The Illusion of Control in Software Configuration Management


The Illusion of Control

Figure 1: Phase Shifts and Testing

The team’s manager, Beth, sees a problem in need of a solution and declares that henceforth the team shall use an integration token. Only one person shall perform a check-in at a time. The check-in process is:

    • Grab the integration token
    • Update your workspace from the codeline, resolving any conflicts
    • Run the test suite
    • When the test suite passes, check in the code
    • Pass the integration token on to the next person in the queue

The problem of conflict is resolved, but now Beth notices that the rate at which features are being added to the code is slowing down. Only one person can do a check-in every 2 hours or so, which means that, at most, 4 people can check in changes at once now. In reality it may be less because there will always be people with commitments after work meaning that they should not even start the check-in process less than 2 hours before they need to leave.

While trying to fix the immediate problem, Beth created a longer term problem. A lack of quality leads one to want more control, which reduces quality in another dimension. Figure 2 illustrates this. For some applications with critical systems and small teams, this approach may work well, but in many cases the dominant business need is to change the codeline to add features.

The Illusion of Control

Figure 2: Feedback between control and quality

How do we fix this? We can follow both lean and agile principles (which, at their heart, are similar) and try to address the core problems: Facilitating flow and eliminating waste. Some of the SCM Patterns address this.

About the author

Steve Berczuk's picture Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and Scrum Master at Fitbit. The author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, he is a recognized expert in software configuration management and agile software development. Steve is passionate about helping teams work effectively to produce quality software. He has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and is a certified, practicing ScrumMaster. Contact Steve at or visit and follow his blog at

About the author

Brad Appleton's picture Brad Appleton

Brad Appleton is a software CM/ALM solution architect and lean/agile development champion at a large telecommunications company. Currently he helps projects and teams adopt and apply lean/agile development and CM/ALM practices and tools. He is coauthor of the book Software Configuration Management Patterns, a columnist for the CMCrossroads and AgileConnection communities at,  and a former section editor for The C++ Report. You can read Brad's blog at

About the author

Robert Cowham's picture Robert Cowham

Robert Cowham has long been interested in software configuration management while retaining the attitude of a generalist with experience and skills in many aspects of software development. A regular presenter at conferences, he authored the Agile SCM column within the CM Journal together with Brad Appleton and Steve Berczuk. His day job is as Services Director for Square Mile Systems whose main focus is on skills and techniques for infrastructure configuration management and DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) - applying configuration management principles to hardware documentation and implementation as well as mapping ITIL services to the underlying layers.

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