In too many military acquisition programs, neither the user nor the contractor really understands the concept of configuration control throughout the life cycle and their resulting efforts are too little and too late to achieve control. The results can be disastrous relative to operational maintenance, sparing, field modifications, and production. The application of configuration control on any project is essential. For effective utilization, it should be tailored to fit the nature of the project. It is critical that corporate policy recognizes the importance of proper configuration management in the development of a new project, and to emphasize the need to generate an adequate plan of implementation.
The configuration management plan must be streamlined, yet it must adequately encompass the entire life cycle, recognizing the requirements and complexity of the configuration item(s) and subsystems. At a minimum, it must establish the mode of operation and interface relationship among subcontractor, contractor, and customer. It also must manage the specification tree, engineering release, and drawing disciplines, and be responsible for revision to contract plans, including associated equipment and government-furnished equipment. Generating boilerplate policies or invoking MIL-SPECs as a direct substitute leads to overly simplified or overly complex approaches to managing the project early in development phase.
Proper staffing and delegation of authority also are critical to success. Staffing configuration management organizations primarily with administrators lacking good technical background, or using the discipline as a training ground for new or transient personnel, job shoppers, etc., results in weak configuration control.
The application of configuration management, the responsibility of the program manger, is normally delegated with sufficient authority to a separate configuration management organization. In cases where the configuration management organization is subordinate to either engineering or manufacturing, its function becomes less objective and more subjective in nature. Decisions of a controversial nature tend to be strongly influenced by the wishes of the activity to which it is subordinate. These decisions are often based upon what is best suited to satisfy the short-term cost or schedule requirements. Such an approach is not conducive to a sound configuration management policy for the overall life cycle of the project.
Configuration management is a discipline that organizes and implements, in a systematic fashion, the process of documenting and controlling configuration. Its antitheses are chaos, confusion, crisis, and adverse cost impact. The designer must understand this at the outset of design. Training courses to emphasize and demonstrate configuration control are helpful. Whenever configuration management is perceived to be a roadblock, and methods are improvised to bypass this function to satisfy schedule requirements, this is an early warning that design integrity has been compromised.
The use of red-lined prints, advance release information, and prerelease documentation to procure, fabricate, and install parts, assemblies, and systems virtually ensures that substantial redesign effort will shortly follow. Premature, unauthorized, unidentified, and uncoordinated "improvement changes" introduced during the transition from development to production are often the root of spares identification and field maintenance problems once the configuration item goes into service. These are also symptomatic of insufficient or inefficient configuration control.
Purging stock of unusable parts without issuing new part numbers is shirking responsibility by engineering. Such delegation of configuration is neither wise nor cost-effective. Failure to assign new part numbers with each configuration change will invariably result in installing the wrong item in a higher assembly, where rework and reidentification are more costly.
Specifically selected "critical" structural or functional detail parts, subassemblies, and assemblies which require special attention and control through design, manufacture, test, and delivery, are subjected to added controls and annotated as Designated Parts (DPs). DPs require specific serial number identification with in the item and a systematic capability to track the DP through manufacture, procurement, inspection, storage, spares, and test history. Over the life of a project, this approach becomes most cost-effective.
Typical indicators of effective configuration management are strong change control boards and status accounting reporting systems that invoke timely feedback requirements from the production facility and from field service activities. These ongoing functions avoid the costly efforts required to continuously submit retrofit kits which are not compatible item(s) being modified.