ITIL change management versus release management

Change & Release Management – It’s Complicated!

Written by on March 6, 2018

       New implementations are inevitable for any business to grow. It is important to complete committed changes on time. But, it is equally important to maintain environmental stability and mitigate risk. There is an ongoing debate among IT professionals whether to combine ITIL Change management and release management.

Though, ITIL change and release management belong to the same value stream, there are specific responsibilities for these two processes.

       With Continuous Integration, CI and Continuous Delivery CD, time to market has shortened and time to value has improved. Before jumping into the solution, let us look at some of the common questions around these two processes.

“Are change and release management the same?”

“Which of these processes comes first?”

“Do they have overlapping roles and responsibilities?”

“Which is more important to follow?”

Let us discuss a brief overview of change and release management, how they are different from each other, association between these two, real world examples and the approach to effective implementation.

ITIL Change management – “It is the quality control process that sets the stage ready by assessing, planning and getting the right approvals for deployment of one or multiple changes and this ensures minimal disruption to live environment”.

ITIL Release management – “It takes care of the actual “doing” of deploying approved changes. Release management involves building, testing and batching of one or more changes while maintaining the integrity of ongoing services”  

Examples – Server installations, changes to SLA, router modifications, deploying a patch, changes to infrastructure components.

Change vs Release Management

    Though there are commonalities, there are specific activities that are owned by each of these teams whose objectives are different. Some of the common differences between change and release management are explained below.

Change versus release management differences

Interaction flow

Each of these processes involves multiple stages to collaborate and ensures low risk & impact to current working state. Let us discuss the association between these processes.

  • ITIL Change management takes care of pre-release activities and release is a part of overall change lifecycle.
  • Change planning assesses the type of change, risk, impact and schedule the change based on the assessment. Include release details at the planning stage for better context.
  • Post deployment, change management takes care of the Post Implementation Review (PIR) and Continual Service Improvement (CSI).


  • Immigration & security vs boarding a flight – Change management is similar to immigration and security check that includes assessment, evaluation and authorization activities. Boarding a flight is like release management which is the actual journey from source to destination 

change vs release management

  • Pre-launch vs launch pad – Pre-launch activities are similar to change management tasks. Preparing the rocket launch pad through validation and testing. Release management is similar to the actual rocket launch.

change vs release management


The Blended Approach

     It is inevitable that ITIL change management and release management go hand in hand. Change management acts as an input to release management that delivers the desired output. They both are closely tied with each other that the change team requires information from release team to proceed further. Therefore, involve both the teams right from planning phase to avoid any conflicts in the future.

Bundled changes & releases

Combined workflow One change to one release Change and release management are combined when there is one to one relationship i.e. a single change that needs to be deployed in one release, suitable for smaller projects. Workflows and processes could be combined here to optimize resources. However, CAB approval is essential depending on the type of change. For example, standard changes are pre-approved changes that do not go through CAB approval process and emergency changes do not follow the conventional workflow.

change management combined workflow

Bundled changes – Many changes to one release – Multiple changes are bundled to a single release window and deployed as a bundle. Planning and change control activities are crucial for these types of bundled changes. Change evaluation and planning happen individually for every change record.

Example – Bug fixes and enhancements to a large application such as ERP requires multiple changes to be bundled and deployed in one release window.

Bundled releasesOne change to many releases A single change is associated to multiple releases. ITIL Change management and release management workflows are separate due to its complexity. Deployment to production happens after completing the final release. Manage development, test and production environments individually to mitigate risk. However, testing happens at every stage and requires approval to push every release.

Example – SAP Implementation

5 Tips to get started

Here are some hands on tips to maintain the synergy between change and release management.

Set clear roles for Change and Release manager – Share a detailed documentation with assessment criteria, CAB process guidelines and mutual responsibilities. Clarify roles & responsibilities of change and release manager, point of interaction to avoid any potential conflict.

Ensure Information consistency – Release planning is a part of change evaluation and includes information about build plan, test plan and release schedule. Associate Release Work In Progress (WIP) within change management process.

Involve release team members – Include release management team as a part of CAB. This helps CAB to know the right information about the planned release. Change takes care of the Post Implementation Review (PIR) but involve release team members as well who are responsible for the actual implementation. Higher the complexity of change, longer the time it takes for review.

Consolidate scheduling – Merge your forward change schedule with release schedule to follow a holistic approach. Prioritize releases and fix the schedule accordingly. This may include any emergency change or urgent customer commitment.

Integrate Project management with Release management – Project management enables release team to plan and deploy releases effectively through better collaboration among project members and staying up to date with the progress across the team. Releases are broken down into different projects. Create multiple tasks and assign to every team member for proper allocation. 


    ITIL Change management and release management process flows are definitely not the same but can be accommodated based on organization’s need and requirement. This blended approach enables businesses to follow a DevOps philosophy in managing deployments efficiently. Let us not follow processes blindly rather understand and adapt them based on our business model. Bringing change and release management closer would help businesses to improve performance, time to market and reduce risk.

Change & Release management - United they thrive, divided they fail. Click To Tweet


Get in on pro tips and hacks to transform ITSM.