Regardless of whether it is part of a project management prototype or something else, the first step of any process is planning. Detailed planning takes you through numerous obstacles, and project goals are achieved to an early completion date. With efficient planning, you can control different project phases, identify risks and resolve them early, ensuring that the tasks are accomplished on time.
Product development is insanely difficult to predict for the long term and comes with thousands of unexpected work, stress, and risk that you need to overcome with the given deadlines. Often, product managers get bogged down with their team to deal with time-consuming meetings and inefficient resource collection, resulting in miscommunication.
Under this situation, it is obvious how so many projects face the absence of focus and clarity. At last, these processes build up frustration and headaches for developers and project managers, and the product releases may become over-budget over time and underperform many times.
At this stage, the only question running through your mind must be, how can you incorporate the release plan for successful software development? What are the elements to consider for the product roadmap? The answer to all these questions is Agile release planning.
Agile release planning is a product management technique that helps you with your software development and agile project plan. It acts as a project roadmap to provide the directions to your product goals and visions.
The release process in agile helps to focus on the roadmap leading to short-term goals. However, repeating the same process will ultimately allow you to achieve your final goal faster. As reported by PMI, lack of clearly defined goals is the most common factor for software failure, and hence, Agile release planning is the most crucial stage of product development.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps for creating successful Agile release planning and the elements of a product release map. Let us understand how to plan a release and implement it in the software development lifecycle.
What is Release Planning in Agile? Who Does it?
Agile release planning is a project management methodology that helps you plan your product’s incremental releases. The customer-centric technique differs from traditional software planning, where the focus is on significant releases. On the other hand, with Agile release planning, you can schedule the iterative release of your software by defining how each task will be accomplished and reach the end-user by creating the agile release planning checklist.
Agile Release Planning aims at developing a product release roadmap.
The software development life cycle (SDLC) features are divided into different Agile release planning activities in an Agile release plan. Each release is time-bound, containing specific scope in focus.
Note that just because you finished a sprint draft for your client does not mean you have to release the product in the market.
Being a part of the Agile SDLC, release planning of the product helps you predict the nature of the software development by identifying which product needs to be updated and get released in the market. Moreover, the flexibility of the release planning enables you to incorporate the improvements in the process.
Release planning is an essential structural tool for new teams in Agile development as only 15% of entrepreneurs think that their employees are ready to work in Agile culture.
The first question that pops in your mind after scheduling the Agile release planning is who will perform it? Let’s find out!
Release planning is a collective effort involving the following roles :
- A Scrum Master to guide the group throughout the product development.
- A Product Owner to represent the product backlog.
- The Agile team members to deliver the technical insights for the product and agile release process.
- It also includes stakeholders, customers, and managers, who help you with valuable feedback and acts as a trusted guide for release planning decisions.
Elements of a Product Release Map
Regardless of its name, Agile release planning is a highly structured methodology. Each roadmap step helps analyze the high-level requirements and project calendars to follow while developing the product.
As the release planning varies between organizations, you may ask: what factors need to be considered while adopting the release plan? Well, there are some common elements which include:
The proposed release for the project: Analyze the rough details of the project and team members to decide the tentative release of the product.
Plans for each release: As the Agile project is divided into short cycles chunks named release, it’s essential to draw a roadmap for each release.
Subsequent iterations for release: Define successive iterations for each release of the Agile project.
Plans for each iteration: Defining iterations is not the only task; planning a roadmap for each iteration is important.
Features development within an iteration: According to the iteration plans, new features of the product are developed and tested.
Individual tasks are necessary to deliver a feature: All the necessary tasks to deploy the feature in each iteration, eventually leading to a successful release, are outlined.
Agile release planning helps you make improvements and avoid the risk of course correction without hindering the entire project. At the same time, it will help you focus on each iteration and make sure that your team members are on the same page.
