Enabling modifications of an existing design;
  • Providing for replication of existing designs.

Configuration Management provides the information needed to track the technical progress of the project since it manages the project’s configuration documentation. The approach to CM and the methods to be used should be documented in the project’s Configuration Management Plan. A sample outline is shown in what follows:

The Configuration Manager

The configuration manager will lay out the objectives, plan the organization, determine responsibilities, and allocate resources. The configuration manager is also responsible for establishing the appropriate data management system in which to store applicable data and yield the ability to share the information electronically, where applicable.

The configuration manager ensures that the configuration techniques are followed. Functions of the configuration manager include:

  • Conceives and manages the configuration management system, and documents it in the Configuration Management Plan;
  • Acts as secretary of the configuration control board (controls the change approval process);
  • Controls changes to baseline documentation;
  • Controls release of baseline documentation;
  • Initiates configuration verification audits.

It is critical that the configuration manager participate in all technical reviews as she or he can define the baseline configuration state of the system. The configuration manager will assess the type and content of the configuration documentation being presented. The configuration manager plays a critical role in program / product development. Documents, drawings, software, and specifications will be housed in a library with appropriate nomenclature affixed to them.

Overview of CM