Software Release Planning: Tips and Tricks by the Distinct Clouds Team

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In Agile development, release planning is crucial. Without it, the delivery of your features can be unpredictable. This is why as a software product manager you may feel like you're spending a lot more time on the details of the software build process in general - there are so many steps and without a proper plan, it can be difficult to know how best to get all your built features out the door! One way you can help ensure release planning happens properly is by building some of your own templates or checklists that clearly detail important tasks that need doing continuously throughout this phase of development, the key milestones in terms of testing, release and post-release marketing that needs investing in too and even what questions lead times must be factored into for discussion.

Software release planning meaning

There are multiple definitions of what software release planning is. Let’s define it most simply. Release planning can be defined as both setting up a schedule for several sequential software releases and doing your best to meet that schedule.

Why software release planning matters 

Things involved in release planning:

  • Setting and clarifying objectives: Product Managers can help achieve this by matching product objectives with those of their team and ultimately the business itself when it comes to needs, wants, and insights on the target audience.
  • Creating a killer high concept. All team members need to clearly understand the vision before they can take it to the next level, where prototyping can help flesh out and refine any details in your project that might have been harder for other people to see.
  • Planning when to release new software is always part of being a product manager. Making determinations about the project duration and expected features lists is something that should be taken into consideration if an organization wishes to stay competitive in an ever-growing technology market.

    A detailed guide to building a software release plan
    Now you'll follow along with our Distinct Clouds team as we show you how we systematize and organize our processes for developing release plans. This guide is inspired by the insights and experience of our team at RubyGarage. We have broken down our process into two sections: initial release planning, and updating ongoing plans between iterations.
  • First release plan
  1. Define the product scope, or feature set: scrum is intended to be simple. The Scrum Guide describes three formal events: the sprint planning day, the sprint review day, and the sprint retrospective.
  2. Make estimates for a project. It’s best to provide an estimation of a product in story points for an easy understanding of the complexity of tasks.
  3. Define dependencies between flows. Some flows can be executed independently, while others are connected and must be executed simultaneously (simultaneously accessible). Generally, this step is about maximizing the efficiency of the workforce.
  4. Form a team that's optimal for the product. You must understand the roles each person will play and the stage at which each will be involved.
  5. Set the velocity for each individual and group. Create a sustainable pace for teams that work for everyone – and that will ensure that work is being completed in good time.
  6. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference. No matter the scale of a project, making sure you’re aware of any potential risks or problems beforehand is important. We must go over these potential risks with your team and plan out different scenarios and their impacts to not only refine them to find a solution but also to fully address the repercussions in advance and minimize any unnecessary distractions later on.
  7. To build the foundation of our project, we need to create a schedule baseline and a software release plan. These two software planning artefacts will help us organize our goals and monitor tasks throughout the duration of development.

Updating the release plan during each iteration

  1. A burndown chart helps you to track and measure your project’s progress. In terms of release planning, burndown is the current scope of tasks remaining within the current release.
  2. Analyze changes to the backlog. Work must be carefully considered when deciding what new features or tasks to add to the backlog as this can significantly affect the release plans for projects where they are included.
  3. Track performance regularly. Monitor both the personal and team velocity to see if anything is out of the ordinary if one feature is taking up too much time or generally to understand how close they are to achieving each of their goals concerning releasing new features.
  4. Assess new risks and factors that can affect your release plan or forecasts. Every game has new rules, so you must always be aware of these changes to stay ahead in the game!

How and where to use a software release plan

  • Client and team expectation management

All the basics of client expectation management are more or less about communication. The basic rules are being honest and open from the start, providing assumptions, and following clear goals. Additionally, setting goals is one of the essential features of a release plan. Moreover, thorough planning is the best way to follow goals with fewer fluctuations. Finally, backlogs, one of the artefacts of the planning process, are a kind of storage for assumptions. Indeed, planning formal systems are a source of transparent communication with stakeholders both internal and external to your organization.

Every member of your team should be just as much an active participant and vital to the success of your organization as clients and customers.

Project budget management

Budget management starts with defining the budget and continues with executing, controlling, and updating it.

  1. Estimations within release planning are mainly based on story points and complexity. Story points are meant to help indicate the amount of work that will be covered in each particular task whereas complexity indicates how long the task might take.
  2. Releasing features allows a product manager to be flexible with their budget, and are a good way to communicate that flexibility. If there is an imbalance between what has been done and the budget, then a change in the feature set must lead to a change in spending – or else communication will break down!

Project scheduling control

The project schedule baseline is also known as the target schedule. It shows the project milestones, which you can compare with actual achievements. The schedule performance analysis (SPA) process is one of its measures to use in determining whether a project is running ahead of or behind schedule. This parameter is called the Schedule Performance Index or SPI, which demonstrates how close a project’s current activities and tasks are to meeting their scheduled dates.

The following control steps are used when scheduling each development iteration. Compare it with the preceding schedule for releases:

  1. Actualizing the current status of features
  2. At the end of each iteration, performing a retrospective review
  3. Making required changes to the backlog
  4. Evaluating iteration velocity
  5. Required changes to make in the schedule

Check below if you need some ideas on how to make a successful project plan. All of the ideas below have been proven to work by multiple successful projects.

  1. To stay organised and ensure your plans are being adhered to, you might want to use a roadmap for planning several releases. Using a roadmap is especially helpful when it comes to making sure that any potential problems with development can be accounted for and dealt with well in advance.
  2. When prioritizing business goals, aim to address company needs first and foremost, then consider how you can accomplish these goals.
  3. Making assumptions, documenting dependencies, and accounting for risks are all things you must remember if you want your software product to launch successfully. Assumptions are of course the easiest way to make changes to stakeholders - even though no one wants to do that - while dependencies are any facts related to your product that's not already classified. For example, if you're running the risk of making a feature bigger than expected, you'll need more time allocated for it in the project plan.
  4. Estimate carefully. Initiate the estimation process with high attention to detail.
  5. As a product manager, one of your main responsibilities is to ensure that as you and your team push out new code, you keep customers happy. This generally means releasing updates more frequently than once a year.
  6. Releasing finished features (or completed code in general) will help to keep a project's quality up and will help your technical debt pile from getting too insurmountable.
  7. Involve people. Engage stakeholders, teammates and other relevant parties in the planning mission.
  8. While continuous attention is important for any release process, planning around it is just as important. Prioritize your tasks to determine which ones are the most important and our team members will diligently work towards getting each one completed perfectly!

Creating a schedule for an application, website, or program is difficult for small businesses that are new to the field of project management. It takes just one slipup to compromise everything. But if you can get someone at an agency who's experienced in creating products like yours to help you plan out your development roadmap, your team will have better results and you'll also be able to pinpoint any mistakes that could ruin the launch before it happens.

Conclusion

Let’s recap:

Software release planning is not an option if you're an Agile leader or team. Planning helps keep your goals clear and precise to the point where you can prioritize tasks appropriately for a project's success. It's not easy, but it’s always worth it. The more detailed a plan is, the more likely your release will be successful. Plans have lower error rates and when done right can help save projects and time down the road.

We hope the insights above will help you take some of the stress out of planning your releases!

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