Product Management, Release Notes

10 Steps to Create an Effective Release Plan

The secret of a successful product delivery is rooted in a good plan. They say, God is in the detail, and it is no different when it comes to software product development. A meticulously drafted plan often decides the fate of a product.
Release planning revolves around a product’s release to its target market and strives for equilibrium between the product quality and the customer expectations. It is a dynamic process that keeps evolving based on the velocity of delivery as well as customer response to ongoing releases.

What is a release plan in agile?

Release planning is a staggered process and is usually planned around every sprint or release milestone activity. The process starts with what is called as initial release planning and leads to product-level planning. In the initial release planning phase, focus is on solving the customer problems. It chalks out multiple checkpoints & milestones to identify customer pain points that are being addressed at each juncture. Then comes the product-level planning. Here, the product team carries out planning within the context of their software product to envision and execute the final delivery. Eventually, the outcomes from both the above steps are mapped to each other ensuring that each release satisfies at least one or more customer problems that were initially identified. With the help of these outcomes from the release planning process, team members and customers can witness the product’s transition and results. 

Agile release planning is the agile twist on the traditional release planning process. These days it is a popular and efficient form of release planning and is widely adopted by software development companies. According to a report, 86% of software development teams used agile in 2021 for its flexibility, and it’s fast becoming a norm in the industry.

How to plan release in agile?

Agile release planning, sometimes also referred to as Scrum release planning, is when the product releases are planned incrementally. This allows teams to build products and make necessary iterations at different release stages. As opposed to a rigid and lengthy schedule, agile release planning takes a more practical and dynamic approach. Work is broken down to match feature releases at different life stages of the product. 

According to a study by McKinsey conducted in 2020, businesses that opted for the agile version of release planning pushed their operational performance from 30% to 50% and financial performance in the range of 20-30%. Another positive spinoff was improved employee engagement, which grew by 20-30%. 

What is agile release planning?

Release planning involves the continuous work and coordination of different team members and stakeholders.
Business teams come up with an initial release plan that solely focuses on customer pain points – this phase can last from a few days up to a couple of months, depending on the size of the market, complexity of the problem, depth of the solution etc.
Product teams then take a cue from this initial release plan & come up with the release milestones for the product they are developing – this shouldn’t take more than a week’s time, given that the product team already has clear visibility around available resources before getting into this phase. Key outputs from the above are sprints, which are essentially product iterations. Release planning is an evolving process and spread across different product iterations. While some organizations release each sprint to the target market separately, others combine multiple sprints together to form a release. You can also opt for continuous delivery, where the completion of every feature follows the release.

The inputs required for release planning are the product planning team’s output – the product vision, product backlog, and product roadmap. Along with this, you also need to have an initial idea about your team’s velocity. Another important step during release planning is to identify & document factors like scope, time, and budget. These will then help with Go-No go decisions at the time actual execution.

The output of release planning

All activities around release planning are focused on the goal of creating a release plan. This release plan is a go to document for everything from timelines, costs, customer traction goals and more. Every team is different & thus the ‘Release plan’ they need will be different. Some teams may ask for a visual representation of the roadmap to be included in the release plan whereas the others would treat the roadmap as an independent document. 

10 steps to create an effective release plan

It takes diligent efforts and foresight to create an agile release plan that leads to successful product delivery. More than just marking a calendar with release dates, one must pay close attention to crucial details for the release plan to click. Here are the steps that can guide you along your journey to create an effective release plan:

Steps to create an efficient release plan

1. Define product vision

Defining a vision for your product and understanding the need it will fulfill is the basis of your release plan. Whether outlining a product roadmap or building a release plan, your eyes should be set on the product’s vision. And it takes a team comprising the product folks, the business sponsors & software development leads to formulate the vision. It’s an important exercise that considers the market dynamics and the company goals with the product in question. The clarity of product vision serves as a guide for the rest of the release plan journey.

2. Assess the product backlog 

In an Agile setup, a product backlog refers to a set of items that need completion by the development team. To get a grip on the release plan, you must review the product backlog to rank and prioritize these items. Clarity of the product vision and team members’ input will help you in this exercise. Apart from this, user stories or the user’s description of the feature will help you rank these items. This is also a good time to outline a basic release plan or roadmap that outlines release goals and target dates.

3. Organize a release plan meeting

The next step is inviting all stakeholders to a release plan meeting to review and discuss the proposed plan. This crucial meeting ensures everyone has clarity about the release plan and shares the same vision. Based on the inputs of this meeting, you can tweak and refine the plan further to prioritize features and deliverables.

4. Invite stakeholders to share their views 

During the step 3, invite all opinions and views on the product roadmap and proposed release plan. It’s better to hear and weigh divergent views to avoid future issues. At the end of the discussion, there should be a common consensus on essential elements and features along with the release dates. 

5. Assess past sprints and their success rate 

As a reference or benchmark, look at a previous project and review previous sprints’/releases’ structure and success rate. You can even refer to an earlier release of the same project to understand how the sprints fared. This exercise helps you learn valuable lessons from past sprints and avoid repeating common errors to create a foolproof release.

6. Verify sprint velocity 

An essential element of any release plan, velocity defines how swiftly your team can create features and meet release targets. You can create accurate sprint architecture by understanding how long it takes for your team to build out a user story. Using data and information from another project or an earlier iteration, you can decide a reasonable velocity for your sprint planning. User stories will also help you put together an efficient sprint plan.

7. Establish the release’s Definition of Done

The essence of an agile plan is that it is constantly upgrading and evolving. In this scenario, it’s tough to define what is ‘done’ or ‘final’. During your team meetings, discuss and decide the definition of ‘done’ for any release milestone. From determining the MVP to creating a stable release, spend time deciding when you can move to the next stage of the release plan. 

8. Finalize the release calendar

This is the time to give the finishing touches to your release plan and get ready to implement it. Create open access to the final agile release plan to ensure that all team members are on the same page. This is a sure way to guarantee that the release plans stay on course and everyone meets the predetermined timelines.

9. Create clear tasks and timelines

The release plan shared with the team and other stakeholders must be detailed and lucid. Ensure that everyone has a clear idea of their roles and tasks and the timelines to accomplish these jobs. Clear access to the release plan and process flow helps the teams focus on their responsibilities and deliver optimum output.

10. Prepare the post-release plan ready

Agile release planning is a continuous process that doesn’t end with a release. Even at the end of a crucial milestone, you need to be prepared for the next stage of iteration and updates. 

Keep changing and evolving.

By following these steps, you can always stay one step ahead in the product release journey. An effective release plan will bear tangible results for an extended period with customers who remain satisfied throughout the product life cycle. Some release management tools can help you manage the process of software release and delivery.

Keep your customers engaged through release notes

Iterative releases are helpful only if the feedback loop is completed through customer interactions. For that, you can always rely on release notes. You can create seamless customer communication and product engagement with the help of release notes. Depending on the release frequency, it can be tedious to generate release notes each time manually. However, if you are using Jira for your software development activities, we recommend giving our app  Automated Release Notes a try.

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