IT Software Configuration Management a Black Art?

An IT Software Configuration Management Black Box (showing it as a Dark Art)

Is IT Software Configuration Management a Black Box or a Black Art?

“Configuration Management is a Black Art” or even “Change Management is a Black Art” are things that I sometimes hear on client sites, mostly from the senior management sitting far above the CM team itself. To an experienced Configuration Manager, this statement begs two questions: “Is it true?” and “Does it matter?”

Let’s take a quick look at those questions, starting with the easy one:

Is it true? The short answer is no, of course it’s not true. Software Configuration Management, indeed the entirety of Service Management, is something that can be analysed, documented, taught, learned and tested in the form of a number of “best practice” methods. If you disagree with that statement, then you also disagree with ITIL and everything that it stands for. If you can do that convincingly, then you can stop reading right now, and start your own consultancy business taking the world’s IT in a fresh direction!

More likely however is that anybody who argues that CM is not a discipline, and collection of best practices that can be documented and followed, probably doesn’t properly understand what it is. However, that shouldn’t stop them from benefiting from CM, just so long as they trust those who do understand it properly to deliver that benefit to them. By way of analogy: you may not understand exactly how every aspect of the ABS in your family car works, but that certainly doesn’t stop you benefiting from it.

Does it matter? First I want to clarify the question, because it’s really two subtly different questions: “Does it prevent the client organisation from benefiting from CM?” and “Does it affect the delivery of CM within the organisation?” In this context “CM” could be Change Management, or Software/Hardware Configuration Management, or indeed any part of ITIL Service Management. I’ll take those questions in turn:

First: “Does it prevent the client organisation from benefiting from Configuration Management?”

I can barely read music, certainly can’t write music, and struggle to play an instrument at anything more than a very basic level. My efforts at drawing and painting, specifically joining the dots and painting-by-numbers, are sufficient to impress a 2 year old with my skills but that (and painting a wall in magnolia) is about where it ends! However this doesn’t prevent me from going to a concert and enjoying the work of a talented composer, or visiting a gallery to enjoy the work of an artist; in both cases I benefit from the skills of others that I cannot hope to achieve myself. So even if CM is a “Black Art” (and I’ve already demonstrated that it isn’t as it can be documented, taught and tested) this won’t prevent those who open their minds, and trust the experts, from receiving the benefits it can to deliver to them.

A better example then is perhaps the nice cars those ‘Doubting Thomases’ in senior management drive to work every day. They drive their cars, and benefit from the comfort, safety and convenience those vehicles offer. But do they understand every detail of how to harvest and refine the fuel their cars run on? How to lay the tarmac their cars drive on? Or how to service their cars to keep them working properly, let alone how to design the car itself in the first place, or test it for safety and reliability? Of course they don’t, but those are all skills that can be documented, taught, learned and tested, just like ITIL.

Does it really make sense to trust a collection of complete strangers with your family’s safety (when travelling in your car), and then not trust your loyal and hand-picked staff/contractors/consultants with your organisation’s software configuration management? Of course it doesn’t! By the same token then, even if you don’t understand CM yourself, that’s no reason not to trust your specialist staff and independent consultants who do.

So, to the final question: “Does this opinion [that CM is a black art] affect the delivery of change & configuration management within the organisation?” The answer to this is yes, absolutely, when that opinion is held by the organisation’s senior management. This is so for any number of reasons, including (but definitely not limited to):

  • It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the IT area they are ‘managing’, and in so doing reduces respect held for the managers by those who are being managed (in this context, typically configuration managers and configuration analysts);
  • It pretty-much ensures that the organisation’s CM function doesn’t get the investment it needs, meaning that the organisation risks immaturity and excess costs as a result;
  • It demoralises and demotivates the CM staff in that area, so regardless of how professional they may be they are unlikely to give the best results.

The solution is fairly simple though: ensure that the IT managers sitting in the next few levels of the hierarchy above the configuration management and service management functions attend an ITIL foundation course, so they can better understand what those below them are doing on their behalf and how an investment in that area will be of benefit to the organisation. Either that, or just learn to trust their CM staff and external consultants in the same way as they do the unseen mechanic who maintains their family car at the garage…

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One Response to IT Software Configuration Management a Black Art?

  1. slots says:

    waiting for your next installment, if it was this good then i will be very impressed.