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5 steps to simplify product release planning

Whether launching a new product or releasing new features, your success depends largely on having a defined plan. Release planning is the process of identifying and tracking the features planned for an upcoming release.

According to industry statistics, 75% of issues in software development stem from the lack of comprehensive product release planning strategies. When created and managed effectively, release planning strategies help streamline your development and operations processes. This reduces the risk of costly failures that can arise when modifying the software or its environment.

In this article, we will detail what release planning is and how to develop a successful, actionable release plan. This will include insights about the types of release plans and their application in key industries, as well as how you can use various tools to simplify your release planning strategies.

Release planning for project management

Release planning schedules focus on the execution-level details related to how you will deliver the work and within what timeframe. These plans are related to and often used in tandem with product roadmaps to visualize not just where your product is going, but how you will get it there.

If the product roadmap is the high-level overview that describes the product journey, the release plan is the zoomed in, detailed view of specific steps over a shorter time frame. Release planning management keeps teams moving in the right direction to stay within budget and time constraints.

Throughout the product lifecycle, requirements and features are subject to change. A successful release ensures that work is prioritized appropriately and that each release is an incremental improvement to the product. As such, release planning is not about absolutes and is instead an inherently agile process. This is why the most common release planning strategies follow the Agile project management methodology.

What is Agile release planning?

In Agile release planning, teams build a strategy around incremental releases of a project. This differs from the traditional planning process, in which all features are planned in the project’s early stages.

Taking an iterative approach to project management creates a big-picture view of the product lifecycle that can be broken into smaller increments. These increments are often called sprints or iterations.

This defined, repetitive delivery of product features enables teams to incorporate end user feedback with each new release iteration. It also streamlines release planning for large, complex projects because the Agile framework deals with only small parts of the project at a time.

Agile project management is commonly used in dynamic environments with the potential for frequent change, such as software development. The product’s benefits are released throughout its lifecycle, rather than holding everything until the end.

One of the most popular ways to put Agile principles into practice is through Scrum, which is used in 66% of Agile work environments. A Scrum release planning strategy is built using the following factors:

Scrum sprints are short delivery cycles in which the work being done builds on the work in the previous sprint. The product owner is the person responsible for release planning, which includes deciding when to release certain features along the project timeline.

5 steps to creating a successful release plan

Release planning is a twofold process. First, you must create your release management strategy. Then, you must follow through with the release planning schedule.

Below are the five steps involved in creating a successful release plan.

1. Define your goal

Start with the end in mind. When crafting a release plan, identify the final goal in terms of what outcomes or benefits the release will create.

Release planning for project management looks at how the release benefits your end users. Without this important step, you will not be able to determine if the feature aligns with the larger vision of the product or if it needs further iteration.

2. Review and prioritize backlogs

Once you have established your release goal, the next step is to go through the backlog and prioritize work items according to the product vision. Your backlog contains new features, changes to existing features, performance fixes, user stories, and other items not currently being worked on but will be incorporated in subsequent releases.

Start with the minimum viable product (MVP) to prioritize your backlog based on the desired outcomes for the release. Your MVP has enough features to serve the user’s needs, enabling the team to collect feedback and improve the product.

3. Hold a release plan meeting

With your goal defined, the vision outlined, and backlog prioritized, you can now schedule a meeting with team members and stakeholders to review the release plan. The goal of this meeting is to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to be achieved and when, based on your available resources. For each release planning increment, the team should identify the correct scope, intended workflow, and potential problems involved with each iteration.

This is also the time to divide releases into multiple sprints. Sprints should be completed within a month or less, and the workload should be balanced between every sprint to keep team members focused and working efficiently.

4. Revisit and revise as needed

Remember, release planning is an inherently agile process that should be reviewed regularly, such as after each sprint. When things change or new information is available, update the plan to adapt to those changes. Upon completion of each sprint, the product owner makes any needed adjustments based on feedback.

For example, if the team struggles to meet the deliverables schedule, you may need to reassign features to later release sprints. This is also why it is important to keep flexible deadlines rather than rigid ones. The end goal should be the delivery of a high-quality product rather than a subpar solution that meets a set deadline.

5. Use release planning tools

Your release plan is a plan of action meant to improve the quality and efficiency of release planning in project management. Visual tools help manage the release management process to minimize risks and meet business demands.

Release planning tools reduce process complexity by giving team members and other key stakeholders a visual, easily accessible way to view planning details. This enables project management teams to better coordinate the people, resources, and tasks necessary to add product value with each release.

Visual tools for successful release planning

The successful completion and delivery of end products depend on agile release planning. The following visual tools can help you meet your specific needs and conditions for release planning management:

  • Timelines. Establish a big-picture overview of the release plan process using timelines such as a Gantt chart. They are especially useful when documenting when new features will be delivered for each release increment.
  • Swim lane diagrams. A swim lane diagram identifies how responsibilities held by different teams connect and intersect. You can use swim lane diagrams to coordinate your release planning schedules across teams.
  • Kanban boards. Visualize workflows to increase team productivity using a Kanban board. These are beneficial when prioritizing features for release iterations and identifying bottlenecks that are impeding process efficiency.
  • Strategy maps. Successful release planning requires an understanding of how each release supports your overall product vision and business goals. Use a strategy map to illustrate the steps needed to reach milestones throughout the project.

When building a successful release plan, you might prefer the ease of an all-in-one visual mapping tool. MindManager® offers a variety of customizable templates for maps, plans, diagrams, and more.

Not only does MindManager let you build engaging digital diagrams, but you can also share and collaborate in real-time with cross-platform co-editing across any visual diagrams you create.

Additionally, you can link diagrams to other project documents, such as strategy maps and timelines, to manage all aspects of release planning for project management.

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