There are two meanings for the project management process of configuration management.

  1. It can be used for the process of identification, tracking, and management of all the physical assets of a project. The items that you track under configuration management are called “configuration items” in the Capability Maturity Model (CMMI).
  2. It can also refer to the process of identification, tracking, and management of all the characteristics of the assets of a project. These characteristics are also referred to as product “metadata.” This is closer to the definition of configuration management in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) from the Project Management Institute.

The following model describes the five major aspects of configuration management for both meanings.

Planning. You need to plan ahead to create the processes, procedures, tools, files, and databases to manage project assets or the metadata. You also may need to gain an agreement on exactly what assets are important, how you will define them, how they will be categorized, classified, numbered, reported, etc. The results of this up-front planning should be documented in a Configuration Management Plan.

Part of your planning process should be to assign configuration tracking numbers to each type of configuration item.

Tracking. It’s important to understand the baseline for all configuration items. In other words, for each configuration item, you need to understand what you have at the beginning of the project. In many cases, you may have nothing to start with. In other cases, like with physical assets, you may have some assets to begin with. The purpose of your tracking processes is to ensure that you can track all changes to a configuration item throughout the project.

You need processes and systems designed to identify when assets are assigned to your project, where they go, what becomes of them, who is responsible for them and how they are disposed. Since a project has a beginning and end, ultimately all the assets need to go somewhere. This could be in a final deliverable, into the operations/support area, scrapped, etc. You should be able to dissect each major deliverable of the project and show where all the pieces and parts came from, and where they reside after the project ends.

Management. Managing assets means they are secure, protected, and used for the right purposes. For example, it doesn’t do any good to track purchased assets that your project doesn’t need in the first place. Also, your tracking system may show expensive components sitting in an unsecured storage room, but is that really the proper place for them? Managing assets has to do with acquiring what you need and only what you need. You also need to make sure you have the right assets at the right place at the right time.
Reporting. You need to be able to report on the project assets, usually in terms of what you have and where they are, as well as financial reporting that can show cost, budget, depreciation, etc.
Auditing. Auditing involves validating that the actual configuration elements (whatever they are) at any given time are the same as what you expect. Many projects get in trouble when they start to lose track of physical assets (for instance, material, supplies, code or other configuration items) or if the physical characteristics (metadata) of your deliverables is different that what you expect.

The auditing process is used to validate that the configuration elements match up with your expectations. These expectations are based on the original baseline, plus any change requests that you have processed up to the current time.