Purpose of Agile Release Planning
The main objective of Agile release planning is to ensure that your project is leading in the right direction by following the Agile methodology. It allows you to identify whether the logical release is happening regularly and the feedback from the customer is incorporated into the release process.
At Maruti Techlabs, before embarking on any new project, we first create a high-level overview of the different features that need to be shipped. The entire project is then broken down into different sprints where at the end of the sprint, we ship whatever features are completed.
The agile release plan is more detailed than the product roadmap, displaying the timeline and high-level scope of the Scrum project. However, the release plan prefers batching the iterations and sprints into the release instead of planning the detailed outline of work in each release.
Some benefits of Agile release planning are:
- It allows you to align your goal with the goal of the project.
- Agile release planning helps to increase your productivity by outlining the final target, project deadline, etc.
- Release planning enables you to set clear expectations for all your team members working on the project.
- It analyses and mitigates the potential risks associated with the project.
- A release plan allows you to identify your performance during the software development cycle.
- Agile release planning is quite flexible and, therefore, helps make necessary adjustments during product development.
Agile release planning is a great tool that can significantly impact the user experience, as implementing Agile helps cut your time to market up to 70% for any new product.
Difference Between a Release Plan and a Product Roadmap
While working with the Agile methodology, the last thing you want to do is to get confused between product roadmap and release planning. Both of these are project management tools, yet they serve quite a different purpose. They play distinct roles in the product development life cycle and have significant differences.
A product roadmap conveys a high-level overview of the product strategy. In contrast, the release plan is a document that helps track the features designed for the upcoming product release.
Looking at the project management hierarchy, the release plan always stays below the product roadmap. In Agile, the hierarchy progresses down a series of layers moving from strategic to tactical, as shown below:
Regarding the primary differences between product roadmaps and release plans, product roadmaps serve as the long-term perspective involving multiple releases. On the other hand, release plans are short-term and more granular. They focus on the specific task to be done and contain the details for individual backlog items.
Why do you need both a product roadmap and a release plan?
Even though product roadmap and release plan have significant differences, a project relies on both of them. Asking yourself why? Let’s find out!
Not only does the product roadmap serve as a high-level project strategy to display the objective of your project, but it also contributes as a valuable tool for many other reasons.
Product roadmap helps you compel your plan in a presentable format, including all the strategic level details such as product designs and expected goals. It is the best tool that helps you communicate with your team and explain the vision of your project throughout the product development process, ensuring that the work is executed according to plan.
Here is a glimpse of the Product Roadmap for WotNot. WotNot is a no code chatbot and live chat platform that creates intelligent, interactive and customizable bots for your startups, SMBs and enterprises across multiple channels. The chatbot comes coupled with an analytics dashboard and live chat agent console.
The team of 30+ engineers at WotNot, follow the agile release process end to end, as described in this blog.
Product Roadmap of WotNot– Nocode Chatbot and Live Chat Platform
To reach the final goal, you also need to execute the tasks and features enlisted under the product roadmap. It is where the release planning comes into the picture.
The release plan enables you to execute the features of your product during every new release. In simple words, it is the small chunks of the product roadmap on which your team can effectively work on and get the final results.
Release Plan of WotNot– No Code Chatbot and Live Chat Platform
That’s how the product roadmap and release plan work together for developing an effective product. Over time, you will encounter the inevitable changes while developing the product, and it is essential to keep these two perspectives aligned.
The minute changes in the agile release planning will reflect the significant changes in the product roadmap, directly affecting the final product at the end. Also, the challenges at the release level, such as delay for the launch, can affect the product roadmap strategies, ultimately disturbing the final product.
When to do Release Planning in Scrum?
Release planning comes to play after outlining your product roadmap and vision. Later, planning the release and combining it with sprints to form the significant release is often the wise choice, especially when you have many items in your product backlog.
It is often noticed that people don’t like change. It takes time for users to adopt the new interface. So batching the modifications to the UX is a must. Note that the Scrum release is not part of the Scrum Guide meeting and initial processes.
