Magdalena Jackiewicz
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Magdalena Jackiewicz
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Jakub Rybakiewicz
Agile Project Manager

12-step process to successful Agile release planning

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In today's tech landscape, it's essential to be agile – literally. Adopting an Agile framework can make or break your project. Among the many elements of Agile methodology, release planning is a cornerstone that often doesn't get the spotlight it deserves.

Meanwhile, planning your subsequent releases gives both stakeholders and team members a comprehensive view of the project timeline. It’s all about prioritizing features that offer the most value to the end-users, it ensures that the client’s primary needs are addressed efficiently. This transparency is crucial for setting client expectations and internal benchmarks that will increase your chances of product success.

Read on for our deep dive into this client-centric element of Agile product development.

What is release planning in Scrum?

Release planning in Scrum is a crucial phase in the Agile software development process that involves setting the goals and objectives for a specific release of a software product. It typically happens at the beginning of a project or before the start of a new development cycle.

Planning a release in itself is a rather short activity, but it’s what leads to it and what happens afterwards that is more time-consuming. It’s a matter of preparation, clear communication and alignment of stakeholders, in accordance with the first Scrum pillar.

What are the objectives of Scrum release planning?

In the realm of Scrum, planning every new release is a critical and strategic step towards delivering a successful software product. Besides helping to make the process smooth in itself, Agile release planning serves the following purposes and objectives:

Defining the scope

The core of Agile release planning is about defining the scope of the upcoming release. This entails determining which features, updates, user stories, or product increments will be included within the release. This helps to set clear boundaries of operation for the development team, which are of great importance especially when you are working with a distributed team.

Prioritizing features

Prioritization is the linchpin of efficient release planning. It involves ranking the identified features based on their significance and value to the end-users or stakeholders. With that, the team ensures that the most crucial and impactful features take precedence and are delivered early in the release cycle.

Effort estimation

Agile release planning demands a keen focus on estimating the effort required for each individual feature or user story. This step is pivotal to creating a realistic and achievable timeline for the release and helps to accurately allocate resources necessary for successful implementation.

Setting release plan and goals

Beyond individual feature considerations, Agile release planning extends to defining overarching objectives and goals for the upcoming release. These may pertain to various facets, including functionality, quality, or other project-specific criteria. Establishing clear and measurable goals provides a unified vision for the team to strive toward during development.

Creating a release plan

The culmination of the Scrum release planning process involves the creation of a comprehensive release plan. This plan acts as a roadmap, defining the timeline for the completion and release of each feature or user story. It provides the development team with a structured schedule to adhere to, fostering organization and efficiency.

What are the advantages of Agile release planning?

Agile release planning is the secret sauce for successful software development. It's not just a process; it's a way of working that can help your team stay organized, adaptable, and responsive to changing requirements and customer needs. Take a look at the following benefits if you need more convincing arguments:


Agile release planning provides involved teams with a crystal-clear view of the next steps that must be taken to progress in the project. The planning isn’t so much about the technical aspects of the project as much as it is about awareness, transparency and trust-building: this boost in visibility ensures that we're all on the same page and avoids those awkward questions “are we doing it?” two days before the release is due.

Risk mitigation

Scrum release planning acts as a proactive shield against potential project risks. The planning involves a thorough examination of potential issues so that teams can prepare for hurdles that may lie ahead. This foresight enables teams to work out relevant risk mitigation strategies, addressing vulnerabilities before they can evolve into significant problems.

Resource allocation

When evaluating and prioritizing features for an upcoming release, you must ensure the appropriate resource allocation (or plan the work with resources available). The key is to ensure that each task receives the attention necessary for smooth and efficient implementation.

Enhanced collaboration

In an ideal world, Product Owners, the development team, and stakeholders gather together to collectively prepare the game plan for Agile release process. It's not just about planning; it's about building a shared understanding of what we want to achieve, the tech details, and what users are expecting. Clarity, and the awareness of the release plan and goals, helps the team to coordinate their activities more efficiently.

