What is Release Management?

Release Management is all about enabling an organization’s systems and services to change to support evolving business needs. It is the process of coordinating the movement of project into production environments where they can be consumed by end-users. The primary goal of release management is to ensure that the integrity of the live environment is protected and that the correct components are released. In some organizations, release management is concerned only with the technical deployment of IT products and features, while other organizations take a broader perspective of release management also including things like adoption and business process changes related to a release.

Release Management in ITIL

Release and Deployment Management is one of the main processes under the Service Transition section of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) framework. This process is often referred to in short-form as simply “release management”. ITIL defines release and deployment management as the process of managing planning and scheduling the rollout of IT services, updates and releases to the production environment. Release in this context refers to the development of a newer version of a service or component and deployment means the process of integrating it into the live production environment.

Release management plays an important role of bridging the gap between project activities and the things that project teams produce and the ongoing operations and users that will consume these things. It is very common for organizations to have multiple projects underway at the same time and release management provides a structured approach for bringing changes together, testing to make sure they work correctly and then safely introducing them into the live environments that business operations rely on. Release management also ensures that any applicable knowledge and resources are transferred from the teams developing the new features or components to the operations team that will be responsible for supporting them.

The Release Management Process

It is important that each project team wishing to introduce changes to the production environment are aligned with each other and are aware of each other’s changes and resource usages. They must follow the same process, policies and guidelines for planning, building, testing and deploying a release. ITIL breaks release management down into six sub-processes that enable release management to be performed effectively, efficiently and safely to facilitate the flow of changes into the operations environment.

The Role of a Release Manager

The release manager plays a combined coordination and governance/oversight role – tasked with ensuring that the release is completed effectively and safely. Release managers are typically IT professionals with specialized skills and experience using standards, processes and tools to coordinate release activities. In IT contexts, release managers work with business leaders, IT project teams and operations staff to ensure a well-orchestrated release of technical features into the IT environment. In product management contexts, release managers work with business development, marketing, R&D and other teams to coordinate across the company in support of a planned product release.

Large releases may involve multiple staff members working as a release team. If this is the case, the release manager provides an over-arching management and leadership function, coordinating both the release team and the release itself. The release manager is responsible for governance and quality oversight of the release, determining what level of risk and complexity the release represents and ensuring that the right level of due-diligence is applied to ensure release objectives are achieved without compromising the ongoing operations of the company.

Why is Release Management Needed?

The primary objective of release management is to plan, schedule and control the deployment of IT services and updates into the live environments. Companies evolve and as they do, their needs change, so the IT environment needs to change too. Release management provides a means for making changes effectively and safely. It does this by ensuring only sufficiently tested services and components can be released into the live environment that the business uses.

Some other benefits of release management include:

Release and Deployment Management Approaches

ITIL v3 defines six approaches for release and deployment management. Most companies utilize some variant of these approaches though they may refer to them by different names. It is also common for different approaches to be used for different types and sizes of projects.

Release and Deployment Management is tasked with enabling an organization’s systems and services to change to support evolving business needs. There may be multiple project teams and vendors working on developing individual changes and it is release management’s job to ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle come together and are tested appropriately prior to introducing them into the live environment that business users rely on. Release management processes coordinated by a skilled and experienced release manager who is equipped with the right set of tools to do their job effectively can all help a company orchestrate safe and effective changes to their IT environment.

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