Also, many Scrum teams prefer to work without the release planning because Scrum always focuses on shorter sprint cycles for the Agile project. Instead of the release plan, they focus on product increment, speed, and fulfilling the stakeholder’s need in any particular situation.
7 Steps To Create A Successful Release Plan
Agile release planning is the dynamic document that suggests the group of tasks you should accomplish before the release of your final product. As product development is tricky itself, the release planning requires a professional development team and their expertise to create a buy-in plan of the product.
However, if you are familiar with the Agile principles for your company, it is pretty easy to get started with the Agile release planning for your product. Below are the simple steps involved in creating a successful release plan:
1. Define Your Goal
While creating the release plan, you and your team should identify the final goal to be achieved and ensure how the release will stay aligned with the larger vision of your product.
Ask yourself: Which outcomes are most important in the short and long term? Analyze the product roadmap and guide the overall processes of product development towards your product vision.
Wondering how to define your goals? Well, you have to gather all the perspectives of your products and put your efforts into identifying your priorities for product deployment. Get in touch with your stakeholders and confirm if your vision matches their needs.
2. Review Product Backlogs
Once you set your goal for the release, it’s time to analyze the product backlog and prioritize your team’s work according to your product vision, starting with an MVP(minimum viable product). In this stage, you have to identify the lacking of the product and review the backlogs.
If you are using Scrum, meet your Agile team for product backlog refinement. Make use of Scrum Board by breaking down your expected outcomes into user stories and adding them to your backlog. Don’t waste your time on irrelevant tasks which cannot lead you towards your goal.
Utilize the input from stakeholders and analyze the product priorities to create user stories. Make sure that the top priority features are most viable and need to be released earlier than others.
3. Estimate the Release Plan Meeting
After outlining the product vision and prioritizing the product backlog, you must schedule a sprint meeting with stakeholders and your Agile team to review the proposed release plan and add, remove or modify the further requirements as needed.
The release planning meeting aims to ensure that the product vision parallels the tasks and prioritizes one step towards your goal. It enables you to make sure that everyone on your team is on the same page and is focused on the common goal of the project.
The primary agenda of the meeting will include:
The primary task in the meeting is to review the product vision built during the first step and confirm that everyone understands it.
It is essential to review the architecture of the product from the stakeholder before it gets released. It is the stage where you can add or delete any new information in the release plan, including dependencies, assumptions, or gaps.
- Review iteration schedule
The iteration schedule determines the work that needs to be included in a particular release. Also, you will discuss how much work will be distributed among the team members and review the schedule.
Establish the meaning of “Done” for any release. “Done” usually means that you have finished every task outlined under the user stories and reported the work to the product owner for review.
4. Divide Releases into Multiple Sprints
Sprints are the small accomplishable division of release planning. Based on the team’s velocity towards the project, you can quickly identify the number of sprints required to achieve the product vision.
Ensure that each of these sprints is not overloaded nor deficient with work; it should be balanced. If you overload the sprint with too much work, your team might face the burden of accomplishing it, which may compromise the release’s quality. On the other hand, if you consider too little target in the sprint, your project may take months to finish, and the estimated release date may be delayed.
5. Create Release Sprint
No development is done at this stage of release planning. A release Sprint is dedicated solely for new deliverables. You have to focus on the common task within your backlog for each release sprint, such as testing, user documentation, bug fixing, and much more.
Note that you don’t have to follow this step in every release plan. If your workflow includes specific tasks to be finished before moving the software into production, it is wise to create an additional sprint for completing those extra tasks.
6. Schedule the target date for release
Now it’s time to share your release plan with your team. Setting a target date is the highlight of an effective release plan.
Everyone in your team, including the stakeholders, should have ongoing access to your release plan. As Agile release plans have a remarkable impact on the success of the project, a clear timeline and workflow will help the stakeholders bet the product in the market.
