In today’s competitive landscape, you need to be able to release new products and features quickly and efficiently. This is where agile release planning comes in.

Agile release planning is a process that helps SaaS businesses and other organizations plan and manage their release cycles effectively so that they can deliver new products and features to their customers in a timely manner.

In this article, Beamer will be discussing everything you need to know about agile release planning, including what it is, how to do it effectively, and platforms to help you plan along the way.

Let’s get started!

This is a quick guide on Agile Release Planning:

What Is Agile Release Planning?

Agile release planning is a project management method where teams plan incremental product releases with the goal of tracking progress, identifying risks and dependencies, and ultimately releasing software products on time.

Confused? Don’t worry—we’re going to break it down for you!

In agile release planning, the development process is broken down into a three-part hierarchy that includes:

  • Sprints
  • Product Iterations (or Versions)
  • Staged Releases

Sprints is for achieving specific goals.

In agile release planning, a sprint is the planning unit that’s most limited in scope. Sprints are time-boxed (typically 1-2 weeks long) and focus on achieving very specific goals. Goals are chosen based on the priorities assigned to different product backlog items and the development team’s capabilities.

During a sprint, the development team is responsible for delivering a “potentially shippable” product increment or version. This means that at the end of each sprint, the software should be in a state where it could be released to users—but more on that in a moment.

Depending on the size of a development team, there may be multiple sprints going on at once. But each team member should only be working on one sprint at a time.

Product Iterations (or Versions) to deliver a functionality or a patch.

A product iteration—sometimes called a version—is a longer unit of time that encompasses multiple sprints. The length of a product iteration can vary depending on the team, but it’s typically 2-4 weeks long. The goal of a product iteration is to deliver a software increment that adds new value or functionality to the product. This may be to fix a bug or to include another button on the homepage. 

While the goal of a sprint is generally very specific, the goal of a product iteration may be more multifaceted. For example, one product iteration may aim to add a new feature to the software, while simultaneously fixing bugs and improving performance.

A product iteration is potentially shippable, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily will be shipped.

Staged Releases is for releasing updates.

A staged release is the process of releasing software incrementally to users. It’s a way of managing risk by reducing the scope of a release and allowing for more testing and feedback before making changes available to everyone.

Staged releases typically happen at the end of a product iteration (or series of product iterations), when the software increment adds enough value or achieves enough goals to warrant a release.

So, to summarize, a staged release is a product increment that is released to users. It might be made up of one product iteration or multiple, depending on the agile team’s goals. Finally, within each of these product iterations there will probably be multiple sprints with specific deliverable goals (i.e., features, bug fixes, etc.).

What Is the Goal of Agile Release Planning?

The goal of agile release planning is to ensure that the right features are delivered at the right time. This means taking into account factors such as dependencies, risks, and business value. The process should also be flexible enough to accommodate changes and new information as it arises.

What Are the Benefits of Agile Release Planning?

There are several benefits to agile release planning, including:

1. Efficient Delivery.

Efficient delivery is one of the central tenets of the agile philosophy. And release planning is a key part of achieving it.

Release planning helps ensure that the development team is always working on the most important tasks, and that those tasks are properly prioritized. This leads to a more efficient delivery process and, as a result, a better product.

2. Improved Product Quality.

Another benefit of release planning is that it can help improve the quality of the software over a shorter time frame. This is because release planning forces the development team to think about dependencies, risks, and other factors that can impact the quality of the final product.

3. Improved Communication.

Agile release planning helps to improve communication between stakeholders and the team. By creating a shared roadmap, stakeholders can see what features will be delivered and when. This helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensures that everyone is on the same page.

4. Less Scope Creep.

By planning releases in advance, the team can avoid scope creep. This is when the scope of the project increases without corresponding increase in resources. By having a roadmap, the team can ensure that only features that are essential to the success of the release are included.

What Are the Steps in Agile Release Planning?

Now that we’ve covered agile release planning from a theoretical angle, let’s get practical. To get started with agile release planning, there are a few key steps you’ll need to take:

Step One: Identify Positive Outcomes

When creating a release plan, it’s important to evaluate your product vision and roadmap and single out the outcomes. This helps to ensure that the release plan is aligned with the overall goals of the product. 

