As the number of people using digital resources (Internet, mobile technology, etc.) increases, so does the demand for high-quality applications and software. This demand creates a temptation for software companies to release new products quickly, hoping to keep up with consumer interest and stay ahead of the competition.

However, there's such a thing as releasing new software too quickly. This dubious practice typically results in bug-ridden apps of low quality and, in the long run, does more damage to the organization than releasing new products more carefully and deliberately.

That’s why we need release management. This article explores the concept of release management, including answering the question, “what is release management?” We will also cover the release management process, the objectives and benefits, the release management lifecycle, and other helpful information.

But first, let’s pull back for a moment and define a release.

What’s a Release?

In simple terms, a release is new or altered software, including the process of its creation. A release is a fully functional software version resulting from the software development and engineering processes: most organizations release alpha and beta versions before a release.

Although alpha and beta version launches are often referred to as releases, a release most often describes the software's final version. In addition, releases are sometimes referred to as launches or increments.

Most organizations identify releases with software versioning, a naming process incorporating a unique set of numbers or letters that update sequentially (e.g., Windows 11).

What is Release Management in ITIL?

Release management is the process of planning, designing, scheduling, testing, deploying, and controlling a software release. It ensures that teams quickly and efficiently deliver the necessary applications and upgrades while maintaining the existing production environment’s integrity.

ITIL is the most popular framework for governing IT products and services. The framework helps organizations deliver apps and services cost-conscious, customer-centric, and quality-driven manner. Additionally, Release and Deployment management is one of the primary processes under the Service Transition portion of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (or its acronym, ITIL) framework.

History of Release Management

Release management is a relatively new concept in the world of software engineering. The process has been a slow evolutionary change, as engineers shifted their emphasis from project-based to product-based results.

Software developers used to consider each release as a project, not a product with a full lifecycle. But as the software development process increasingly resembled the product cycle, and the goal of a release was not just an end-product but a transition point between support and revision, release management grew in importance.

Continual advances in best practices and technology have served as a catalyst for release management’s rising importance in today’s development world.

Next, let us learn about the release management process flow. 

What Is Release Lifecycle Management?

Although "release lifecycle management" sounds very similar to "release management," there are subtle differences between the concepts. Release lifecycle management covers a broader understanding of the release management process, possibly including areas only indirectly associated with release and deployment management.

Release lifecycle management casts a wider net than release management, typically starting when the release is first named too long after the name falls into disuse. So, for example, a marketing release could begin with a planning phase that occurs long before anyone even starts working on the code.

Naturally, the teams must track such a far-ranging process through all its phases. That means applying the requisite resources and placing release and deployment windows on the calendar.

6 Steps to a Successful Release Management Process?

Here are the steps most associated with the release management process.

  • Request: The process begins with recommendations for changes or new features to existing functions, though there's no guarantee that the team will act on every request. Next, the team evaluates each request for feasibility, reasons for existing, and if there's a way to fulfill it by reconfiguring the existing version.
  • Plan: This step is critical in the release's evolution because it defines its structure. A solid plan ensures that the release team satisfies all requirements and stays on track. This stage also covers creating or reusing a checklist or workflow that stakeholders can refer to during the entire release process. The workflow should cover the scope, milestones, and responsibilities.
  • Design and Build: Here's where the requirements are converted to code. Then, the team designs and builds the release into executable software.
  • Testing: Once the release is ready for testing, the team deploys it to a test environment. Next, the release gets subjected to non-functional and functional testing; this includes user acceptance testing, or UAT for short. If the testing process discovers any bugs, the release is sent back to developers to address the problems and then tested again. This repetitive process continues until the release is finally approved for production deployment by the development team and the application’s owner.
  • Deployment: The release is sent to the live environment and made accessible to users. Deployment not only installs the release but also educates users on any changes and trains them on operating the system, considering the new features.
  • Post-Deployment: Finally, the release goes to the support phase. Again, bugs are recorded, eventually necessitating requests for changes. Thus, the cycle begins anew.

The Internal Workings of Software Release Management

We’ve seen what the release management workflow looks like, but now let’s take a brief look at the individual components that make up the typical release management process.

  • Release Pipeline 

    The entire release process for the product in question, from feature planning to final delivery
  • Release Value Stream 

    The release processes that generate or increase value throughout the release pipeline
  • Release Policy 

    This policy defines the organization’s release types, standards, and governance requirements
  • Release Template 

    A single workflow process for the release pipeline featuring all automated and human interaction and adheres to the business’s release policies. The template is repeatable
  • Deployment Plan 

    This plan names the activities needed to deploy the release to the production environment
  • Release Unit

    A set of artifacts that are released together to implement a given feature
  • Release Package 

    One or more release units combined and deployed together as a single release
  • Major Release 

    Release packages composed of many release units and deployed infrequently. Major releases often have a critical or significant business impact
  • Minor Release 

    Release packages deployed more frequently than major releases, containing fewer release units and lacking mission-critical components
  • Release Manager 

    Not so much a component as a position, release managers schedule, coordinate and maintain the releases across the organization, handling multiple applications. Release managers also assist in project management, manage risks, resolve issues, conduct release readiness reviews, and report to the CIO, CTO, and business management.

