ITIL 4 Release Management & Deployment Management

Release management vs. deployment management: objectives, key components, benefits, & integration with other ITIL practices.

Overview: Two separate and dependent Practices

In ITIL 41, Axelos presents Release Management and Deployment Management as two separate and distinct Practices that play vital roles in managing the release and deployment of IT services and software changes.
Since ITIL’s beginning in 1989, there has been one ITIL Practice called Release and Deployment Management. With the revision to ITIL 4, ITIL split one Practice into two because they fundamentally play two roles — they work at two different times in the service life cycle and involve two different skill sets. Release is a Service Management Practice, while Deployment is a Technical Management Practice.

Release vs. Deployment

Release Management is a Practice that focuses on planning, coordinating, and controlling the build and test of a release of new or updated IT services, applications, and infrastructure components into a secure library, where it is ready to be moved to the live operational environment by Deployment Management.
Deployment Management is a Practice that takes fully tested releases from their secure development library to the live, supported environment. This includes operational support documentation and training, user promotion, deployment planning, and early life support for the operations staff.
This article examines the specific aspects of Release Management vs. Deployment Management, exploring their objectives, key components, integration with other Practices, and the benefits of implementing them separately. Organizations can optimize their release and deployment processes by understanding these Practices' distinct roles and responsibilities, enhancing service quality, and minimizing risks from development to supported operational environments.

The importance of ITIL 4 Release Management and Deployment Management as separate Practices

ITIL 4 recognizes Release Management and Deployment Management as distinct Practices with separate focuses and objectives. This separation allows organizations to achieve greater clarity and precision in managing the release and deployment of IT services and software changes. Organizations can optimize their Release and Deployment Practices, minimize risks, and enhance overall service quality by understanding each Practice's unique responsibilities and goals.

Release and Deployment Practices are part of the Service Transition Lifecycle

ITIL Service Transition Lifecycle Flow
After approval from Change Enablement, Project Management creates the project with support from several Practices. The above diagram shows the various Practices and where they offer their expertise in alignment with the project goal.

The purpose of Release Management

To make new and changed services and features available for use.

Definition of a Release

A "release" is "a version of a service or other configuration item or a collection of configuration items made available for use".
A release may:
  • Have numerous cooperating infrastructural and application components or
  • Incorporate new or changed functionality or
  • Include documentation, training for users or support staff or
  • Processes and tools for supporting the service.

Release Management focus

ITIL 4 Release Management Practice focuses on planning, coordinating, and controlling the release of new or changed services and service components. It encompasses defining release policies, creating release packages, coordinating approvals, and managing the release schedule.
Release Management works with the Service Validation and Testing (SVT) Practice. SVT is an independent, unbiased Practice. It involves testing and validating releases (i.e., services, configurations, and other IT assets) to ensure quality, functionality, and performance.

The meaning of available for use, secure libraries, and secure stores

After Release Management completes building the release and Service Validation and Testing complete all levels of quality assurance, Release Management "moves" the release into a secure library that enables the release to be available for operational use. This means Deployment Management will find the new or changed service at a specific, secure location and move it into the live environment. Service providers should implement appropriate and auditable procedures for storing software and hardware and distributing it to live environments.

What is the Definitive Media Library (DML)?

The DML is a secure library where all media Configuration Items (CIs) are kept and safeguarded in their final authorized versions. The DML stores master copies of all versions that have passed quality assurance checks. It includes all purchased software (along with their license documents) and software developed on-site.

What is the Definitive Hardware Store (DHS)?

The definitive store is the secure storage of definitive authorized hardware spares. These could be spare components and assemblies maintained at the same revision level as the controlled test or live environment systems. They are recorded in the Configuration Management System (CMS). They may be used in the recovery from incidents. After their use is complete, they are either returned to the spares store or replaced.
Access to items in the secure library is restricted. Libraries control release components throughout the service lifecycle, e.g., design, building, testing, deployment, and operation, and are documented in the CMS. Moving a definitive spare into the live environment requires an approved Request for Change (RFC).

What is a Release Schedule?