It’s also important to revise the release plan as needed—it needs to be flexible enough to accommodate changes and new information.

Step Two: Prioritize Your Product Backlog

The product backlog is a list of all the features and tasks that need to be completed in order to deliver the product. Here’s an example from the Scrum institute, which is categorized by Estimation (value) and Priority:

When creating a release plan, it’s important to expand and prioritize the product backlog based on the outcomes you’ve identified.

This helps to ensure that the release plan is achievable and that the most important tasks are given priority. When you’re prioritizing features or fixes from your product backlog, it’s important to incorporate as much user feedback as possible. To encourage that feedback, it helps to have an intuitive feedback system in place.

mock-feedback-A

With Beamer, you can easily collect user feedback from within your website or app. Plus, feedback prompts are shown in context—right next to your feature and release announcements. This makes it easy for users to provide you with the feedback you need to plan future releases.

Step Three: Set a Clear Release Goal

After you’ve expanded and prioritized your product backlog, it’s time to set a release goal. A release goal is a clear statement of what you want to achieve with the release. It should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

To create a release goal, start by combining logical items from your product backlog. For example, if you’re working on a release for a new feature, your release goal might be to “deliver the new feature to all users.”

Once you’ve set a release goal, it’s important to communicate it to everyone on the team. This helps to ensure that everyone is aware of the goal and can work together to achieve it.

Step Four: Create a Release Plan

Now that you’ve set a release goal, it’s time to create a release plan. A release plan is a detailed document that outlines how you’ll achieve your release goal.

The release plan should include:

  • The release date
  • A list of features to be included in the release
  • The timetable for each feature
  • The resources required for each feature
  • The risks and dependencies associated with each feature

Step Five: Break Releases Into Sprints or Iterations

After you’ve created your release plan, it’s time to break the release down into multiple sprints or iterations. To repeat, a sprint is a fixed period of time (around 2 weeks) during which the team works on a specific set of features.Once the team has completed a sprint, they review the work and then plan the next sprint.

It’s important to note that the release goal should remain fixed throughout the release. However, the features included in each sprint can change based on feedback and new information.

Step Six: Communicate Progress With Users

When you complete a release, it’s important to communicate your progress with users. This helps ensure that they’re aware of the release and are able to provide feedback.

There are a number of ways to communicate progress, but one of the most effective is through a changelog. A changelog is a running summary of the changes made in a release published as a blog post, email, or in-app message.

mock-stream

Beamer makes it easy to maintain a changelog within your website or app—and it only takes around 5 minutes to install! Beamer gives dev teams full control by allowing them to segment notifications by user role, features used, profile, demographics and more. 

What Tools Can Help With Agile Release Planning?

Project management tools are pretty much essential when it comes to agile release planning. Luckily, you have tons of great options to choose from!

Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

Jira

Jira is great for release planning because it’s designed specifically for agile teams. It has all of the features you need to plan, track, and release software. Plus, there’s a ton of documentation and support available if you need help getting started.

Tip: If you want extra guidance as you start out, Atlassian has come up with some great templates for agile release planning you can use for structure.

Asana

Asana is another great option for release planning. It’s similar to Jira in that it’s designed for agile teams and has all of the features you need to plan and release software. However, Asana is a bit simpler to use and is often considered easier to learn.

Trello

Trello is a great option if you’re looking for something simple and easy to use. It’s not as feature-rich as Jira or Asana, but it’s perfect for release planning if you don’t need all of the bells and whistles. And it also has a great ecosystem of power-ups (third-party apps) to compensate for its limitations.

What’s Next?

Now that you know everything there is to know about agile release planning, it’s time to put your knowledge into action! Use the tips in this article to create a release plan for your next project.

If you’re looking for more information on agile development, be sure to check out our other articles. We cover everything from scrum to product owner roles. You’re sure to find something that’s helpful!

And finally, if you’re looking for a user research and analytics tool to compliment your agile process, give Beamer a try today for free!