How to create a release plan (with helpful steps and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Proper planning influences the execution and performance of a project. A release plan serves as a guide that shows a detailed timeline for a project, including specific goals, instructions and expectations. Understanding how you can utilise an Agile release plan to ensure the success of a project is essential as a project manager. In this article, we describe how to create a release plan and list practical steps to create an effective product release plan of your own.

Why is it important to know how to create a release plan?

Understanding how to create a release plan is essential knowledge for project managers to avoid wasting time and resources on unclear goals. Agile release planning refers to product management that involves monitoring software development. The team divides a large project goal into smaller sprints as progressive increments leading up to the final goal.

Using release planning ensures that you don't work on extensive, complex features or requirements while running a project. Agile software separates the process into smaller and manageable stages, known as releases. A release is an allotted timeframe when teams tackle a portion or limited project feature. The release plan specifies when these features or releases are available to users. Breaking projects into releases allows product managers to control restraints and handle new requirements at each stage while delivering regular releases for the product users.

Related: Project manager requirements (with duties and skills)

Components of a release map

Effective release planning requires a structure and proper organisation. You may outline every step or activity to ensure the team has a project calendar to follow. Release maps may vary depending on the organisation, but here are some general components:

  • proposing project releases

  • planning to work on each release

  • subsequently iterating release(s)

  • planning for iterations

  • requiring tasks to deliver features

  • developing features within iterations

Besides creating a detailed iteration schedule, careful planning makes an Agile release plan highly beneficial to product development. An iterative schedule allows team members to make specific changes or corrections without affecting the entire project. Also, detailed planning ensures everyone involved understands what's happening at each stage.

Related: Guide to understanding release management and its process

Objectives of an Agile release plan

Release planning is an essential part of the decision-making process in project management. With release plans, teams can decide the functionalities they can deliver and the timeframe required to create these functionalities or features. It's a tool that makes it easy to separate complex projects into smaller portions aggregating to achieve the eventual goal.

Agile release planning also encourages communication among members of the team or organisation. Miscommunication can be a serious issue and may impede progress during a project. This tool ensures team members and stakeholders clearly understand the expectations of each stage, so everyone is aware of their responsibilities. The project manager's job of organising and supervising the project's process also appears more effortless.

How to create an effective release plan

An effective release plan demands proper planning and attention to detail. Product or project managers work together with their teams to ensure everyone knows the project plans and their respective responsibilities. Below are steps to consider for an effective release plan:

1. Have a clearly defined goal

The importance of having a clearly defined goal for your project cannot be overemphasised. You and your team may specify what you want to achieve by completing the project, including the releases and their contribution to the project goal. Setting these initial goals enables you to understand the requirements and tasks required for specific features and the entire project goal.

You can make sure everyone understands what the project demands during this process. This action prevents frustration, miscommunication and confusion about project requirements. Defining the major and minor aspects also tells you which may require more or less effort.

Related: Objective vs goal: what are the key differences?

2. Review product backlogs

The subsequent step is to review product backlogs and rank the features. Prioritise features based on their significance to your release goal. This step is essential to minimise features or functionalities for Agile releases. Here, you're trying to identify the essential features and attend to them first, leaving the less important ones for later releases.

3. Estimate releases

Once you've identified all the backlog items, estimate how much time you need until a release is possible. Review all estimates, make necessary changes and make a new estimate for the items without one. This process requires the project manager to organise the team and allocate activities accurately. At the end of the process, you may have some items without an estimate for various reasons. You can assign an average estimate to those items.

4. Determine the number of sprints

Each release has an estimate of story points and team velocity. You can calculate the number of sprints to complete a release with this information. This is calculated by estimating the two values required. Velocity refers to how many story points a team can cover in a single sprint. So, if you have 100 story points for a release and a team velocity of 20, you can expect to finish tasks for a release in five sprints. Determining the number of sprints makes it easy to monitor progress on each release.

5. Hold a meeting to discuss release planning

Discuss the release plan with stakeholders or executives, depending on how you do things in your organisation, with specific goals, plans and estimates. This meeting reviews the release plan, makes changes that align with the company's goals and agrees on the deliverables. This meeting is necessary for the organisation or stakeholders to make final decisions before the project officially begins. The agenda for this meeting may include:

  • Reviewing the project roadmap: This informs everyone about the overall goal for the project. This action may come first, so everyone understands what the product or project seeks to achieve.

  • Discussing the architecture and technicalities for releases: This provides the opportunity to learn about specific details that may affect the plan, estimates, releases and deliverables.

  • Reviewing the iteration schedule and velocity: Examine the proposed iteration schedule and the required velocity, estimating based on previous projects.

  • Defining the success criteria of a release: You can decide which tasks to complete before the team delivers a release at this stage.

6. Update the release plan regularly

While you may have made the best possible release plans, expect some changes or new requirements to arise along the way. So, it's essential to monitor your release plan closely and make updates when necessary. Check for changes that may affect what you want to deliver and the expected time for delivery. If you notice any recent developments, specific updates to your plan might become necessary.

For instance, discuss which steps to take if you notice a disparity between the planned and actual progress your team makes on a feature. Eventually, you may decide to make specific changes to speed up the process or change the release date to accommodate your current pace. Regular checks are essential to make these updates early enough.

7. Complete and share the release calendar

After meeting with the team and making plans and necessary adjustments, finalise details on the release calendar and share it with all team members and stakeholders. Everyone requires subsequent access to the plan to learn new updates and references. The calendar ensures the team is aware of the tasks and focuses on them at the ideal time.

Additional tips for successful release planning

If you've used an Agile release plan before or plan to use one soon, there are some tips you may find helpful during the process. These tips can help you get the maximum results from your Agile release plan:

  • Monitor progress: Monitor the progress made across all sprints with your specific SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goal as a guide.

  • Don't release an incomplete feature: Ensure that you've performed all the tasks required to qualify a feature as completed before releasing it.

  • Specify roles needed for a release plan: For instance, while the scrum master may organise meetings and give regular reports, a product manager may oversee the releases and define the criteria to complete a release.

  • Limit time for administrative tasks: Substitute daily physical meetings by working with a work board or an online channel, limiting the time spent on administrative tasks. Doing so for all sprints can be beneficial to you and your team.

Explore more articles