Better feedback loop

Agile release planning is not a static, one-time event! It takes place in iterations that accommodate for change and improvements. Regular reviews and adjustments of the release plan facilitate a dynamic feedback loop. This continuous feedback mechanism empowers teams to adapt swiftly to evolving circumstances, emerging market dynamics, or shifting customer preferences. It is the hallmark of a responsive and adaptable development process, ensuring that the project remains aligned with stakeholders' needs and expectations.

Customer satisfaction

Early and incremental delivery of valuable features is a cornerstone of customer-centric release planning. This approach goes beyond mere satisfaction; it delights customers by providing them with tangible benefits sooner rather than later. Early feature releases not only meet customer expectations but also invite their active participation and feedback. This, in turn, nurtures a deeper sense of ownership and partnership between the development team and customers, fostering enduring relationships.

Predictable delivery

Scrum release planning, when executed with precision, transforms the project timeline into a dependable roadmap. It marks clear milestones and delivery dates, which stakeholders can rely upon with confidence. This predictability is invaluable as it showcases the team's commitment to punctuality and reliability. Predictable deliveries instill trust among stakeholders, affirming their confidence in the project team's professionalism and competence.

Agile release planning – a simple step-by-step process

Planning a major release in Agile involves a blend of adhering to Agile principles, ensuring stakeholder alignment, and methodically preparing the release.

To proceed with release planning, you must first ensure that a number of things have been completed in advance:

  • clarity on sprint goal and objectives,
  • a refined backlog,
  • user stories, ideally already estimated and prioritized,
  • a list of dependencies, if available,
  • any other issues that must be addressed during the upcoming sprint.

With that, the PO can move on to sprint planning, which, once completed, will allow the team to decide what will be ready for release at the end of the upcoming sprint.

Here's a structured approach to Scrum release planning.

Step 1: Clarify the project vision and objectives

Involving key stakeholders from different domains, like business, tech, QA, and users, is crucial in release planning. Their diverse perspectives offer valuable insights: business clarifies market needs, tech assesses feasibility, QA ensures quality, and users give feedback.

Next, you’ll have to articulate what you intend to achieve with this release. Objectives can be small or large, but they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). For example:

  • entering a new market,
  • enhancing UX,
  • fixing bugs or major issues,
  • issuing a system update.

Likely, you won’t be able to pursue all objectives simultaneously, unless you have unlimited resources. It’s therefore crucial to prioritize. Consider factors like business value, customer impact, and technical feasibility when ranking objectives. The highest priority objectives should be tackled first.

Step 2: Align stakeholders

The second step to effective Agile release planning is about bringing all stakeholders to the table and making sure they’re on the same page. Business, tech, QA, and even customers can bring a unique perspective that adds depth to the planning process.

At this stage, you’ll also have to set achievable release plan and goals that fit within your available resources and timeframe. Make sure these are feasible, not aspirational, so be transparent about any limitations and constraints to manage expectations effectively. This isn’t about trying to impress anyone, but communicating the status quo.

Step 3: Refine the backlog

You’re adding items to your backlog on an ongoing basis as the project unfolds. Now is the time to refine it. Ensure that it captures every requirement, encompassing new features, improvements, and known issues. This exhaustive list should serve as the primary source of work for the development team, leaving no room for doubt.

You can utilize prioritization techniques to help you with the refinement process. We typically rely on the  MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won't have) method, which helps to categorize backlog items based on their significance.

Don’t forget to analyze dependencies between backlog items, identifying those that must be completed before others can commence. Also, bear in mind that backlog refinement is not a one-off endeavor, but an ongoing process throughout the project's lifecycle – a well refined backlog lays the groundwork for each release you’ll be working on.

