In a perfect world, everything would always go according to plan.
Development teams and project managers alike know just how important it is to stay on top of story points and the number of sprints it takes to see product launch through how they manage Agile release planning is at the core of this.
After all, even for the sharpest of Scrum masters and talented team members out there, software development is notoriously difficult to predict in the long-term, leading to a ton of unforeseen work, late nights, and stress if you need to meet inflexible deadlines.
In this article, we’ll break down Agile release planning from A to Z, and show you how to implement it in your own company from planning meetings to where you can create your own agile release plan template.
What is Agile release planning?
Agile release planning is a product management method where you plan incremental releases of a product. It differs from traditional software planning where you focus on major releases.
In Agile release planning, you prepare for staged releases and then break those down into several different sprints or iterations. Depending on your team structure and the size of the project, you may even have several sprints running at the same time.
A sprint ends with a new product increment, but that may not mean a product release happens. Think about writing a book — each sprint should end with a new draft. But, just because you have a finished draft for your client (editor, publisher, etc.) to review doesn’t mean you release it to the public.
You might create versions 1.1, 1.12, 1.14, 1.2, and so on, each one incorporating the new features and improvements of the last. But you’ll only release the big ones (1.1 and 1.2, etc.)
Using a release plan helps you plan which product increments (versions) get released to the market and when. And it’s an integral part of the Agile SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) because it can also give higher-ups peace of mind that there’s a structure and plan beyond just the next sprint, and helps the individual Agile teams stay on track.
What is the purpose of Agile release planning?
The purpose of release planning within the Agile methodology is to ensure the product is always moving in the right direction and that logical releases are frequently happening.
A release plan outlines immediate future releases but doesn’t try to plan for years to come, but it also is unique from a product roadmap (high-level scope and timeline) because it goes into more detail. However, an Agile release plan doesn’t outline the work in each release. Instead, it batches iterations or sprints together into releases.
Those not familiar with the Agile process tend to worry each version of a product becomes a random collection of features, but a release plan actually ensures that you create a coherent version of your product every time. It’s a great tool for combining changes that will have a significant impact on the user experience in a shorter period of time. In fact, implementing Agile can help you cut your time to market for a new product by up to 70%.
When does release planning happen in Scrum?
Release planning comes after you’ve outlined your product vision and roadmap. Since the focus of Scrum is on shorter sprints, some teams actually work without release planning at all.
Instead, they just release the product increment. That keeps the focus on speed and adapting to the stakeholder needs at any moment.
Who is responsible for release planning in Scrum?
In Scrum, the release planning process isn’t reserved for product managers and C-suite execs. Your product owner and Scrum team must also participate. The team can also be solely responsible for the plan depending on your company structure.
The Scrum team is often better connected to the current state of the software and all the different stakeholders, so they tend to lead the decision-making. The release cycle should always be driven by those closest to the project. If not, you risk creating a roadblock instead of a roadmap.
How to implement Agile release planning
The steps below assume that you’re already familiar with Agile principles, and have implemented an Agile workflow in your company. If that’s the case, getting started with Agile release planning is quite simple.
1) Evaluate your product vision and roadmap and single out outcomes
Your overall product vision and the product roadmap should guide the whole process. Focus on outcomes in terms of which are the most important in the short to medium term and according to stakeholder and customer demand.
2) Expand and prioritize your product backlog based on these outcomes
If you use Scrum, meet with your Agile team for a product backlog refinement meeting. Break down your desired outcomes into specific user stories and add them to your backlog.
Prioritize the backlog, based on the desired outcomes, starting with an MVP (minimum viable product). For Agile frameworks that don’t use a product backlog, like Feature-Driven Development, review the equivalent item. In the case of FDD, it’s the features list.
3) Set a clear release goal that combines logical product backlog items
Create a release goal that combines different user stories into a meaningful change in user experience. For example, the ability of a user to access different analytics reports on the mobile app. If you’re creating multiple reports, it makes sense to release them together, rather than piece-meal.
4) Break your releases down into multiple sprints or iterations
Once you’ve got your release goal and targeted user stories, it’s time to start planning your actual sprints.
Don’t forget the main Scrum values.
- Keep sprints short and commit to an achievable number of user stories.
- Focus on one sprint at a time.
- Have the courage to break the release plan when absolutely necessary.
- Respect everyone’s perspective when choosing items and estimating scope.
The key thing to remember for this step is to not overestimate or try to tackle a huge release in one go while balancing the need for timely releases — a principle of Agile development. Honing this skill is an art that improves with practice, so don’t be afraid to adjust your release plan and your sprint planning as you go. That’s what being Agile is all about.
Start your Agile iteration planning
Agile release planning is the antidote to aimless development. You can give your stakeholders exactly what they want, without inconveniencing existing customers.
monday.com even has an Agile planning template where you can easily break down your Agile release plan into tangible iterations.