Flying, Eyeing, and Buying

Dwayne Phillips

Revision History
Revision 1.0 March 2010

A fundamental of configuration management is a baseline, a description of a large group of items. Baselines can be powerful tools to help manage an endeavor.

A few years ago I worked in an aerospace organization. They had a phrase to describe what they were doing: Fly'n, Eye'n, Buy'n. Any person, any activity, and any thing in the organization would fit in one of those three bins. This system of categorizing seemed silly at first given that this organization comprised tens of thousands of people across the U.S. and around the world and spent several billion dollars a year building and maintaining everything that it did. The little system of apostrophe n's, however, actually worked.

Whether people knew it or not, and I believe that the number of people who knew it was minuscule, we were using baselines to organize the enterprise. (I once wrote a book that discussed the topic of baselines at length - see [Phillips], a great Christmas gift ;-) "Eye'n" was the design baseline, the concepts that we wanted to implement in the future - probably ten years from now. "Buy'n" was the development baseline, the things that we were building and buying at the time - building these things took about five years. "Fly'n" was the operational baseline, the things that we were operating or flying right now. We would build our future concepts (transition from design to development) and eventually fly them (transition from development to operational).

These three baselines - design, development, and operational - provided a framework into which every person, every activity, and every physical thing could fit. I worked in enterprise systems engineering. My activities looked out into the future, hence the design baseline. The building housing my office was used everyday, hence the operational baseline. Many of my colleagues oversaw  companies that were building our next vehicles, hence the development baseline. People could understand these three apostrophe n's. What is more important, they could place just about anything into one of the three correctly. The simple concepts enabled the managing of the enterprise. It actually worked, and that is not bad for a government organization.

The concept of baselines that describe what an organization is doing isn't new. It is a tenet of configuration management as documented by the IEEE and many other groups (see [IEEE]). I hope the terms "configuration management" and "IEEE Standard" don't scare you away. Please keep reading as I think there are some benefits that these concepts can bring. There are four basic activities from configuration management that can enable managing endeavors ranging from 2 to 22,000 people. These are:

(1) Identification - Identify things, put a name on them, and put them in a place on paper. The system we used - fly'n, eye'n, buy'n - works for most people. What are your ideas for the future? What are you buying and building now to be used soon? What are you using now?

(2) Control - Manage the things you have identified. If you have decided that an idea you have discussed won't work, erase it from your "eye'n" baseline and record the date, reason, and other information about your decision. If something you bought has been put into service, move it from the "buy'n" baseline to the "fly'n" baseline. Change your documentation to reflect what you have done. The paperwork need not be torture.

(3) Status - Check on things. You ordered something six months ago and it should be in use by now. Is it?

(4) Audit - Compare reality and documentation. Do the two agree? If not, why not? Fix things.

Baselines and configuration management don't hurt that much. They can actually help. All the standards and bureaucratic bingo can be reduced to something as simple and practical as fly'n, eye'n, and buy'n.

[IEEE] IEEE 828-2005, "Standard for Software Configuration Management Plans," Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 12-Aug-2005.
ISBN: 0738147648

[Phillips] "The Software Project Manager's Handbook, second edition," Dwayne Phillips, July 2004, Wiley-IEEE Computer Society Press, ISBN: 978-0-471-67420-7.

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