With input from Deployment Management, Release Management is responsible for the release schedule. The schedule documents the agreed timing for releases. The release schedule typically includes:
  1. Release Identification: The release schedule includes unique identifiers or names for each release to distinguish them from one another.
  2. Release Dates: Planned dates for each release event, including the start and end dates of the release activities.
  3. Release Scope: The schedule outlines the scope of each release, describing the specific services, applications, or components that will be included in the release.
  4. Dependencies: The schedule identifies any dependencies between releases or other related activities.
  5. Release Owners and Roles: The schedule specifies the individuals or teams responsible for managing and executing each release. This includes the team or person to escalate deployment incidents or support.
  6. Deployment Window: The schedule includes information about the planned deployment window for each release.
  7. Communication Plan: The schedule outlines the communication plan for each release.
  8. Risk and Impact Assessment: The schedule may include each release's risk and impact assessment.
  9. Rollback and Backout Plans: The schedule may include rollback and backout plans for each release.
A Release Schedule provides a comprehensive overview of the planned releases, their timelines, scope, dependencies, and associated details. It serves as a valuable reference for stakeholders, enabling effective planning, coordination, and execution of release activities.

Release Post Implementation Review (RPIR)

A written review enables learning and improvements and helps to increase customer satisfaction, and is a standard, required exercise for the Continuous Improvement Practice.

The purpose of Deployment Management

ITIL 4 defines the purpose of Deployment Management as moving new or changed hardware, software, documentation, processes, or any other components to live environments in coordination with Release Management, Change Enablement, Service Validation, and Testing.
The Deployment Management Practice involves moving service components, such as software, hardware, or other configurations, stored in the secure libraries, into the target operational environments. It focuses on the tactical execution of deployment, such as plans, including building, configuring, and installing the components. Deployment Management aims to ensure that the actual deployment activities are carried out effectively and efficiently, adhering to the established release plans and minimizing any negative impact on service availability.

Deployment Management activities

While Release Management is mostly done in the development environment, Deployment Management is mostly done in the operations environment. Deployment works closely with the Organizational Change Management Practice to understand how to customize standard deployment activities to ensure acceptance and effectiveness. This includes:
  1. Change release assessment
  2. Change impact analysis
  3. Change planning and design
  4. Change communication and engagement
  5. Change implementation
  6. Early Life Support for operations staff and business users
  7. Change evaluation and review
  8. Change governance and control
  9. Change continual improvement

Early Life Support (ELS)

Deployment Management is responsible for the ELS for each deployment. ELS provides support and guidance to users and operational staff during the initial stages of a new or changed service's implementation. It is designed to ensure a smooth transition from project management or the development phase to live operations.
During the early stages of a service's lifecycle, when it is introduced or significantly modified, organizations often encounter issues related to its operation and performance. ELS helps address these challenges by providing proactive support to the service and its users, enabling them to quickly adapt and effectively utilize the new or changed service.
Essentially, with each deployment plan, Deployment Management negotiates with service operations the criteria for the deployment that is considered "Normal." For example, what is the normal number of phone calls to the Service Desk for the service before the release? Until that metric is met again, Deployment agrees to assist operational teams (i.e., Service Desk, Desktop Support, and IT Support) until a normal state is reached. The ultimate goal is a smooth transition for users and operations staff.
ELS focuses on:
  1. Smooth transition to operations.
  2. Stakeholders' engagement and communication.
  3. Incident and Problem Management support.
  4. Training and knowledge transfer to assist operations staff in learning new skills.
  5. Performance monitoring and optimization.
  6. Feedback collection and improvement.

Release and Deployment contributions to the Service Value Chain (SVC)

ITIL Practice Contribution to the Service Value Chain
In ITIL 4, SVC represents a core concept defining the various activities and processes involved in creating and delivering customer value through services. At the highest level, the SVC represents the ITIL Practice of Project Management. The SVC comprises interconnected value streams that support the overall service lifecycle. The value of the SVC lies in its ability to enable organizations to effectively and efficiently deliver value to their customers. The diagram above shows which ITIL 4 Practices support the 6 activities of the SVC.
ITIL 4 Release and Deployment Management Practices support the Service Value Chain by playing a crucial role in the Plan, Improve, and Engage value streams. It contributes to delivering valuable services and ensures they are successfully transitioned into operation while minimizing disruption and risk. Here's how Release and Deployment Management supports the SVC:
  1. "Plan" value stream

