Standard ITIL Process Activities
Now that you understand how to define and document a process, it is time to think specifically about change and release management. As stated in Chapter 1, "Change and Release Management: Better Together," these processes are intimately linked. We will consider them separately here because in all likelihood, you will be defining them separately, but throughout this section as well as the rest of the book, examples will point out the linkages between these process areas.
Almost every organization has a change management process in place already, whether or not it is aligned with ITIL best practices. Surprisingly, most change management processes are similar at the highest level. This happens because there is really a basic flow that works for almost everyone, and that is exactly the high level suggested by the service transition volume of ITIL. This basic flow is shown in Figure 3.2.
Figure 3.2 Change management follows a standard high-level flow.
The change flow begins with someone proposing a change. This person is called the change requester, and his or her proposal is called a request for change (RFC). The RFC is documented using a set of standard fields, most likely in a change management tool, but sometimes just on paper.
After the RFC has been documented, the evaluation stage begins. Evaluation can be very simple or somewhat elaborate. The most basic form of evaluation is someone looking at the documented RFC and deciding whether it makes sense to proceed with making the proposed change. Some organizations split this decision into a technical evaluation, aimed at making sure the change is technically feasible, and a business evaluation, designed to assess the business risks versus the potential rewards of the change. Throughout this book, you'll learn much more about ways to evaluate RFCs to determine whether to enact the changes they propose.
Assuming the evaluation is positive, the change gets woven into the operational schedule. This can be a complex task, depending on the size of the environment and the number of changes happening near the same time. You must consider the urgency of making the change, any available maintenance windows for the environment being changed, other business activities needing the resources that are being changed, and several other factors. The change is eventually placed into the operational schedule, known in ITIL terms as the forward schedule of change (FSC). Normally a change is scheduled with a specific start date and time, as well as a specific end date and time, so that others will know exactly when the change will be finished.
After scheduling, the next major step in the process flow is implementation. Some preparation activities may take place before the start date and time, but normally implementation starts when the schedule indicates that it should. A change may be implemented successfully, or the implementation may fail. Failed changes may be retried, or perhaps the change may be backed out to restore the environment to its state before the change was attempted. Besides the actual change itself, the status of the change as either successful or failed is the most important aspect of implementation.
After implementation is complete, the process concludes with a review of the change. If the change is successful, this review may be very brief. For failed changes, the review normally includes much more detail, including a recovery plan to indicate how the change will be retried later with a greater likelihood of success.
Based on their needs, different organizations will emphasize different aspects of this basic cycle. I've worked with organizations that separated evaluation into separate steps of evaluation and then approval. I've seen organizations that did hardly any review, even of failed changes. Frequently the request and documentation are combined into a single step. It isn't necessary that you have the same number of high-level steps as ITIL, but it is very important that you think through each part of this high-level flow and determine how they will be handled by your change management process.
Release and Deployment Management
The official name for release management in the service transition book gives some indication of the emphasis of the process—it is called "Release and Deployment Management." The emphasis is very much on the rollout of new or significantly modified services into the environment.
You should be aware of two levels of activity when thinking of the release management high-level flow. One set of activities occurs once per service and makes high-level plans for the entire life cycle of the service. This macro-level planning involves determining the overall business goals of the service, managing risks associated with the service, and evolving the architecture and design for the services. Some of the key issues settled at the higher level include how many releases or projects will be used to initially deploy the service, how often the service will be enhanced with new features, what cost model will be used to fund the service, and when to retire the service. This higher level involves strategic thinking and long-range planning.
At the same time, each service will be broken into a series of individual projects called releases. Each release adds incremental function to the overall service and represents a separately deployed part of the service. At the lower level, release management is about orchestrating these releases through a cycle that includes planning, building, testing, and deploying the necessary components. Normally each release is a project, involving a project team, a scope, a design, and a project plan of its own.
ITIL would say that the top level is called "service design" and is described in the book by that name, and that the lower level is properly called "release and deployment management." For the purposes of your implementation, however, it is almost impossible to achieve the lower level without a solid understanding of the higher level, so you should plan to include both in your release management process document, as shown in Figure 3.3.
Figure 3.3 Release management spans both service design and service transition.
At the lower level, release management is much like traditional IT project planning. Actually, many organizations leverage the same process for both project management and deployment management because they are so similar. If your project management process covers a full life cycle, including planning, designing, building, testing, deployment, early support, and transition to full support, you can also use it for the lower-level process of release management.