What Is Release Management in ITIL? Guide and Best Practices
by Justin Reynolds
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).
Keep reading to learn all about ITIL’s approach to release management and how it can help improve your process flow and software quality.
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 own custom release management strategy.
With all this in mind, here’s a general breakdown of how the release management process works.
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.
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.
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. In fact, it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks or longer. As such, you should plan releases in advance to account for potential delays so that you don’t impact other projects.
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 software goes live.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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