You can use various workspaces such as lucidchart or Jira to understand the Scrum release planning clearly. Team members, managers, and stakeholders can view the project release plans and detailed timeline without anything getting shuffled and lost in the complex process.
7. Improve & Update the Plan Regularly.
Remember that a plan is subject to changes, and therefore, you cannot stick to a rigid plan to follow and get your product developed. Be flexible and revise the plan as needed to ensure that the process runs smoothly and create a high-quality release deployed on time.
Moreover, consider the feedback from team members and stakeholders to make relevant modifications to the plan.
The agile release plan is an art. It is okay if you don’t get it correct on the first go. Just adjust yourself with the release plan and sprint planning with the flow of your work. That’s what Agile is all about, isn’t it?
6 Tips for an Effective Agile Release Plan
Building a successful release plan and following it regularly to minimize the risks during the sprint cycle can be quite difficult.
Below are some of the agile release planning best practices that you can follow for the best outcomes during your product development life cycle:
- Evaluate the release plan throughout the sprint cycle by aiming towards the product vision in mind and adapting as you go.
- Clearly define the responsibilities and roles for each release plan. Divide the work among the team members with an equal share of responsibilities. For instance, a product owner will be in charge of writing stories, releasing goals, etc. Whereas a Scrum Master is in charge of handling the meetings, regular release reports, guiding team members for best Scrum practices.
- Enlist the risks and issues that might arise during the release planning and try to mitigate them by consulting your team members and stakeholders.
- Never release the work that’s undone. If the release is under production, wait until it achieves the final goal.
- Move to the next step of the release cycle only after finishing the current release to avoid overlapping and complexity of the project.
As said, “Time is Money,” avoid scheduling daily Scrum and release meetings. Instead, replace them with Slack channel or WorkBoard to save time on administrative tasks.
Release Planning Checklist
Keep in mind the following questions and define their answers for your next Agile release plan.
- Where’s your Product Owner?
Before developing and executing your agile release planning, ensure the decision-maker of your project is available, whether it be product owner or analyst, etc.
- How will you classify your backlog items?
Gather a large group of individuals who can help you to size some backlog items for your project. It is wise to define a single baseline for sizing your items.
- Do you have a ranked backlog?
Ask the product manager to prioritize your product’s high-level features, which the product owner hopes to have in the upcoming release.
Everyone responsible for the release plan needs to attend the meeting to help develop the plan and commit to the release for achieving the product vision.
Plan your schedule. Define your goals and get them reviewed by the Scrum master and stakeholders. Provide food and drinks along with flip charts and breakout rooms to have timely breaks from the workspace.
- Think about distributed teams
Keep in touch with distributed team members frequently via digital platforms. Avoid discrimination between offline teams and remote teams.
Ask for help from experienced facilitators and professionals to guide you through your project and agile release planning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Agile release planning is the key to the successful completion and delivery of end products. Eventually, release planning provides the solution for every risk you face during the development process. It helps you present the final product to your stakeholders just like they expected without disturbing your existing customers. That’s why Agile release planning is always a crucial aspect of software development. It is the first step to the successful completion of the project.
Also Read: 8-Step Guide To New Product Development Process (NPD)
We hope you can better assist your team in planning a successful release for your product deployment with the help of this comprehensive guide. By following the steps in this guide, you can ensure that the next release of your software is as successful as possible.
At Maruti Techlabs, we build and deploy products in no time with the help of our rapid prototyping services. This enables our clients to quickly test and validate their ideas as we work with them on defining product-market fit via the lean startup approach. Given our 12+ years of experience in building and scaling digital products, we know a thing or two about planning, designing, developing, and deploying successful software and services, using the right mixture of agile framework and modern tech stack.
Our main motto is to innovate and deliver exceptional products to our clients and create value for their customers. We focus on standardizing your software development process by understanding your requirements and business needs.
Given our experience in the field of Agile development, our Product Development Services will help you communicate ideas and provide you with a chance to innovate your product with precision.
Connect with our team for a free consultation and we’ll take it from there.