Strategic changes and new deployments in all growing businesses are expected. So by design, businesses need to be adaptive to new changes. When such transformations are being undertaken, organizations need to continue preserving their infrastructures while complying with pre-defined timelines. To efficiently manage such deployments, organizations make use of ITIL concepts like change and release management.

While business operators see change management and release management processes as a single entity of the same value-chain that produces incremental end-results, IT teams are often the ones asking critical questions about their demarcation.

Common queries that come up are how are the processes different, which process is vital for transformations, what are the common grounds for them, and when should what process be implemented.

Before we delve into understanding the difference between change and release management and assigning order and execution principles to either of these two processes, it is important to understand each one as a standalone process.

What is Change Management?

ITIL change management is the standardized process of planning and handling changes like addition, modification or removal of anything that could have an impact on the IT infrastructure with an institutionally defined workflow.

It is critical for an organization to ensure it has standardized change management processes because every change brings a slew of possible system failures.

Hence, to have minimum disruptions in a live infrastructure and achieve the desired result of implementing a change, a systematic change management process has to be established and followed.

The change management process includes:

1. Change Identification: Technicians or employees recognize a change that is needed and create a request in the system.
2. Change Planning & Assessment: Technicians prepare execution plans in line with timelines for implementing the change after careful evaluation and recognize what resources will be needed.
3. Change Implementation: Once the change implementation process begins, checks are performed to see whether desired results are being accomplished or whether modifications are needed.
4. Change Review & Closure: After the change implementation process is completed, it is reviewed to see whether the changes made are implemented as per requirement. If yes, then the request is closed.

What is Release Management?

The ITIL release management process focuses on ensuring that the IT teams can produce value for the organization by releasing the necessary technological upgradations or entirely new services with diligent planning, scheduling, testing, and deployment.

Here is how a conventional release management process unfolds:

1. Release Management Support and Submission: Release requests go from the technicians to the release manager. Preliminary analysis and approvals are made at this stage.

2. Release Planning: The release engineer works on the release manager’s brief to create a scope of the release plan that includes a timeline, phased rollout & back-out plan if necessary, and scenario analysis for potential risk identification.

3. Release Approval and Build: The drafted proposal is studied and approved or edited by the release manager. Once this is achieved, the necessary technology stack, vendor, and other authorizations are brought on board. The release engineer creates the KPIs on which the release will be evaluated. The release production begins only after these KPIs and prerequisites are identified and acknowledged by everyone involved in the process.

4. Release Testing and Deployment: A Quality Assurance manager or a team is assigned to evaluate the release as per the earlier determined KPIs. After it has been actively tested, the QA team gives green light for deployment. Deployment is always executed in phases to mitigate and isolate the risks pertinent to each release.

5. Release Review and Closing: A release reviewer is assigned to study the impact of the entire release package and its modules. If any revisions or reengineering is necessary, it is done at this stage on the release reviewer’s recommendation. Once the entire release is deployed and reviewed, the process is closed.

Key Differences Between Change and Release Management

The primary difference between change and release management is that change management is a risk mitigation process. Since the impact of the change can be across functions and business verticals, change management processes are engineered to minimize or remove disruption. This makes change management a more strategic process.

Release management is concerned more with how the releases or updates will be engineered and deployed. Most of the processes entailed in the release management cycle are more operational to rapidly and consistently deploy services to end-users.

This table highlights the stark and subtle differences between Change and Release Management:

Change Management Release Management
Associated with minimizing disruptions during a change Associated with building, testing, and deploying releases
Exists on a Strategic Level with a focus on risk mitigation Exists on an operational level with a focus on the deployment of the release package
Every change does not cause a release Releases can entail one or more changes
Post execution, an impact study is conducted to assess the effect of the change Version Control processes are implemented after the release.
Scheduled changes Long-standing release windows

Cohesive Execution of Change and Release Management

Like we mentioned earlier, the change management process is all about including, altering or eliminating something without any disruptions to a live environment.

Release management, on the other hand, is a well-rounded process that can manage numerous changes in one deployment. But as enterprises grow, the line between these two processes becomes blurry as changes are faced at a higher rate.

To collectively use change and release management, releases should be made a part of the change schedule. It is better to conceptualize both the processes in a way that their interaction flow is well-defined.

Here is how you can proficiently use change and release management together:

Identify and Outline the Scope

Development and management teams can often bring in changes that do not possess a strategic rationale. Even if certain changes add value, they can often cause distress to the IT infrastructure.

So a comprehensive plan that clearly presents who would be affected by the change along with a cost-benefit analysis must be made. The best way to understand that no resource is being underutilized is by assessing the inside perspective and looking at the external landscape.

Additionally, as part of change assessment, releases should also be outlined and associated with the change management process. The layout should comprise of build and test plan as well as a release schedule.

Unify Scheduling and Create a Comprehensive Communication Plan

For a well-rounded IT strategy in an organization, schedules are made giving precedence to releases. But of course, unforeseen IT changes can come up at any time. For this reason, the change schedule should be integrated with the release schedule to handle any unanticipated disturbances.

Moreover, getting hit by sudden changes can disrupt employee productivity. Once the plan to create a systemic change is in place, it should be communicated with every stakeholder in the process. The implementation timeline and the change’s purpose are the key parts that should not be missed out in the communication plan.

Define the Roles of Engagement

To make the systemic change process successful, the roles of the change management team must be well-defined. Also, collaborative inputs should be captured from the release team. This will be possible only if the team is a part of the larger CAB team. That way, establishing causality for success or failure of a change becomes easier.

Track the KPIs

Although the KPIs are established right when the release is planned, they need to be tracked and reported throughout the process to get a clear idea about the outcomes of each implemented change. Moreover, incident and problem management KPIs can be also be used for framing the review process. This will help in better adapting to changes in the future.

In Conclusion

ITIL change management and release management are two quite different processes. But using them concurrently can help avoid unexpected issues and vulnerabilities. Using change management together with release management to develop an effective and adaptive IT strategy also leads to rapid implementations and speedy recovery, ensuring user satisfaction.