5 Tips for Better Agile Release Planning


If you’re working in software development, you know that the software development life cycle can often be frenetic. Product features and stakeholder requirements constantly change, and your initial product development plan might look very different as the project evolves.

Agile release planning, also known as scrum release planning, is an alternative to the traditional waterfall approach. Instead of planning everything at once, teams can instead break down their process into staged product releases, hence the name.

In software development, things rarely play out exactly as planned. From this grew the agile methodology and with it agile release planning.

How does that fit into an agile project? Why is it a better way to work? How do you create a scrum release plan? And how can project management software help? These are a few of the questions we’ll answer.

What Is an Agile Release Plan?

An agile release plan is part of a larger product management plan that aims to stay flexible to respond to the inevitable changes that occur in software development. It lets teams incrementally release features an iterative agile sprints, which are short periods of usually no more than two weeks.

Related: Agile Sprint Planning Template

The power of agile release planning is that it gives project managers and product managers time to adapt to changes imposed by project constraints, challenges or evolving needs.

Because the release plan moves forward in phases, there is always a period to reassess and adjust the plan to meet the needs of the product.

Key Elements of Agile Release Planning

The agile approach is all about flexibility, being open to change and pivoting as needed. Agile project planning is almost the complete opposite of structured planning in a waterfall methodology. But don’t be fooled. There is some structure to agile and scrum release planning.

It’s carefully crafted for the agile team, and while they are a bit different from organization to organization, they mostly share these elements:

  • Proposed release for the project
  • Plan for the release
  • Iterations (agile sprints) for the release
  • Plans for each iteration
  • Product Features development
  • Tasks needed to deliver product features

Related: Agile vs Waterfall and the Rise of Hybrid Projects

What Is the Purpose of Agile Release Planning?

Managing a software development or product development project with an agile mindset means working with an iterative approach. This lets projects pivot and adapt rather than follow the linear path of traditional project management methodologies.

That’s why release planning fits so comfortably into that agile or scrum format. It’s a project planning method that’s both iterative and incremental. By planning in short agile sprints and not making far-reaching plans, the product development project can stay agile and open to change.

Agile seeks to release the benefits of the project throughout its life cycle, not just at the end. Agile release planning is how that objective is realized in product management.

Being open to change is one thing, being able to observe the project in real time in order to see when constraints require you to adjust your time, cost or scope is another thing. ProjectManager is a hybrid work management software that gives product and project managers real-time data to make better decisions. ProjectManager’s live dashboard doesn’t have to be configured—it’s set up and ready whenever you need it. Try ProjectManager today for free!

ProjectManager's dashboard
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Benefits of Agile Release Planning

Project success comes from going in the right direction. Release planning lets software development teams plan better, direct their efforts more effectively and release projects incrementally, which helps the customer experience. Release planning is a great way for scrum teams to plan their sprints when working in product development.

Scrum teams can take the feedback they received from previous scrums and use that information to inform their next scrum. This is one of the most important aspects of scrum release planning and it directly impacts the success of the project.

Release planning lets project managers and scrum teams review and revise. They can change course if necessary. The feedback gives agile teams a chance to align the next sprint more closely with the current project roadmap. That leads to a better chance of success.

Project Managers and Release Planning

As noted, release planning is part of a larger agile framework. Scrum is a means to execute a project in an agile environment. Therefore, it is usually the product manager who outlines the base release plan or product roadmap.

This agile release plan will include the goal for the sprint, as well as a release target date. Also, includes are the appropriate user stories, which are descriptions of the features from the end-user’s perspective. But prior to defining the user story, goal and date, the product manager will consult with executives and stakeholders to make sure everyone is on the same page.

The scrum team will be brought in after you create the release plan. There will be a planning meeting that will include everyone on the team and the stakeholders. The release plan will then be reviewed and revised as necessary so that your team members know what product features and user stories they should work on.

5 Tips for Better Scrum Release Planning

The product owner owns the release plan, and it’s their responsibility to make it the best it can be. In order to have the best release plan possible, follow these five tips:

  1. Identify Task Dependencies: Dependencies are tasks and user stories in the product backlog that can’t start or end until another starts or ends. If you’re not aware of the dependent user stories in your release plan, you’re going to suffer delays and block your team. By identifying these user stories beforehand and making sure you stay aware of them, you’re going to keep the scrum team working without unnecessary interruption.
  2. Keep the Focus on Goals: There’s a lot to take into account when developing the release plan. You can easily get lost in the weeds. Mitigating risk and optimizing marketing opportunities are other things that you want to be aware of when you’re agile release planning. While these are of varying importance, you want to keep your eyes on the priorities: goals, benefits and results. Features contributing to a goal. Focus on the goal and the feature will follow.
  3. Release Done Work: It might sound obvious, but often work in the product backlog is moved forward through production without being completed. These incomplete user stories can involve a lot of time and money to fix. That will take away from your main goal, which is delivering value to your customers. Have a definition of done for your user stories and product deliverables and stick to it.
  4. Continuously Improve: Yes, you have to deliver product features and functionalities but you don’t want to set the bar at status quo. Good enough isn’t good enough. Part of a product owner’s job is to always be looking at areas of improvement. That means collaborating with your team, running tests and getting feedback on user stories. There will always be room for improvement, but like release planning these improvements should be applied incrementally, not all at once. Give them time to prove themselves.
  5. Release Often: The mandate of any release planning is to release your product to customers. Only then will you be able to determine if the user stories you released were of value to them. Therefore, release often. Don’t get tied down with running a few more sprints. Release, get feedback, refine. Smaller releases are easier to digest for customers than having a couple of big ones per year. But don’t release just to release. That will backfire on you and potentially erode your customer base.

How ProjectManager Helps With Release Planning

Creating a release plan, connecting your team and keeping stakeholders in the loop involves not something you can do on an Excel spreadsheet. ProjectManager is a cloud-based software that organizes release planning, gives hybrid teams the tools they need to succeed and delivers real-time data to keep you on track.

Plan Work on Gantt Charts

Product managers will gravitate to the online Gantt chart project view. It lets them create the sprint on a timeline, link dependencies to avoid bottlenecks and then filter for the critical path. They can also set the baseline, capturing the release plan and allowing them to then compare that to the actual progress once the sprint is executed. It’s perfect for long-term roadmaps, too.

ProjectManager Gantt chart

Work Effectively on Kanban Boards

Meanwhile, the team can work on any of the multi-project views available on our software. They can set up a robust task list or use the kanban board that visualizes the workflow. This lets teams manage their backlog and collaboratively plan sprints. Best of all, the data is shared from tool to tool, so everyone is working on the same view.

A screenshot of the Kanban board project view

Track Progress on Real-Time Dashboards

The real-time dashboard gives you a high-level view of the progress, but if you need more detailed information to keep agile there’s one-click reporting. It can instantly generate reports on project variance, costs, time and much more. That data can then be filtered to zero in on what you want to see. Then share it with executives to keep them in the loop.

ProjectManager's status report filter

ProjectManager is award-winning software that organizes tasks, creates plans, monitors progress and reports on performance. Our multiple project view is great for hybrid teams, working on different aspects of the project, in different places and skill levels. See how ProjectManager can help your release planning by trying our software free today!