Step 4: Conduct a release planning session

The Agile release planning session is where the roadmap for your project truly takes shape. In this pivotal step, you must determine which features, enhancements, and user stories will find a place in the upcoming release, in accordance with backlog refinements made in the previous step.

Engage in discussions to decide which features or user stories align most closely with the release's objectives. This step also involves estimating the effort required to wrap up the release items as well as a number of sprints required to complete individual items prioritized in the backlog – it’s all about setting a realistic timeline. Nonetheless, be sure to allocate additional time within the release plan for activities that extend beyond development (bug fixing, integration, quality assurance, and UATs, etc.).

Step 5: Prepare from the technical perspective

Ensuring a successful Scrum release involves thorough preparation from a technical perspective. This includes assessing the current architecture to determine if it supports planned features and enhancements, prioritizing and addressing technical debt that may hinder development or affect product quality, and aligning the development, testing, staging, and production environments.

Step 6: Implement quality assurance

To ensure the quality and functionality of your software release process, implement a comprehensive testing strategy that covers various testing levels, including unit tests, integration tests, system tests, and UATs.

In addition to this strategy, create test cases for each level of testing. These test cases should specify the test scenarios, expected outcomes, and criteria for success. Ensure that the testing process is well-structured and helps in identifying any potential issues or bugs.

Additionally, include a plan for regression testing in your QA strategy to maintain the stability of the software. Automation plays a significant role in maximizing the efficiency of the testing process: automating repetitive and critical test cases removes a great deal of manual work.

Step 7: Set up a feedback mechanism

An effective feedback mechanism is crucial for user-centric development and making data-driven decisions. You can gather feedback from stakeholders at the end of each sprint during your sprint review meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.

More importantly, set up a mechanism that will allow you to gather feedback from users. You can provide options for reporting issues, suggesting improvements, or sharing comments within the application to encourage feedback. This is indeed crucial in understanding user experience and identifying areas for improvement.

Surveys and questionnaires are another way to gather valuable insights. Whatever mechanism you decide to establish, make sure you actively seek and act on the  feedback you receive, so that you can continuously improve user satisfaction, loyalty, and quickly address issues or bugs.

Step 8: Roll out the release

The release phase is a critical step in software deployment. It involves the following:

  • defining the deployment strategy,
  • preparing a rollback plan, in case something goes wrong during the deployment process (you will have prepared this plan at the beginning of the project; just make sure everyone on the team is familiar with it)
  • developing a communication strategy,
  • implementing monitoring and alerting systems,
  • conducting post-release evaluation,
  • making iterative improvements.

A well-documented rollback plan is essential. Test the rollback process in a non-production environment prior to deployment. You must also ensure you have a robust monitoring and alerting system to track performance and promptly notify the team of critical incidents if something goes wrong with your software release process.

Finally, communication with stakeholders is key in this phase. Keep them informed about the release schedule, deployment process, and potential impact.

Step 9: Training and documentation

Maintaining up-to-date documentation is often overlooked in virtually every aspect of product development and it also applies to the software release process. Still, comprehensive documentation serves as a permanent record that can be referred to by new and existing team members alike. It ensures that knowledge isn't lost, but continually built upon. Hence, update your documentation upon every release.

Should your release introduce a brand new product feature, you shouldn't forget about an appropriate onboarding process that will train end users and stakeholders on making the most out of it. The same applies to the dev team – a trained team is a productive team.

Agile release process at RST Software

As a software development company present on the market for over 25 years, we have established solid processes for managing the delivery of our client projects. We leverage release planning to ensure customer satisfaction – we fully recognized it as an important mechanism for managing their expectations and priorities. We are oriented at maximizing customer involvement in the project, while making sure their valuable time isn’t wasted on tasks they shouldn’t deal with.

If you reached this point in this article, we’re already quite delighted. If you have any questions about our potential cooperation, methodology or our specializations, just drop us a short message via this contact form and we’ll get back to you to arrange a free discovery call.

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