What Are the Objectives and Benefits of Release Management?

Release management’s objectives provide valuable dividends to an organization’s app production process. Here is a list of the goals and resulting benefits of implementing the release management process:

  • Release management increases the amount of successful releases by a business
  • Release management reduces issues and problems with quality
  • Release management improves communication, coordination, and productivity
  • Release management enables a business to deliver software faster while mitigating risks
  • Release management helps streamline and standardize both the development and operation processes. This benefit allows teams to gain valuable lessons from experience and apply them to future projects
  • Increased cooperation results in fewer surprises and offers more opportunities to resolve configuration issues between the operating and development environments quickly
  • Release management helps the organization improve product delivery holistically by eliminating team barriers across the multiple functions within the company’s IT organization

All About Release Management Success Indicators

How do you know a release has been successful? You consult these indicators.

  • The release is deployed on time
  • The release stayed within budget
  • The update release has little to no impact on the original release’s current users
  • The release satisfies the needs of both current and new users, technological advances, and competitive demands.

You Don't Have to Begin at Square One

So your organization has become convinced of the need for a release management policy, where none has previously existed. Cheer up, you don’t have to start from nothing! Most organizations have at least some elements of release management embedded in their application management process. You can expand that information into a full-fledged release management framework.

Change Management vs. Release Management

Change management and release management are similar, even to the point of sharing some common elements, but there are profound differences. Change management focuses on authorizing changes to controlled environments, usually through a change approval board. Release management chiefly focuses on providing a project with a schedule and execution plans.

Let’s take a closer look at them.

Change Management

The primary function of change management is to standardize the methods your team uses and the procedures it will follow to handle every change efficiently and quickly. The change management process governs and introduces changes to the configuration items in the organization’s live-production environment. By standardizing these efforts, the team can mitigate the effects of change-related incidents that could otherwise negatively affect service quality.

Release Management

On the other hand, release management primarily focuses on how changes flow through pre-production environments, ultimately resulting in the successful release and deployment of any changes into the production IT environment and causing as little disruption as possible. Series of changes are grouped into releases based on commonly defined characteristics among the group changes. Release management strives to create a more predictable and proactive change management process.

Three Ways to Improve Agility by Structuring Your Release Management Process

Now let’s explore the three primary requirements for improving your release management process.

Standardizing Governance

Standardization makes automation possible, and automation dramatically improves efficiency. Automation handles time-consuming, repetitive tasks, making the team more productive, saving money and time, and reducing human error.

Real-Time Monitoring and Reporting

One of the essential elements of agile is the necessity of constantly monitoring a project and providing regular progress reports. Otherwise, you may invest considerable money and time into a critical project, only to discover that you missed the mark too late.

Agile projects are broken down into sprints, requiring at least one objective. At the end of a sprint, the team judges any progress made against those objectives. The optimum way to do this is with day-to-day contact and interactions between the team members, though processing customer feedback also helps.

Requirements Traceability

Requirements traceability is defined as the systematic linkage that allows teams to follow business requirements and their related validation and fulfillment. This process includes tracking the requirements backward and forwards.

Thus, you can start following business requirements beginning back to their origins. You can then follow the business requirement through the entire development process and specification, then continue doing so through their subsequent release and deployment. If you continue beyond this, you can reach the requirements’ point of use and even further on to their ongoing refinement.

This process is labor-intensive, but automation (see the first requirement!) can help with that.

Interested to begin your ITIL career? Test your skills with these ITIL 4 Practice Exam Questions. Try answering now!

Do You Want a Career in Service Management?

Businesses today need service management to maximize their value by effectively using information technology.  ITIL, an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is a highly popular set of detailed IT service management practices.

Simplilearn offers an ITIL 4 Foundation certification training course that provides you with a solid understanding of the ITIL 4 framework, core concepts, and terminologies used in the ITIL service lifecycle. By the end of this course, you will understand how ITIL evolved to adopt modern technologies, operational processes, and the necessary concepts in a service management framework.

Whether you choose corporate training, self-paced learning, or Simplilearn’s famous Blended Learning course, you will enjoy 19 Professional Development Units (PDUs) for self-paced learning, 22 PDUs for online classes, 30 chapter-end quizzes, a pair of industry case studies, two simulation exams, and a certification exam voucher.

A solutions architect can earn an annual average of USD 110,663, according to Glassdoor, with a high of USD 143,000. Since new apps are in greater demand, companies need more professionals to design increasing numbers of software releases, which in turn requires service management professionals. So, if you’re looking for an exciting position that offers plenty of security and generous benefits, check out Simplilearn today and take that first step in a better career!

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