Is the configuration manager going to disappear?

The simple answer is: Yes, configuration managers are going to disappear!

The more comprehensive answer to this question is that configuration management is not going to disappear, but the configuration manager will be. We can compare it to the change of the crew in the cockpit of an airplane.

In the early days of aircraft, there was only a single pilot in the cockpit. With the growing need for air transportation of people and goods, the airplanes became bigger, requiring more advanced engines, more advanced hydraulics, electronics, aeronautics, navigation, communication and much more. So a second pilot was added. With the growing complexity of airplanes, a flight engineer was added with thorough technical knowledge of engines, electronics, hydraulics and dynamics; and with the growing complexity of the technology even a second flight engineer was added.
This trend was stopped when computers were introduced. Initially, the computers aided the engineers by replacing gauges and switches by screens and buttons, so one flight engineer was enough again. The next step was that computers not only relayed the information more concisely with better structure and overview, but computers were also put in control of complex systems like the engine, hydraulics and hydraulics. The user interface to the flight engineer was simplified and the responsibility of the engineer moved from decisions what to do and how to do it, to only what to do; the computer controlled the how-to-do-it. Currently, the flight engineer has disappeared completely.

Does that mean that flight engineering has disappeared too? No! Airplanes and flight control has become tremendously difficult. There are so many control processes running continuously and simultaneously that it is impossible for human beings to executed that. In fact, flying modern airplanes is not even possible anymore without computer systems.

Now, let’s go back to software and system development. Developing a control system like an airplane is complex, extremely complex! But developing a car is complex too, and even a “simple” device like a phone is very complex. A lot of people have to work together to develop a system and bring it to the market, each of them using a lot of information and producing a lot of information. The information is in constant flux; content is changing, relationships are changing, structure is changing, expectations and interpretations are changing constantly.

The traditional role of the configuration manager is to assure that the right data is available to the right people at the right time with the right status in the right format. To build a complex system requires a lot of work from a lot of people, requiring a lot of information to be used and produced. Adding to that a growing demand for speed, visibility, traceability, responsiveness to customer changes and a high level of quality, and collaborations between multiple projects and project teams in multiple sites at various locations and timezones… In other words configuration management is becoming more important than ever before.

In fact, similar to flying modern airplanes, developing modern systems is not even possible anymore without computer systems. And similar to the flight engineer, the configuration manager role is replaced by these computer systems, or Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) systems. So yes, configuration managers are disappearing. Project managers and quality managers can take control of configuration management through the ALM systems.

But something else is also happening: configuration management is disappearing as a separate discipline. Similar to saving and printing of documents in office application, configuration management is being embedded into the ALM applications that support the various engineering disciplines. For example, requirements management involves managing requirement which implies unique identifiers, versioning, storage and retrieval (including searching), baselining, status, delivery, and even branching and variant management. Some for testing management, portfolio management, roadmapping, and other disciplines. If we look at amazon, facebook, twitter, phones and tablets, cars, trains, airplanes, booking agencies, street lighting and security systems, healthcare and wellness systems, or even ALM systems, nowhere is configuration management a separate discipline. Isn’t it important then? Yes, it is so important that it is becoming a basic functionality of every system that manages information, like saving or printing in office applications.

So there we have it: configuration managers are disappearing and configuration management is disappearing as a separate discipline. Does that mean that I will be out of a job soon and many other CM-ers with me? No! Configuration managers will move into operational engineering or management disciplines (e.g. testing or project management), or into strategic process, business and development management disciplines (e.g. development manager, product manager), or into technical or managerial IT roles (e.g. tool expert, IT manager).


About Frank Schophuizen (fschop)

Hi, my name is Frank Schophuizen and I am working as a consultant in CM, Agile and ALM for TOPIC Embedded Systems. I have over 30 years experience in software development in the technology industry, with the last 15 years mainly in process improvement, deployment and integration of methods and tools in the area of CM, Agile development and ALM. I am strongly interested in the complexities of collaboration and integrations in multi-project and multi-site organizations. I have worked with various technology companies such as Philips, ASML, NXP and Vanderlande, and with various tool vendors such as IBM Rational (e.g. ClearCase, Synergy, Jazz products) as well as open source tools (e.g. SVN, Git, Jenkins, Trac, Eclipse). I am living in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, with my wife. We have 3 adult children. My main hobbies are classical music and photography.
This entry was posted in agile, complex systems, configuration management, excellence, large projects, software development, tools, tracking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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