Change Management vs. Release Management: What’s the Difference?

Change management vs. release management … what’s the difference?

There is a difference between these two terms when it comes to IT services.

Also, “change management” can cause some confusion because it can refer to either organizational change management or IT services change management.

Below, we’ll define these concepts in detail, including:

  • ITIL change management
  • ITIL release management
  • Organizational change management

Understanding these distinctions is a must for professionals involved in IT, IT services, or organizational change.

Change management vs. release management … how are they different?

Let’s start with release management:

What Is IT Release Management?

Release management is a discipline within software development dedicated to managing and releasing new software versions:

  • Planning
  • Scheduling
  • Management
  • Testing
  • Deployment

It may also entail other responsibilities, such as communications with stakeholders and users.

Release management is an IT function and is included within the ITIL framework.

However, not all businesses follow this framework. They may have release management departments that go by the same name, but use different procedures and processes.

Below, we will cover a quick overview of the ITIL approach to release management.

Release Management in ITIL

ITIL is a framework, or guide, for managing IT services.

It is a complex, detailed approach to IT Services Management (ITSM) that is accepted and implemented around the world.

Release management and deployment within ITIL is a practice that aims to follow the same goals mentioned above.

ITIL release management is a component of software implementation.

Its sub-processes include:

  • Release Management Support – Providing guidelines and support for release deployment.
  • Release Planning – Assigning authorized changes to release packages, defining the scope of releases, and creating release schedules.
  • Release Build – Issuing work orders and purchase requests to create the build.
  • Release Deployment – Deploying the release into live production, providing training, and issuing documentation.
  • Early Life Support – Resolve early operational problems.
  • Release Closure – Formally close a release.

As with other processes in ITIL, release management follows a well-defined pipeline.

This set of processes is easy to follow and customize, which is one reason ITIL has become so popular.

Change Management in ITIL

Release management is one of the many management practices included within ITIL.

Here are a few others:

  • Strategy management
  • Risk management
  • Problem management
  • Change control
  • Service configuration management
  • Change management

ITIL change management aims at controlling and implementing changes, while minimizing the impact on IT services.

Sub-processes for ITIL change management include:

  • Change Management Support – Provide guidance, templates, and support for changes.
  • Assessment of Change Proposals – Identify possible issues before developing activities.
  • RFC Logging and Review – Evaluate the feasibility or necessity of change requests.
  • Emergency Change Assessment and Implementation – A process for implementing changes quickly, if needed.
  • Change Assessment – The ITIL change manager can authorize low-level changes, reject change requests, or pass them along to the change advisory board.

There are several more sub-processes within ITIL change management.

As with every other ITIL process, change management is a straightforward roadmap that is easy to grasp and implement.

However, there can be some confusion around “change management.” 

ITSM is not the only business function to use this term…

ITIL Change Management vs. Organizational Change Management

Change management is also used to describe a business discipline that is totally separate from ITSM-related change management.

Organizational change management is an interdisciplinary field that:

  • Manages organizational change initiatives. Organizational changes refer to any business change that impacts people, processes, systems, operations, or any other business area. Examples include restructuring, digital technology adoption, or strategic changes.
  • Assesses and mitigates risk. No organizational change comes without risk – effectively managing that risk is critical to project success. 
  • Handles the “human side” of change management. Organizational changes require the adoption of new practices, processes, workflows, and more. Any such change will affect people, who can either hinder or help that change take place.
  • Trains and onboards new employees. Employee training and onboarding are crucial processes in change management. Without skills, employees can’t make change happen.
  • Overcomes barriers to change. There are many obstacles to organizational change, ranging from employee resistance to budget constraints. Change managers account for these and take measures to prevent them.

Among other things.

Today, this discipline has become more relevant than ever.

Digital disruption is spurring digital transformation on a global scale, compelling many companies to evolve and adopt new digital technologies.

Final Note

There are clear differences between release management and change management within ITIL.

Likewise, there are clear differences between ITIL change management and organizational change management.

It is worth noting that ITIL’s guidelines occasionally overlap with those of organizational change management.

CIOs and IT professionals should work closely with change practitioners and executives to ensure these responsibilities are appropriately assigned.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.