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Here is a well-curated list of best practices of agile release planning that will help make your product successful in 2023 and beyond.
For a project to be successful, it has to have a well-structured plan. It will be the foundation leading to the successful execution of the project. A clear plan/ roadmap provides the much-needed context and direction to achieve the product visions and goals.
Several studies have pointed that ‘each year, thousands of projects fail due to lack of planning.’ Therefore, planning is a crucial stage for project managers. Now, as the dynamic of development and consumption are changing, the traditional waterfall approach is not relevant anymore.
This approach no longer serves the purpose satisfactorily for software development. Product features and the requirements of the stakeholder changes continually, and hence the initial plan may lose its relevance as the project evolves. Agile release planning addresses the shortcomings of the traditional planning system. For instance, it gives room for flexibility and offers better scope for tracking.
Agile release planning, also known as scrum release planning, is a planning approach where the project development teams emphasize breaking down the plan into smaller, manageable chunks. Simply put, the approach focuses on breaking down the process into staged product releases instead of planning all at once.
Teams following this planning approach are more flexible to respond intuitively to the evolving needs in the process of software development. As the agile release plan moves forward in phases, it always facilitates reassessment and adjustment in the plan to meet the changing requirements of the product. In other words, agile release planning facilitates continuous development at all phases of the project.
In this write-up, we are providing you with a well-curated list of best practices of agile release planning. Following these will help make your product successful in 2023 and beyond.
Always start with a clear vision in mind, irrespective of the scope of the project. When you have a clear product vision in mind, your vision, goals, and expectations initially, you can make the entire process seamless.
Once you have clarity about your goals and expectations, it becomes easier to carve out the details accordingly. As in other planning strategies, defining clear goals in an agile release plan helps in setting priorities and identifying the key areas that demand more attention. With a clear end goal in mind, it becomes much easier to make better decisions for improvement during the distinct stages of product development.
While setting your goals and expectations, discussing them with other stakeholders is important. This will help ensure the project goals are in line with their expectations and the current market trends.
As discussed earlier, agile release planning works in phases. This means you do not need to release all your product features all at once. This approach gives you the scope to release a feature and get customer feedback on it before releasing the other one; there is better scope for continuous improvement.
To make agile release planning work better, you need to prioritize the product features based on their impact/ importance. You have to identify features that have the most impact and prepare a priority list accordingly. Prioritizing the features can be done based on the product vision and the inputs received from the stakeholders. This list can then be used to create creating user stories.
The top priority features must be most viable and relevant and must be released first. The features below in rank can be released later in phases.
As an agile release plan works in phases, you need to have not one but several deadlines – for each phase. While the traditional waterfall planning strategy keeps a rigid deadline for product release, the agile release plan requires you to create internal deadlines for different teams to finish their target. While deadlines need to be respected, you should be ready to re-adjust them as per requirement.
Your aim should be to release a well-functioning product rather than releasing software with a glitch on a set deadline.
Agile release planning helps you strike a balance between committing to a deadline and leaving ample room for reassessment and adaptation during the product development and release phase.
You should never set a hard and fast release date. It will only put an unnecessary burden on different teams involved. You can set a release window that can be further narrowed down to a specific date when you see that your product is ready to release.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the best starting point for any project development. It allows the company to get early adopters with sufficient features fast who can provide valuable feedback to improve the product even more. This helps the company design and develop the final set of features after considering feedback from the initial users.
So, you should never set a release date before a successful MVP. Software development is a complex process with too many dependencies that can be identified only when you are in the actual process of development.
Planning to release your software before you know how your end product will look like is a sure shot way to fail. It will not just be a waste of time and resources but also a loss of valued customers. There is no better way than MVP to have a clear picture of your end product. there is. So, before setting a release date for your SaaS product, you should focus on MVP.
The agile release planning first emphasizes breaking tasks into smaller chunks that are easier to manage. The core idea behind this is to visualize the entire work before release. You can use various methods like story mapping and goal-oriented roadmap to visualize the entire process and break them into smaller chunks.
Unlike the previous linear methodologies, Agile release planning endorses an incremental approach. Therefore, when fragmenting the project into smaller chunks, you should divide it into incremental steps, i.e., each step needs to be tied back to the previous step. This is necessary to provide clarity to the teams to refer back to previous stages whenever required.
Regardless of the method, you choose the final product need to be structured with minimum possible clutter.
Finally, always keep in mind that your planning should not end at the point of release of the product. While the name of the approach – Agile Release Planning – might make you believe that it is only until the product is released in the market and is available to the users. It does not end there. It is a continual process that encompasses the whole period from pre-production to after delivery of customer service.
Remember that your job is not complete after the release of the product or a feature. Once this is done, your next job would be to collect feedback from your customers. While many product owners seem to ignore post-delivery service, it is crucial in the current era.
Taking feedback and improving upon it is a critical factor determining customer loyalty and retention. Therefore, you should not consider your job done after the product’s release. Once the work of the development team is wrapped up, you should make sure that your customer success team starts its work. Therefore, Agile Release Planning encompasses both pre-and post-release activities.
To sum it up, project planning is crucial, and SaaS product managers need to focus more on it. They will have to make sure that their plans are not too rigid and leave ample scope for continuous improvement because software development comes with too many uncertainties. Agile release planning addresses these concerns as it helps create a well-executable plan with the required amount of flexibility. At the same time, it also ensures that the resources are used appropriately.29
Agile release plans can have a transformative effect on your product release and business growth perspective. By following the best practices discussed above, you can ensure productivity and flexibility throughout the development phase and beyond.
Rakhin has over 10 years of experience driving business development and client services. In his prior roles, he stayed close to customers to understand their requirements and help them achieve their business goals. He is passionate about customer success.
Published January 21, 2022, Updated March 31, 2023
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