Agile Release Plan: The Fundamentals of Software Release Planning

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A software release plan — or agile release plan on Agile teams — answers the “how” where software projects are concerned.

It’s easy enough to come up with the “what” for your next software product. In general, everyone comes up with good ideas from time to time.

On the other hand, knowing how your vision will be executed is another story altogether. But you might want to figure it out.

Consider that organizations with strong project management tools and techniques save 28 times as much as organizations with poor project management.

In other words, it’s objectively worth your while to invest in strategic planning and optimize project management as a whole.

Software release planning is a fundamental part of successful software development. To learn more about building and using agile release plans, keep reading!

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What Is Agile  Release Planning?

Agile release planning is an approach to development where product managers strategize a specific and actionable plan towards meeting project requirements.

An agile release plan must take two things into account:

  1. The nature of Agile development
  2. Business objectives

Software delivery in Agile takes place in incremental releases, where consumer feedback is the source of changing requirements.

One Agile release typically consists of two to six months of hard labor and three to ten sprints.

Sprints are short periods of time in which a certain task is set out for completion.

Black-and-white hand holding silver stopwatch, blue ribbon graphic and striped flag background.
Agile teams use sprints to give themselves fixed-time frames for work completion.

A release is defined as the smallest module of software features that can be packaged and deployed to users. 

This is to say, the nature of Agile development is fairly volatile. Rapid, iterative development cycles are the foundation of the Agile software development lifecycle.

Business objectives, in contrast, take kindly to planning. In software development, business intent generally includes completing the project on time and on budget.

With those interests at heart, an agile release plan guides the development team’s effort and contextualizes the project in terms of business interests.

Why Is Agile Release Planning Important?

Agile teams rely on software release plans to put some type of organizational strategy into a methodology that is by definition unpredictable.

What drives agile software development teams is customer feedback. And since feedback has no pre-determined path, developers are made to handle software development via iterations.

But the flexibility of Agile can also be a setback. In absence of a sturdy structure, a delay in the backlog, for example, can jeopardize the software product’s timely release.

Of course, declogging bottlenecks requires fine-tuned project management, a software development must that many tech companies fail to prioritize.

This is where software release planning comes into play. Without a doubt, Agile release plans reduce risk.

By specifying the release details of the project — usually with the aid of heavy documentation — software release plans fuel the decision-making process for the team.

They help teams determine how to deliver functionality and the time constraints for developing that functionality or meeting related objectives.

In other words, product releases go a lot smoother when software release planning is in your corner.

Release Plan vs. Product Roadmap

There is definitely some overlap between software release plans and project roadmap. However, these are two distinct concepts.

While both are effective management tools for communicating and defining business goals, they convey different information.

What Is a Product Roadmap?

A product roadmap outlines the direction of your product over time. 

Going back to the vision analogy, a product roadmap should tell you the “why” behind your product and its features.

Expressed as a visual representation of the numerous products and features produced within your company, the objective of the roadmap is to align your priorities with your vision.

Ultimately, the product roadmap should serve as a plan of action with measurable goals for reaching your product vision.

What Is a Release Plan?

A release plan exists at the execution level of your project.

Software development or otherwise, a release plan delegates how your company will deliver the product and respective time frames for the work that needs to be done.

For that reason, a release plan isn’t exactly pleasing to the eyes.

It’s an internal document for product and development teams, a rubric to stick to, so to speak, but not imaginative nor visual in nature.

The primary purpose of a release plan is to blueprint and refine release management for your upcoming project.

Steps to Building an Agile Release Plan

Now that you have a solid understanding of software release planning, you’re probably wondering how to go about building a software release plan.

Well, here are a few guidelines that should be plenty helpful:

1. Define the product scope.

If you’re familiar with the scientific method, then you’re already on the right track.

The first step in any list of steps is always identifying the problem. Or in this, case defining the goal for your release.

In practice, this will look like a feature set, a list of features the development team needs to implement. This will likely take the form of a backlog.

At this step, software engineers should offer up any inside knowledge they have on the challenges the team could face when attending to the backlog.

For instance, there might be technical difficulties keeping a feature from reaching its full potential.

Having intel on this means avoiding surprises later in the release process.

2. Measure the size of the release.

Up until now, you may not have known that you can measure intangible, conceptual objects. But you can.

In Agile, story points are units of measure that estimate the overall effort it takes to complete an item on the backlog.

To do this, development teams choose a baseline story where there is a consensus on the effort it took to fully implement the given backlog item.

In this fashion, a development team will measure the size of the release by the complexity of the feature set and report it back as story points.

3. Determine the work-breakdown structure (WBS) for the scope.

A work-breakdown structure in project management involves breaking the deliverables of a project into smaller components.

The advantage of a WBS is a much more manageable project and optimal organization for work efficiency.

You can create a WBS by decomposing features into a hierarchy of tasks and subtasks.

Gather important documentation and identify key team members to better organize the project’s tasks.

4. Set the planned velocity for the team.

Each team member should have a thorough understanding of their work capacity and how this will affect the team when working as a group.

This gives product managers and/or project managers a good idea of the team velocity.

Velocity measures how many story points a team can complete during a sprint. 

Sprints can last between one and four weeks, although where you fall depends on the output of your team and what has been previously established as the sprint time for the task at hand.

5. Set your priorities.

Obviously, when it’s cleaning day, you want a chance to get to everything you can but maybe you should scrub the toilet before you start fluffing pillows.

Similarly, for an Agile release, a product manager will review and prioritize the backlog tasks that deserve the most attention.

The first release is akin to a minimum viable product (MVP) and won’t have much more than the main features necessary to entice an awaiting audience.

You can re-evaluate later on and add additional features in future releases.

6. Identify a target date for the release.

Given your findings from the previous steps, you set a desired end date for the release.

From then on, assess ongoing risks and reassess the predicted end date accordingly.

You can use key performance indicators (KPI) to measure progress as well.\

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Manage Your Agile Release Plan with Trio

A software release plan isn’t the only thing you need for a successful software release.

First, you need competent, high-quality project management. This entails finding competent, high-quality project managers.

And on that note, you need a whole team of qualified software engineers with the prerequisite skills to build your product.

Don’t know where to find them? Then today must be your lucky day.

Trio gives businesses access to trained and vetted, experienced software engineers — and accompanying project management — to deliver the software you need on time and on budget.

Contact Trio now to get started!

At Trio, we not only deliver top-tier content and insights in software development but also offer the finest South American developers for outsourcing. Explore our talented Argentinean, Brazilian, and Chilean developers to elevate your projects today.

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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