Introduction to Agile Release Planning
Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holders should understand Agile project management — an approach that helps organizations manage risk and adapt to a world of constant change. Underpinning the agile approach is agile release planning, a concept that anyone holding or seeking an agile certification must master if they want to lead a successful agile team.
But what is agile release planning, and how does one get started with it? This article will walk you through the basics of agile release planning that Project Managers should know as well as a template to help you get started.
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What is Agile Release Planning?
Agile release planning is an approach to project management in which product releases are based on incremental developments. This is quite different from traditional planning approaches that focus on distinct, major product releases.
PMP Certification holders should understand that effective agile release planning involves many of the same processes as traditional project planning:
- Setting goals and objectives
- Establishing timelines and milestones
- Coordinating resources
- Managing risks
- Tracking progress
But instead of centering each release around a completely new product, agile release planning goals and milestones aim to produce smaller updates that themselves comprise packages of minor changes.
A simple example of agile release planning in action is modern operating system updates. Whether you use MacOS or Windows, a major product release (MacOS Monterrey or Windows 10, for instance) is bound to have unforeseen bugs or feature issues. But rather than waiting for Ventura or Windows 11 to be ready for release, developers instead work on many small changes to the software. These changes are then bundled as cohesive, incremental updates that improve user experience until the next major product is ready.
Of course, this begs the question, “How often should the project team release an update?” Agile release planning helps teams determine how often updates should be released and which tools can keep the project organized and on track.
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5 Steps to Create an Agile Release Plan
The principal elements in any agile release plan are:
- Determining the product backlog
- Creating the iteration backlog
- Developing the release burndown
- Releasing the product
Step 1: Vision Planning
Before even starting with an agile release plan, product owners and other stakeholders should agree on the overall product vision. While your product vision can change to adapt to new circumstances, you should always address the following questions in the vision:
- Who is the target customer?
- What problem is the product solving?
- For what reason(s) would customers buy the product?
- How is the product different from its alternatives?
- What makes the product unique?
Step 2: Determine the Product Backlog
A product backlog is a list of the features, functions, and requirements that need to be developed for the product. Project managers develop product backlogs using a variety of sources, including:
- Reviewing the product requirements and desired outcomes
- (Re-)Analyzing the customers’ needs
- Communicating with the development team
- Conducting market research
Step 3: Create the Iteration Backlog
As with all agile projects, the iteration backlog is a list of all the tasks to be completed during a particular iteration, or development cycle. As you put together an iteration backlog for your development project, be sure to:
- Determine the scope of the iteration.
- Create user stories.
- Estimate the effort required for each user story.
- Prioritize the user stories.
Step 4: Develop the Release Burndown Chart
A release burndown chart is a graph or other visualization that displays the product development status over time. It helps the team track what work has been completed so far. As part of the overall agile approach, the release burndown chart is posted somewhere where the entire development team can see it and track their progress.
To develop an effective release burndown chart, make sure to:
- Collect data on the progress of the iteration.
- Update the release burndown regularly.
- Adjust the scope of the release, only if necessary.
Step 5: Release the Product Increment
The final step in an agile release plan is to release the product increment. To do this, project teams must:
- Verify that all the user stories are complete.
- Ensure that all the acceptance criteria have been met.
- Create a release package.
- Deploy the release package to production.
- Monitor the product in production and conduct a retrospective to understand the lessons learned.
For PMP Certification holders, Agile release planning is an essential part of any successful agile development project because it allows developers to produce and deliver high-quality products that deliver value to customers on time. With proper planning and execution, teams can increase their efficiency while developing better products for their customers.
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