    In the Plan value stream, Release and Deployment Management are involved in strategic planning and decision making. It contributes to the service portfolio management process by providing insights into new or changed services' release and deployment requirements. This helps align the organization's service offerings with the business objectives and customer needs.
  2. "Improve" value stream

    Release and Deployment Management Practices support the Improve value stream by contributing to the continual improvement of services. It helps identify improvement opportunities based on feedback and lessons from previous releases and deployment activities. By analyzing data and performance metrics, Release and Deployment Management can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas of improvement in the release and deployment process, leading to enhanced service delivery.
  3. "Engage" value stream

    Release and Deployment Management are closely connected to the Engage value stream, as it interacts with various stakeholders throughout the service lifecycle. It engages with the service design and transition teams to ensure that new or changed services are effectively released and deployed into the operational environment. This includes coordinating with service owners, Service Desk, users, and other relevant parties to manage expectations, communicate changes, and minimize any adverse impacts on service availability.
  4. "Design & Transition" value stream

    Release and Deployment Practices contribute to Design & Transition by making sure that goods and services satisfy stakeholder requirements for cost, quality, and time to market.
  5. "Obtain & Build" value stream

    Release and Deployment Practices contribute to Obtain & Build by ensuring service components are available when and where needed and meet the agreed specification as specified in the Service Design Package.
  6. "Deliver & Support" value stream

    Release and Deployment Practices contribute to Deliver & Support by ensuring the continual improvement of products, services, and practices across all Value Chain activities.

The bottom line: 6 benefits of Release and Deployment Management

Understanding the differences between release vs. deployment helps ITSM organizations improve process flow and deployment plans. Implementing ITIL 4 Release Management and Deployment Management brings meaningful benefits and value to an organization:
  1. Improved Service Delivery: Release and Deployment Management ensures that changes and releases are properly planned, tested, and deployed. By following standardized processes and controls, organizations can enhance the quality and reliability of their service delivery. This leads to increased customer satisfaction and confidence in the IT services provided.
  2. Faster Time to Market: Effective Release and Deployment Management Practices enable organizations to deliver changes and releases quickly. Organizations can reduce lead times and accelerate the deployment of new functionalities and services by streamlining the processes and automating where possible. This allows businesses to respond more rapidly to customer needs and market demands.
  3. Minimized Business Disruptions: Release and Deployment Management helps minimize the impact of changes and releases on the live environment. Organizations can mitigate the risks associated with deploying changes by conducting thorough testing and having proper rollback plans. This reduces the likelihood of service disruptions and helps maintain business continuity.
  4. Enhanced Risk Management: ITIL 4 Release and Deployment Management promotes proactive risk Management. It involves assessing the potential impact of changes and releases, identifying dependencies, and planning appropriate mitigation strategies. Organizations can minimize the likelihood of adverse effects on services and systems by effectively managing risks throughout the release process.
  5. Increased Collaboration and Communication: Release and Deployment Management foster collaboration and communication among stakeholders, such as development teams, operations teams, and business units. Organizations can ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards successful releases by having clear communication channels and collaboration. This helps avoid misunderstandings, reduce conflicts, and promote a teamwork culture.
  6. Improved Change Control and Governance: Implementing Release and Deployment Management enables organizations to have better control and governance over the introduced changes. By enforcing standardized Change Management processes and release policies, organizations can ensure that all changes are authorized, tested, and deployed according to predefined guidelines. This helps maintain compliance, reduce unauthorized changes, and enhance governance practices.
Implementing ITIL 4 Release Management and Deployment Management brings efficiency, reliability, and control to introducing changes and releases. It supports organizations in delivering high-quality services, reducing risks, and maximizing the value of IT investments.
  1. ITIL Foundation ITIL 4 Edition, AXELOS Limited, February 2019
Bart Barthold

About the Author

Bart Barthold

Bart Barthold is an independent senior ITIL instructor with years of experience in combining ITIL knowledge with practical expertise in running a world-class support organization. He has earned the certificate for the highest level of ITIL training - IT Service Manager, holds an MBA, and he has taught various ITIL certifications and hundreds of students since 2004.
Bart is known for his outstanding performance in IT service management and is a recipient of the Help Desk Institute's prestigious Team Excellence Award in 1998. He also finished second in 1997, making him one of the most decorated IT service managers in the industry.
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