How to Plan a Release


Getting a bigger picture

Agile is an iterative and incremental approach to creating value. So, iterations matter a lot. But just thinking in iterations is not enough.

Organizations inevitably have to acquire a bigger picture view than just one iteration. And even though we know—hopefully—that the longer the planning horizon, the higher the uncertainty of that plan, some idea of where we’re headed, is important. And one way to do this is to plan a release or just a certain established timeframe that consists of multiple iterations. We will be calling it a release just for the sake of simplicity.

So, how to plan a release?

Important pieces

First of all, the planning process better be a collaborative effort of stakeholders and teams. Certainly, a bad idea if stakeholders decide for teams, that’s not going to fly well; but also, bad if teams plan but in isolation from the stakeholders.

Next, need some kind of release backlog with corresponding backlog items. Maybe you call them features, maybe you call them something else, regardless... you need to know what that backlog is, and it needs to be prioritized. So, some preparation effort has to happen before the release planning, that backlog has to be prepared, prioritized, items refined a bit; in other words, some homework is needed.

And it’s also a good idea to think about who is planning? Is it just your team? It may be, especially in cases when you don’t have a lot of dependencies on other teams; but if you do, and they are significant, you better plan together with those teams and figure out those dependencies together. That’s the most reliable way to do it.

The mechanics of planning

So, at the simplest level, the planning goes like this:

Here is what we think we need to work on in this new release, here’s why it matters to our company, and now, the most important question is: what can we actually deliver? So, some kind of matching is needed of scope against the actual capacity. In another video, on iteration planning, we consider velocity-based approach to iteration planning, which is applicable to release planning, too. So, watch that; it will help. One caution though: a larger timeframe contains more variability, so let’s make sure that we are not pretending that we can deliver it all, but rather determine what are the must-have’s within our velocity expectations and what are the nice-to-have’s.

And you will still have your iterations and iteration planning, so if something changes over the course of the release—which it most likely will—be sure to quickly respond and make adjustments.

And once that plan is delivered, see how you did as a team or even as a broader group. That will inform a better planning next time.

Taking action

Okay, how do you plan releases today? Do you see an opportunity for improvement? If yes, that means two things: you are a critical thinker and it’s time to pick one concrete improvement step and make it happen.


Learn more

How to plan an iteration

PI Planning. Scaled Agile Framework.

Alex Yakyma. The Rollout: A Novel about Leadership and Building a Lean-Agile Enterprise with SAFe®. 2016. Chapter 7.

Alex Yakyma

Alex Yakyma is the author of “Pursuing Enterprise Outcomes” and “The Rollout”. As a consultant, Alex is helping enterprises succeed with complex challenges. Throughout his career, he operated in multi-cultural, highly distributed environments. Alex has trained a large number of change agents and leaders whose key role is to help their organizations achieve higher effectiveness at pursuing business outcomes.

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