CM Planning for a Downturn in the Economy


The end of 2008 presents us with a very weak economy.  We hear the words economic crisis, gloomy outlook, recession, and economic decline in the news again and again.  We are also seeing small to massive layoffs in a number of sectors and IT is certainly not immune.  The question for those CM'ers in light of this economic downturn is how do I adjust my configuration management (CM) planning for the coming year when budgets are being slashed and projects are being cancelled?  

It can be tough to focus on how to handle a downturn especially when this may imply staff reductions.  However, this is the reality in today's market.  This is where it is very important to factor the economy into our CM planning.  The key is to make adjustments in a methodical and objective manner while at the same time continue to advocate for CM whenever possible.  Here are some steps that can help you consider the changes around you and how to apply them to the planning process for the upcoming year.  Also, as the year progresses, it is important to periodically visit the steps provided and adjust accordingly.

Consolidate the Work
The first thing to do is to consolidate the known CM work.  Get a good snapshot of the work load separating the "keep the trains running work" (a.k.a., non-discretionary) from the "advance into the future work" (a.k.a., discretionary).  Effectively, you are determining what is non-discretionary work versus discretionary.

Non-discretionary work is the core work that must continue to keep the company afloat or work that your company cannot live without.  In the case of CM, an example of non-discretionary work is to maintain the code repositories and continue the builds and releases.  While this is not a definitive list, it is important for you to identify what your non-discretionary list of work includes and be ready to explain the importance.

We have to be cautious here because I have seen a few cases where companies think they no longer need CM at all (e.g., they consider it discretionary).  This can be disastrous in the long run.  However, the key takeaway is that there will be varying levels of CM understanding by your senior management so do not be surprised if they think they can cut something that may be critical to the integrity of CM.  Be ready to explain the importance of what you believe to be the non-discretionary parts of CM within the company.

Discretionary work is the work that improves the service or capability of the organization but would not impact the core running of the company if it did not occur.  In the case of CM, this could be work to create a CM coop environment, to automate processes, and to introduce new CM tools.  While this is not a definitive list, it is important for you to identify what your discretionary work list includes.

As you list both the non-discretionary and the discretionary work, it is important to list the skills needed to complete the work.  This will be important as you consider the staff needed to perform the work. Typically there is a need for more skilled resources to complete discretionary work since this typically involves designing, architecting, and scripting improvements and establishing new processes while non-discretionary work typically involves utilizing and repeating the processes already in place.

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