Have you ever faced questions like “when will we be done?” or “which features will be released to our customers and when?” or “how much will this cost?”
Creating a solid release plan will help you answer all of these questions and more.
What is Agile Release Planning?
In Agile, a release is a group of software features that can be developed and deployed to the users in a given period. Let’s start by sorting out the term “release plan” because saying the word “plan” to an agile team is a little like saying “mouse” to a room full of elephants, meaning you can expect a lot of resistance over something that shouldn’t be scary at all.
Adding more plans and meetings to an Agile team can seem like a slowdown which feels scary given that Agile is all about speed and deployments. But there is danger in constantly deploying new product features as they are developed. You can become so feature-focused that you forget about the overall vision and strategy for your product’s success. The truth is, most Agile teams would be better served if they created a release plan.
In this post, we’ll talk about why that’s true and how you can take an agile approach to release planning, i.e. retain flexibility while still accounting for the needs of your stakeholders.
Because software projects can be unpredictable, release planning helps team members prioritize their work. It also focuses on preparing specific product features for market release. It must define the scope of work, the release date to complete the features, and the resources required for each release. We can imagine that the product under construction is like building a house; first, you set the foundation, then build the structure, the walls, and then give the finishing touches.
How is the Release Plan Different?
Release planning comes after you’ve outlined the product vision & roadmap.
Why is Release Planning Necessary?
Developing a release plan is essential because it helps the Product Manager plan which product increments get released to the market and when. A release plan provides transparency across organizations and ensures that the product moves in the right direction, connecting strategy and tactics. Collaboration between the product and development teams will establish clear, specific, and measurable goals. The concept of “Release” helps the team focus, gives them context, and avoids drifting aimlessly from one iteration to another.
How Do You Plan a Release?
The plan mapping process should begin at a release planning meeting where all relevant stakeholders can be aligned. The people involved in agile release planning include:
- Scrum Master: leads and facilitates the team
- Product Owner: manages the product backlog and ensures user stories are relevant
- Scrum Team: offer valuable insights into the work and project dependencies
- Stakeholders: share valuable feedback and necessary approvals
Assuming we know the product’s vision and have a prioritized backlog, here are the steps to make an agile release plan:
- Schedule a release plan meeting
- Break releases into sprints or iterations
- Set a deadline for the release
- Share the release schedule with your team and stakeholders
- Keep on updating and improving the plan
We can use user story mapping or impact mapping to determine what functionalities of our product should be developed while considering the viability of these features and functionalities as a finished product on the market.
The next step is to create estimates for the functionality to aid in building your release plan, taking into consideration the overall planned team size and expected velocity.
Mistakes to Avoid
Avoid these bad habits when release planning:
- Viewing the plan as a contract: Ensure you manage expectations and sprints are achievable.
- Using the plan to pressure the team: Involve the team when choosing items and estimating scope.
- Not reviewing and updating the plan: Be agile & iterate continuously.
- Not respecting the definition of done: Have acceptance criteria for each item in the release and the overall release.
- Releasing for the sake of releasing: Avoid technical debt and only release work that is “done.”
- Not improving the release process: Have clear ownership defined over the release process and always look for opportunities to improve the overall process.
When to Use Release Planning?
Release planning is highly beneficial in several situations:
- Creating complex business solutions over a long period of time
- Developing high-quality requirements with extensive trial periods
- Dealing with product dependencies or functionalities that add value when released together
- Responding to commitments made to end-users
- Responding to emerging needs and competitive threats
In general, release planning is helpful as it allows organizations to make informed decisions: Essentially, it’s a prioritized list of what will be delivered to the market and when.
Release planning also leads to a strong alignment by increasing commitment and communication between stakeholders and development teams. Additionally, it works like a topographic map, to allow tracing a route towards the project objective and thus helping the agile development team.
When Not to Use Release Planning?
There are also situations where it may not be valuable to create a release plan:
- It is possible to successfully use Scrum without utilizing release planning. Not needing release planning may be a positive indicator of a product’s health.
- Using release planning can delay the delivery of value and customer feedback.
- With mature development practices and solid rollout strategies, the delivery of value can occur every Sprint.
- The processes to release usable increments can be cumbersome and time-consuming.
- Release planning can justify maintaining heavy processes instead of optimizing development.
Agile release planning is your key to successfully completing and delivering end products.
You can’t be too rigid in your planning or fail to account for the stops along the way. On the other hand, you can’t just set off for the horizon without a roadmap and expect to end up where you want. If you bring your Agile mindset to a release plan meeting, you can adapt to change and plan for detours without losing sight of your destination.