PRINCE2 Configuration Management - simplified

PRINCE2 configuration management may not be very exciting - but it is very important.  Used properly, it gets you out of situations like these:
 

You go to a meeting to discuss a document and find there are several different versions of it around the room

You receive a new copy of something only to wonder what the changes from the old copy were and why the changes happened

You don't know what the current version of something is, who has copies or where the original is stored?

And no-one knows what procedure is used to capture, examine and make decisions about issues and change requests?

PRINCE2 configuration management provides you with answers to all these questions.  I often try to simply configuration management by saying that it is a fancy phrase for version control.  This is a significant over simplification and doesn't do the topic justice. In reality, it's about change and configuration management is part of PRINCE2's Change Theme.  Change is inevitable.  I have not been on a project that did not have some sort of change throughout its execution. Making sure that change is done in controlled and conscious manner is the goal of configuration management.

PRINCE2 configuration item definitions

PRINCE2 Configuration Management is defined as " the technical and administrative activity concerned with the creation, maintenance and controlled change of configuration throughout the life of a product ( or item)."  PRINCE2 also has configuration items which are "an entity that is subject to configuration management.  The entity may be a component of a product, a product, or a set of products in a release."

So which products need PRINCE2 configuration management?

At a minimum you should include any project management documents that have been approved. In PRINCE2 terms these are base lined management products. A base lined management product is one that defines aspects of the project and , once approved, are subject to change control. They include: Business Case, all Management Strategies, all levels of plans, all specialist Product Descriptions and all elements of the project in the Project Initiation Documentation. A Configuration Item Record is used to record details such as identifier, current version, date of last change, owner, copy holders, attributes (that might be used to sort and filter information for reporting purposes), and status.  The PRINCE2 manual provides a standard template for you.

PRINCE2 configuration management and the ripple effect

In my experience, one of the main issues with the assessment part of the issue and change control procedures lies with understanding the magnitude and ripple effect of the original situation. For example, a client requests that a new feature be added to a piece of machinery that is being customized. The request for change affects not only the piece of machinery but also related items. These related items could include the documentation related to the machinery, the training required on how to use the new feature to be added, perhaps the marketing materials that will be used to sell the new machinery to our customers; our website will need to be updated to reflect the new feature.... You get the point. Rarely is a change request as small as the requestor believes. The PRINCE2 configuration item record gives you two key pieces of information that address this ripple effect issue:
  • Variant - for example, other colours, other languages. If you change the red one, you also have to change all the other colours as well. If you change the English version you also need to change the French version.
  • Relationship with other items - lists those items that would be affected if this item changed or those items that if changed, could affect this item.
This information is also crucial once a product is handed over into operations and maintenance. Configuration Management can be complex. Large organizations have configuration management policies, practices, procedures and systems in place to deal with items that are in a live or production mode. PRINCE2 says that these same ideas be brought down into our project.  You can use PRINCE2's Tailoring principle to sensibly adapt these to the size, formality and level of risk on your project.   Your approach to configuration management will be documented in the PRINCE2 Configuration Management Strategy document, which is created in Stage 1, during the Initiating a Project process.