Managing Configuration Management Debt


In my book “Managing Software Debt: Building for Inevitable Change”, chapter 6 discusses Configuration Management Debt and approaches to help keep this type of debt to a minimum. Since I originally wrote this chapter a lot has gone on in the software development and operations communities. There has been a couple of huge uprisings: Continuous Delivery and DevOps. Of course, the ideas expressed as part of these movements are not necessarily new but rather standing on proverbial shoulders of giants.

Managing Configuration Management Debt

When I wrote in this chapter is only a small portion of ideas that are being feverishly adopted across our industry. It is exciting to see just how fast truly Lean approaches such as DevOps are motivating teams, enhancing customer experiences, and driving business results. Application of DevOps and Continuous Delivery are quickly maturing and seem to be a stronger force than even the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

I would like to review the 3 areas that organizations can work on to improve their Configuration Management performance to put some perspective on how these hold up 5 or so years later:

  • Transfer some Configuration Management responsibilities to the teams
  • Increase automated feedback
  • Track issues in a collaborative manner

Transfer Responsibilities to Teams

Release Engineering teams tend to get overburdened as time goes by. They tend to be centralized and support more teams than they have people. The DevOps movement has put a spotlight onto this problem and provided cultural, process, and technical approaches for reducing the risk of overburdening Release Engineering teams. Taking a DevOps approach implies moving some responsibilities for configuration management to the team.

Increase Automated Feedback

To reduce the impact of increasing the team’s platform complexity by adding these responsibilities, organizations must invest in increasing automation and developer user experience of automation tools. The other aspect of transferring responsibilities to teams from the book was automating Install and Rollback procedures. Going beyond Continuous Integration towards the fully automated build, test deployment and monitoring approaches contained in Continuous Delivery encompasses this idea. There has been a tremendous amount of innovation that makes Continuous Delivery more approachable including the growth of Cloud Computing adoption to Chef & Puppet to automate infrastructure to the promise of Platform as a Service (PaaS).

Track Issues Collaboratively

Automated build pipelines and teams that have more responsibility for software operations leads us to ask about who tracks issues. Again, the DevOps movement has pushed our organizations to think about the responsibility for production deployments. The more teams can take responsibility, given appropriate automation and developer user experience with the tools, the more responsive they will be to customer issues and operational changes needed around their software. It is my contention that the more responsibility teams have for production operations the better production will operate.


In review, I probably write enough on Configuration Management Debt. In my consulting and product development activities since the book I have realized that focusing on Configuration Management Debt first makes steps to address the other four types of software debt (technical, quality, design, and platform experience) easier to see. The build pipeline(s) and the spread of responsibilities can tell teams a lot about where they can find optimizations.

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Chris Sterling

Chris Sterling is Global Director of DevOps and Cloud Practices at Luxoft (, a 10,000+ person, $2B global technology solution provider with approximately 200 employees in the Pacific Northwest. Chris has an extensive technology, product management, process, and consulting background. Chris published the book Managing Software Debt: Building for Inevitable Change with Addison-Wesley in 2010 to provide a framework for teams and organizations to assess and manage debt in their software systems. Chris was a Certified Scrum Trainer with the Scrum Alliance for 8 years and taught thousands of people about how to apply Scrum effectively. Chris has successfully supported organizational transformation across multiple verticals with organizations of 10 up to 800 people. Chris co-founded a company in 2009 called Agile Advantage focused on solving portfolio management problems to leverage the value that Agile teams can deliver, which lead to a successful acquisition by Rally Software. He has spoken at many conferences and user groups on topics such as continuous delivery, software architecture, technology management, Lean and Agile processes, and Lean Startup. Chris has taught the “Advanced Topics in Agile Software Development” class at the University of Washington in the Agile Developer Certificate extension program. Chris brings his diverse experience and deep passion for technology when discussing topics such as Continuous Delivery, Cloud Native architecture, DevOps, Lean and Agile. Follow me @csterwa or get LinkedIn with me at