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How to Build a Release Plan Everyone Understands

February 4, 2020

4 minute read

As a product management tool, ProdPad helps you outline your strategy with a product roadmap everyone can understand. Creating a collaborative space where your team can understand the what and the why behind your strategy, lets you create a more transparent product development process.

But alongside your strategy, it’s also important your team understands how you plan to execute these items. This is why we integrate with tools such as JIRA, Trello, and Pivotal Tracker – so that you’re able to send spec’d items over to your development team.

What is a release plan?

A release plan is an important document that outlines how and when your team will be releasing into your platform. It supports the product roadmap by showing the cadence of work coming up, and when your team can expect these items to be ready.

Been tasked with creating a release plan for your team? Here are a few quick tips on how to bring this together.

Define what a release plan is

It’s important to define what a release plan is, and how it differs from your product roadmap. 

The product roadmap focuses on what and why. It highlights objectives, outcomes, and problems your team will aim to solve. This is where ProdPad jumps in.

The release plan focuses on how and when these items will be ready. It doesn’t just include new features and improvements. Ongoing work and bug fixes, that bypasses the discovery phase, are also included. This is where your development tools come into play.

Define how often you release

How often your team releases is part of defining how your release plan works. A release is generally made up of sprints (also known as cycles) that span a couple of weeks. Within these release cycles, you may actually be releasing continuously, as we do at ProdPad. Shorter cycles allow for releasing, evaluating, and iterating based on changes or new information. 

If you want to achieve a healthy cadence of releases, we recommend assigning story points to work items. This will help your development team identify the relative effort for items in their approved backlog for that sprint – allowing them to manage their time better.

Define what makes it into a release, and how it affects other teams

Before a new sprint kicks off, be sure to let everyone in your team know what items are going to be tackled and how it affects their roles.

Cycle review image
Cycle summary

Updates will most likely affect your customer-facing teams, as they will need to be prepared with documentation and training, particularly if it changes the way they may talk about the tool or set of features.

It’s also important to make everyone aware that this isn’t a promise and you are not setting a hard deadline. You are mapping out the upcoming work your team is aiming to execute during the next few weeks. 

Life happens, accidents happen, bugs happen. Work may be delayed – nobody can know this upfront – but you are keeping everyone informed of the work your team plans on tackling.

Above all, any work involving new features and improvements should have gone through a discovery phase prior to being accepted into a sprint. This cannot be highlighted enough. Without knowing what problem you are trying to solve, and tying that to a customer or business outcome generated by your solution, then you’re simply turning yourself into a feature factory. Make sure you’re always listening to customers, understand what they’re trying to accomplish with your product, and that you have enough data to back up your hypothesis. 

ProdPad's workflow.
ProdPad’s workflow

Write your release notes

It’s always important to keep your customers and team informed of the work your team completed as part of your release plan. Release notes roll up all of these items into a digestible document that’s engaging and easy to understand.  

At ProdPad, we share release notes through our Slack Community, Help Center, and within the application with a blue bar that notifies our users of available changes.

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