Release Management

What Is Release Management in ITIL? Guide and Best Practices

MAY, 2024

by  Justin Reynolds.

 

Author Justin Reynolds

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.

 

Managing enterprise software production at scale is no easy task. This is especially true in today’s complex and distributed environment where teams are spread out across multiple geographical areas.

To maintain control over so many moving parts, IT leaders need to break down silos and standardize processes. Luckily, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make that happen. For guidance, they can follow the ITIL Release Management Process, courtesy of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

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Keep reading to learn all about ITIL’s approach to release management and how it can help improve your process flow and software quality.

 

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ITIL: A Brief Overview 

ITIL is a set of frameworks that outline various IT processes, including service and asset management. At a high level, ITIL helps companies deliver products and services in a way that ensures they maintain quality and control costs. 

The ITIL framework was drafted in the 1980s by the UK’s Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). Today, after several revisions, it remains the go-to source for IT best practices, with ITIL 4 being the most recent version.

What Is Release Management in ITIL?

ITIL includes release and deployment management within its Service Transition section.

The main purpose of release and deployment management is to plan, schedule, and control releases from end to end. By following these guidelines, you can improve the integrity of your live production environment and manufacture higher-quality software that resonates with the needs of your user base. 

ITIL release management should fall under the guidance of the release manager. This individual should act as the process owner throughout planning and production.

Release Management in ITIL: A Breakdown

Since every company has different needs and objectives, the actual steps your organization should follow might vary. Over time, your company will most likely want to develop its custom release management strategy.

With all this in mind, here’s a general breakdown of how the release management process works.

1. Request 

The first step is to request and vet new features or software changes. At this stage, it’s very important to be selective about what you want to move forward into production. After all, not all requests will have the same level of importance.

Here, it’s also a good idea to use a central repository for collecting and prioritizing requests. This can make it much easier to stay on top of requests and manage changing priorities.

2. Plan

Once you have a general understanding of what you want to prioritize, the next step is to move into the planning phase. 

At this point, you should outline the scope and details of your release. You should also assign roles and create a schedule for executing the release. The schedule should account for building, testing, and deploying, among other things.

This will also give you a solid understanding of whether you have the resources to execute the release.

3. Build 

By now, your team should have a thorough understanding of the scope and demands of the release — and the team members who will be developing it. Once this is lined up, you can move on to the software development stage.

To build, your team will need a dedicated staging environment where engineers can create and iterate freely without impacting live users. The end goal is to create functional code that you can ship for testing and validation. 

Build time can fluctuate depending on the scope of the release. It can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or longer. As such, you should plan releases to account for potential delays so that you don’t impact other projects.

4. Test

Before you transfer code into a live production environment, you have to make sure that the code is functional.

Good news: There are a variety of tests that engineers run to do this — including user acceptance testing, validation testing, unit testing, integration testing, and smoke testing.

Oftentimes, companies choose to test before production and during production. However, the majority of testing occurs before the software goes live.

5. Deploy

After you thoroughly test your code, the next step is to seamlessly deploy it into a live production environment. 

For this to happen, the release manager needs to approve the release package. After approval, the code will typically transfer to service operations and support.

6. Close

Before you move on to the next build, review the release and collect feedback and evaluations. Measure the feedback and make sure that it aligns with your initial plans.

What are the 5 stages of ITIL?

The five stages of ITIL are:

1. Service Strategy

This stage focuses on defining the overall IT service strategy in alignment with the organization’s business objectives and customer needs. It involves identifying market opportunities, defining service portfolios, and prioritizing investments to deliver value.

2. Service Design

In this stage, IT services are designed to meet the requirements identified in the service strategy. It involves designing service architectures, processes, policies, and documentation to ensure that services are aligned with business needs and can be effectively implemented and supported.

3. Service Transition

Service transition involves transitioning new or modified services into the operational environment while ensuring minimal disruption to ongoing business operations. It includes activities such as release and deployment management, change management, and knowledge management to ensure that changes are implemented smoothly and efficiently.

4. Service Operation

This stage focuses on delivering and managing IT services daily to meet agreed-upon service levels. It involves activities such as incident, problem, event, and access management to ensure that services are delivered effectively and efficiently.

5. Continual Service Improvement (CSI)

CSI is an ongoing stage that continually improves the quality and performance of IT services and processes. It involves monitoring service performance, identifying areas for improvement, and implementing changes to enhance service delivery and customer satisfaction.

