What Is Release Management? (And How to Start Your Career in It)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about release management and how you can become a competitive candidate in this career field.

[Featured Image] A person interested in release management examines code on multiple computer screens.

What is release management?

Release management is the process of overseeing the software development lifecycle (SDLC). It is one of the main processes of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) framework. It includes leading the planning, designing, testing, deploying, and releasing phases of software product development. Release management is essential to the SDLC. It ensures that the development team meets business requirements and delivers high-quality software.

Release management vs. change management

Release management and change management are closely related. Often, people use these terms interchangeably, but they are different. Although they have similarities, release management and change management also have several distinguishing features. You can use the chart below to compare and contrast the two.

Release managementChange management
Operational processGovernance process
ITIL framework processITIL framework process
The focus is on executing the phases of the SDLC.The focus is on quality control and obtaining change approval from stakeholders.
It always results in a release that incorporates changes.It may not result in a release.

The release management process

The release management process is often depicted as linear, but it is more like an iterative process. Each phase of the release process can be repeated as needed. The list below outlines each phase of the release management process.

1. Plan. During the planning phase of the release management process, the project's scope is defined, and all necessary authorizations happen. The release manager will also solidify a release schedule for the development team to follow. 

2. Build. In release management, the build phase refers to the execution of development and design plans. Release activities during this phase may include configuration management and rollout planning.

3. Test. Once the release is ready for testing, the engineering team will deploy it to a test environment for bug identification. If necessary, the release will return to the developers for fixes.

4. Deploy. When the issues that arose during testing have been resolved, the product is ready for deployment in the production environment. Here, the release will be made available to users. End-user training occurs during the deploy phase of the release management process.

5. Maintain. Post-deployment monitoring is essential to the quality of software releases. This phase of release management requires the release team to record and report any defects in the release.

What does a release manager do?

A release manager is similar to a DevOps engineer. However, release managers focus primarily on the development team, the release process, and the technical specifications of a software product. In contrast, DevOps engineers also orchestrate collaboration among the entire organization. Core responsibilities for roles in release management include:

  • Scheduling releases to ensure they are delivered on time

  • Coordinating resources to ensure the project remains within the given budget

  • Facilitating collaboration among members of the development and quality assurance (QA) teams

  • Strategizing the use of release management tools and techniques

  • Tracking and reporting project progression to the appropriate parties

Release manager salary and job outlook

Release managers belong to the occupational field of computer and information technology. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this industry are expected to grow much faster than average between 2022 and 2032 [1]. That statistic translates into about 377,500 new jobs. The median total pay for a release manager in the United States is $139,833 [2]. $115,405 of that figure represents the average release manager salary, while the other $24,429 is the reported additional annual wage. Additional wages may include bonuses, commissions, or profit-sharing.


Roles in release management often require a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or a related field. Some employers may prefer candidates with a Master of Computer and Information Technology. According to Zippia, 70 percent of release managers hold a bachelor's degree, 19 percent hold a master's degree, and 8 percent have an associate degree [3]. Additional qualifications include certifications or training in relevant areas of study. For example, Google offers a Professional Certificate in Agile Project management.

How to become a release manager

The role of a release manager requires high-level technical knowledge and the mastery of several non-technical skills. It's easy to feel overwhelmed if you're new to the field, but remember that many release managers begin without the skills below. As you work through basic concepts, the advanced disciplines will become easier. Also, some of the skills you already possess will likely help you gain the ones you don't yet have.

Gain the essential skills.

  • Strong knowledge of digital project management. Release managers often use techniques and tools from various software project management disciplines. For example, DevOps, Agile development, Scrum, and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) are beneficial methodologies for an aspiring release manager to learn. You can enhance your knowledge of digital project management through online courses like the University of Virginia’s Digital Project Management Specialization.

  • Software development expertise. A release manager must have a thorough understanding of computer programming, system architecture, and the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

  • Team management skills. Release managers should have a considerable amount of experience with people management. Interpersonal skills are as vital a component of release management as technical proficiency. 

Enhance your resume.

It’s important to present yourself to employers as a competitive candidate. There are several ways to enhance your release management resume. For example, you may consider browsing job listings to learn about the most in-demand skills for release managers. You can also demonstrate your abilities and earn certifications in relevant areas of study. 

Read more: 10 Ways to Enhance Your Resume

Sharpen your release management skills with Coursera

Take the first step toward your career in release management by earning a certificate in Software Project Management from the University of Alberta. In this course series, you'll learn Agile and Scrum project management methods and how to interact confidently with clients, shareholders, and development teams.

Or, focus on building job-ready skills while working toward a certificate from an industry leader in technology with Google's Project Management Professional Certificate program. You'll learn to build Scrum artifacts, implement Scrum events, and build a foundational understanding of Agile project management. By the end, you'll have practiced strategic communication, stakeholder management, and project documentation throughout each project phase.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Computer and Information Technology, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm.” Accessed December 20, 2023.

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