Configuration Management for Startups

During my interview with Jennifer Moore from Minerva, Jennifer suggested that it would be interesting to read a post on Configuration Management for Startups.  I thought that was an excellent idea, so here it is. 

For most startups configuration management might not be the first thing on their mind, or even the second or third…. But whether consciously aware about it or not, most if not all startups are dealing with configuration management. This post is not intended to describe exactly what all startups must do or to be complete, but to trigger thinking about configuration management during the various phases of a startup.

To create some context when to implement and focus on certain Configuration Management capabilities, I refer to the startup development phases as described by startupcommons.org (the image of the Startup Development Phases is provided under the following license: CC by SA).

Formation / Phase -2 / Ideating

It is too early to start thinking about configuration management. But in the next phase the first steps need to be taken to start defining and embedding CM practices. Note that in every step you can improve further on the CM capabilities you have already put in place. Start small to build a solid foundation, that can be improved to match with your needs and ambition for growth. 
But this might be a good time to search in your network for people that can help you with defining what your configuration management needs will be going forward. 
 

Formation / Phase -1 / Concepting

At this stage it is time to start thinking about Identification, because during the next phase, the initial product will be developed. To prevent rework due to having to renumber parts and datasets/documents, it will be important to agree on how to identify parts and datasets/documents.  Many have written about Identification, here you find a non-exhaustive list with some good resources: 

ENGINEERING DOCUMENTATION CONTROL HANDBOOK, Configuration Management, Second Edition by Frank B. Watts
Why “Smart” part numbers should be replaced with keys and property lists by Michel Baudin
Part Numbering System Design by BuyPLM.com
Intelligent part numbers: The cost of being too smart by BuyPLM.com

For some insights on part re-identification, interchangeability and traceability you can check out It’s about Interchangeability and Traceability.

Key guidance for part numbers: 

  • use non-significant number, significance can be managed as attributes/meta data
  • use a 6 or 7 digit number, longer numbers will be more error prone
  • do not use a leading zero if you are still using Excel or other type of spreadsheets e.g. do not use 000001 but start with 100001
 

Validation / Phase 0 / Committing

Before going to the next phase of Validating, there are a couple of things you need to start thinking about.

Status Accounting
It is important that you have thought about status accounting as it is critical to enable the digital twin and ensure traceability. Some questions you need to ask:

  • What information do you need to track during the life cycle of the product? For both Hardware & Software.
  • Do you need your product and parts to be traceable and if so, via serialization or based on batches? There are international standards that can help you in this journey like the GS1
  • How do you register your actual configuration for each product you build and possibly install, maintain and upgrade in the field? Including all the changes / variances against the actual configuration.
  • How will you deal with accounting of shelf life, failure rates, validity of software licences/keys, etc?
 
For some more detailed insights check out the following:
 

Verification & Audit
Also Verification & Audit is an important aspect to look into as you will have your initial product developed. How will you ensure your product will conform to its requirements and how will you perform your Functional and Physical Configuration Audits? Are there specific customer or regulatory requirements regarding these audits that you need to consider?

For some more detailed insights check out these articles:

Section 5.5. of SAE-EIA-649 rev C – Configuration Management Standard
Configuration Management Audits Part 1  by CMStat.com
MIL-HDBK-61A: Configuration Verification and Audit by Product-Lifecycle-Management.com 

Also think about what kind of CM requirements you have towards your suppliers. In the end you are as good as your weakest link. If you did not do your due diligence when selecting and possibly auditing your supplier(s), you can still be hold accountable when things go wrong.

Change control
Depending on how much changes you process, it is also time to start thinking how to deal with changes to your product. Especially if your product is highly regulated, this is a must. The more people you have working for you the more important it will be to have a change process in place. Here CM2 provides a very good framework that can be implemented in various stages, depending on your needs. My advice would be to follow the CM2 Training by IpX and use that knowledge to implement the change process you need.

This could also include how to deal with complaints and issues raised by your customer. Or new requests or market trends or regulations that require you to change your product.  Section 5.3 of SAE-EIA-649 rev C – Configuration Management Standard also talks about change control, but CM2 provides more guidance on how to implement a working change process.

Validation / Phase 1 / Validating

During the Validating phase, you need to start preparing for implementing and embedding processes during the next phase of Scaling. Identify what is needed for you from a CM perspective to enable the growth you are aiming for. How will you structure your operating procedures and how will you maintain this.  The change process as mentioned for bringing control to your product documentation can also be applied to your process framework. Try to keep it simple, lean and flexible, while at the same time allow for the required control. Your company will start to grow, that means things will change significantly with respect to how you work and get things done. Where you and a ‘handful’ of people were taking care of multiple roles and tasks, more and more people will join that will have a limited set of tasks/roles. 
  • How do you onboard new employees?
  • How do you change processes/procedures?
  • How do you ensure people follow processes and are trained? In case of highly regulated products, typically you need to have records of the training people have successfully completed.
  • How do you ensure the required control is in place? E.g. if you create a medical device or products for aerospace, having control (and records to prove that you are in control) over you processes is legally required. 
 
At the same time it is advised to assess your existing CM capabilities and identify where improvements are needed. 
 

Growth / Phase 2 and 3 / Scaling and Establishing

During these phases you need to further embed the CM capabilities and keep continually improving them to match your needs and ambition and deal with any changes in laws and regulations.
 
Don’t see Configuration Management as a burden, see it as an enabler for growth.  CM2 even provides a complete cookbook with Operating Standards for all functions in your growing company. This can create an opportunity to leverage best practices to speed up.

 

Header photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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