Release management involves several key roles, each with its own set of responsibilities to ensure the smooth and efficient delivery of software releases. Let's explore these roles in detail:

Roles and Responsibilities in Release Management

Release management involves several key roles, each with its own set of responsibilities to ensure the smooth and efficient delivery of software releases. Let’s explore these roles in detail:

Release Manager

The release manager plays a central role in overseeing the end-to-end release process. Their responsibilities typically include:

  • Planning and Coordination: The release manager is responsible for planning the release schedule in alignment with business objectives and ITIL principles. They coordinate release activities across various teams, ensuring that all stakeholders are informed and involved.
  • Risk Management: Identifying and managing risks associated with the release process is a crucial responsibility of the release manager. They assess potential impacts on systems, services, and users, and implement strategies to mitigate risks effectively.
  • Communication: Effective communication is key to successful release management. The release manager ensures clear communication with stakeholders, keeping them informed about release progress, timelines, and any changes or issues that may arise.
  • Quality Assurance: The release manager collaborates with quality assurance (QA) teams to ensure that releases meet predefined quality standards. They oversee testing processes, including regression testing, user acceptance testing (UAT), and performance testing, to minimize the risk of defects in production environments.
  • Deployment Oversight: Coordinating the deployment of releases into production environments falls within the release manager’s purview. They work closely with deployment teams to schedule and execute deployments efficiently, minimizing downtime and disruptions to services.
  • Post-Release Evaluation: After a release is deployed, the release manager conducts post-release evaluations to assess its success and identify areas for improvement. They gather feedback from stakeholders and analyze performance metrics to inform future release planning and execution.

Release Management and DevOps

The fusion of Release management and DevOps streamlines software delivery. Collaboration and automation drive efficiency, while feedback loops ensure continuous improvement. Agility enables rapid adaptation to changing demands. Integrating DevOps principles enhances release cycles, facilitating faster, more reliable deployments, improved collaboration, and greater business agility.

Collaboration and Integration

One of the key principles of DevOps is breaking down silos between development and operations teams and fostering collaboration throughout the software delivery lifecycle. Release Management plays a crucial role in this collaboration by providing a structured framework for planning, coordinating, and deploying releases.

Automation and Continuous Delivery

Release Management processes can benefit significantly from automation, enabling organizations to achieve continuous delivery of software releases with minimal human intervention.

DevOps practices such as infrastructure as code (IaC), automated testing, and deployment automation can be integrated into Release Management workflows to automate release processes end-to-end. This automation not only speeds up release cycles but also enhances the consistency, reliability, and repeatability of deployments.

 

In practice, release management tends to be fast-moving and complex. That being the case, there are many pitfalls to watch out for.

Release Management ITIL Best Practices

Release management may seem straightforward. But in practice, it tends to be fast-moving and complex. That being the case, there are many pitfalls to watch out for.

To that end, here are some release management ITIL best practices to keep in mind as you plan and optimize your strategy.

Remain Fluid

To be successful with release management, you need to constantly learn and adjust your plan. What works for one build may not necessarily apply to another.

For example, one release may require minimal testing before it goes into production. However, other builds may require extensive testing and rework. Take each build on a case-by-case basis, and modify your plan accordingly to achieve optimal results.

Minimize User Impact

It’s critical to avoid impacting users when making changes. Be quick and efficient when updating software, and try to remediate all bugs and vulnerabilities before the code goes into production. 

Lean on Automation

Software production is too fast and complex to do everything by hand. To keep up, it’s necessary to rely on automation throughout the release management process. 

Automation will reduce human errors and allow your team to move at a faster pace. This, in turn, will boost software quality and help prevent errors from sneaking into production.

Shift Security Left

A growing number of companies are shifting left and integrating security into their software development process. This strategy involves testing earlier and testing often instead of waiting until the testing phase to identify and eliminate security vulnerabilities.

By shifting left, you can lower production costs and improve security. At the same time, you can build a cybersecurity culture where all team members prioritize security and iterate with best practices in mind.

Tighten Access Control

In addition to shifting left, it’s also a good idea to tighten access control — especially when using the public cloud. Consider forming a robust identity access management (IAM) policy to keep track of the various human and non-human identities that can access and control your environments. 

Visibility Is Key 

One of the most important things you can do to improve your release management process is to improve visibility. The entire process should take place over a central dashboard with real-time insights into available resources and project statuses. 

By knocking down silos and improving visibility, you will have a much easier time managing resources and keeping projects moving forward.

Streamline Release Management With Enov8

If you’re looking to improve your approach to release management, Enov8 can help.

We provide a purpose-built platform for enterprise release management that gives you a bird’s-eye view of your enterprise release management strategy and enables you to watch development unfold in real-time.

Within the Enov8 platform, you can define enterprise release schedules, onboard projects, manage demand contention, and track projects. The platform also lets you employ implementation plans and identify system requirements.  

With Enov8, release management can become one of your organization’s biggest strengths. But don’t just take our word for it. Instead, take Enov8 for a spin by downloading our ‘Kick Start’ edition today.

Other Reading

Enjoy what you read? Here are a few more articles that you might find interesting.

Enov8 Blog: What is & Why have a Release Calendar?

Enov8 Blog: What is Release Management – An ERM & SAFe Perspective

Enov8 Blog: What is the Role of a Release Train Engineer?

 

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