How to Approach Your Agile Release Plan for Successful Development

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

17 Jun 2021

Scrum teams create release plans to support successful product releases. This helps them maintain their focus on the product vision and feature deliverables.

Here, we’ll explore the definition and purpose of agile release planning and its essential template elements.

Find out what goes into creating a planning meeting and how to set your Scrum team up for successful product releases.

What is agile release planning?

Because software projects are unpredictable, release planning helps team members prioritize their workflow. A release plan focuses on getting specific product features ready for the market. It should examine the product scope, the release date for feature completion, and the resources needed for each release.

The development team then looks at the feedback from earlier product iterations to guide their planning. Product owners and Scrum teams get together to discuss the agile release plan. That’s because team members need to understand what level of product functionality must go into their work. They also need to understand work effort to plan their deadlines for each product increment.

Instead of planning for a significant product release, team members divide the project scope into short sprints or iterations. Many Scrum teams use Jira software to help them plan their sprints, as it helps everyone see the project status at any time.

Creating a prioritization list ensures that team members focus on the most vital product versions the Scrum product owner prioritizes.

What is the purpose of the release plan?

Project release planning helps software development teams plan, direct, and release each project in increments to serve the customer experience. Teams often use this methodology for short sprints of product development.

Release planning provides agile and Scrum teams with a solid direction to complete their projects. Team members also use this opportunity to use sprint feedback to create increments that align with the next release’s project roadmap.

Getting the product plan together

release plan: Seth Meyers GIF from Late Night with Seth Meyers

Release planning seems complex, but with some foresight, it can be simple. Let’s review each part of the process.

1. Who leads the release plan?

Typically, the product development team takes its lead from the Scrum master or the product owner. During the meeting, this leader will raise questions about the product backlog to ensure that sprint discussions align with the final product.

All the product stakeholders should participate in the release plan to ensure their feedback is taken into consideration. Without input from everyone involved in the product development, the team risks missing out on vital information to keep the product roadmap on track.

2. Agile release plan aspects

While the release plan is meant to be agile, it also follows a strict process to ensure that teams keep the product roadmap in sight.

Agile teams take all the sprint planning discussions and evaluate these to detail new product deliverables. Although most organizations will use various approaches in their release planning process, each sprint review should include the following aspects:

  • The agreed product development releases at each stage of the sprint
  • A direction for each new product release
  • Specific current and future iterations due in each upcoming release
  • What features and functionality should accompany the iteration
  • Specific task requirements for each feature delivery to meet the release goal

By going through an in-depth release planning process, software development teams harness the value of these sprint meetings. The ability to rapidly change direction as necessary ensures the team releases the best possible product.

This constant iteration in each sprint review is also valuable in the dynamic environment of product development.

This level of planning, combined with an iterative schedule to account for the dynamic nature of software, is what makes Agile product development so valuable.

3. Sprint meeting discussions

Sprint meeting discussions revolve around user stories, product backlog, and product backlog items. Scrum release planning also considers other issues such as dependencies and product functionality. Other aspects that the team speaks about involve the next release and the number of sprints they must complete and deliver.

Essentially, team members must keep the product vision in mind for effective release planning. This vision helps team members isolate minimum market sprint feature batches and their release dates.

Sprint meeting discussions should include:

  • Release plan prioritization of impending new product features and functionality
  • Evaluation and inclusion of stakeholder feedback for each sprint
  • Detailed descriptions of sprint deliverables and whether these fall into the category of product short-term increments or major longer-term releases
  • Which product version will be ready for release and the ideal sequence of product releases to achieve each release goal

Development teams build several product versions. After creating these versions, they prioritize them to release the most important ones to users.

Part of the purpose of release planning is to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same product development page. Another element of these sprint planning meetings is to drive ownership and acceptance of the product vision.

Development of the release plan

There are four steps that software development teams follow to create their product plan.

1. Creating the vision

First, you need to define the vision for the product. Creating a clear vision produces a roadmap for the team to follow in each consecutive sprint. This vision should align with market demand and the product owner’s goals.

It also encourages team members to sift through which features they should prioritize. Similarly, the product roadmap helps teams evaluate the resources they need during the sprint review. Product planning also enables teams to be flexible. Planning reviews ensure direction changes to accommodate ongoing increments to achieve overall release goals.

2. Prioritization of the product backlog

After defining the vision, team members focus on prioritizing features in the product backlog. Here, stakeholder inputs must align with the vision to successfully implement user stories. User stories are vital to the process as they provide the background for detailing product features or functionality.

The product manager provides the team with direction at this stage to outline a viable release plan. This release plan must include the product release goals, release dates, and prioritization of user stories.

3. Set the Scrum planning meeting

The next step in the planning meeting is for the stakeholders to review the plan. Team members now have the chance to adjust deliverables in line with the vision.

Everyone must agree to the release plan at this stage before they can move forward to the next release.

Meeting agenda

Setting up a meeting agenda helps manage the release plan. The essential elements of the agenda for the Scrum framework include:

1. Product plan assessment

The Scrum team reviews the product roadmap to ensure that everyone accepts the product vision and goals.

2. Architecture evaluation

With each release, the Scrum team and product owner evaluate the previous sprint’s architecture. They examine the technical details of the product development and discuss any potential problems that can impact the product release.

Scrum teams go over the scope and estimates of their release plan. Team members determine whether their planning includes the risk of technical debt and if they can complete certain task aspects, such as documenting their work to meet deadlines. Stakeholders also review dependencies that can influence the product versions’ functionality.

3. Velocity and iteration assessment

Scrum teams go over previous iterations to review their velocity estimates. They align their estimates with the suggested iteration schedule to ensure they cover all vital elements.

The product manager controls this assessment to ensure points are assigned to user stories. Assessing user stories and assigning points demonstrate the level of effort the team must invest in each iteration. The total number of story points then represents the estimation of release dates for each sprint release.

An iteration schedule is built by the agile team to determine their velocity for the current and subsequent sprints during this assessment.

The team creates the release scope, which includes all the necessary releases. The Scrum master assigns work to each team member, and all the stakeholders agree to the plan before moving to the next step.

4. Agreement on the definition of done

The team members must now discuss what will qualify as the definition of done for each feature release. Team members must consider whether their evaluation of user stories meets all the product owner's acceptance criteria for release. Once they can prove the acceptance criteria are met in their assessment, they will know that a release completion is valid.

The definition of done must confirm that team members have completed all their assigned tasks for the user story. Team members must also record each task so that the product owner can assess their work.

5. Populate the product release schedule

The project manager can now populate and complete the release plan schedule. All stakeholders should be able to access the calendar to track progress. This release plan schedule helps everyone stay focused on product deliverables and release dates.

Get help with your release planning

Agile release planning is a vital part of the software development team’s success. Create a comprehensive agile release plan for minor or major releases, and you make your life simpler for an upcoming release.

Focus on the release plan calendar helps keep product owners and team members aware of the overall product vision.

Most Scrum teams can use a little help in creating their release plans. At Easy Agile, we offer Jira software that helps Scrum teams execute their release plans to perfection.

Let us help you with release planning through our collaborative User Stories Maps for Jira. This app offers easy sprint planning that ensures you don’t overcommit your team.

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