Scrum or Agile? Release Planning

Scrum vs Agile

More than 60% of software development projects end in failure. close to 10% of large IT projects end on time and within budget, and around 30% of IT projects are outright canceled due to consistent failure to meet milestones.

Sadly software development teams of all sizes suffer from low success rates. It is largely due to the complexity of software development, the recency of the field vis-a-vis other types of engineering, and inadequate preparation and poor understanding of the development process.

Recently, competent and reliable development strategies have been designed to deal with these challenges, the most prominent among them being Agile and Scrum. Both are flexible and effective management strategies that can help your development team finish on time and within budget.

In this article, we'll teach you everything you need to know about both approaches: what they are, what are their advantages, and how to adopt them in your company!

The Release Planning Process: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Having a product vision, determining what's a minimum viable product (MVP), carefully delineating responsibilities, and keeping the team committed to concrete milestones are all cornerstones of a successful development project.

It is the release planning process that lays the groundwork for the project and tries to bring everything together from alpha releases to general availability and post-release support. It is a development team's approach to the software release life cycle as a whole. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, failing to have a release plan is planning to fail.

Agile Release Planning

Agile is a development and organizational framework that focuses on creating minimum viable products breaking down large tasks into smaller ones, using short, iterative development cycles, and focusing on hitting manageable, concrete milestones.

Agile frameworks are a clear breakaway from traditional engineering principles, which are characterized by spending weeks collecting requirements, taking months on product design, finishing development before any release, and sticking to a rigid product roadmap.

5 Cornerstones of Adopting Agile Methodology

Evaluate Current Methodologies and Processes

Before adopting an agile release plan, you need to evaluate your current approach. If the company has adopted a more traditional methodology, you'll likely need to make fundamental changes to the structure of your business and your development team to make it compatible with an agile approach.

This can only be done after carefully analyzing correct methodologies, determining what needs to be changed, and communicating with impacted stakeholders.

Choose the Agile Approach Suitable for the Project

Agile is more of a philosophy and a paradigm than a specific set of instructions that companies are expected to follow. There are multiple ways to transform your development process into an agile one, and before you proceed with the project, you need to determine which approach suits you best.

The most common Agile approaches are Kanban, Scrum, Lean, eXtreme Programming (XP), and Feature-Driven Development (FDD).

  • Kanban is a system that was credited with inventing Just-in-time Manufacturing and is inspired by the automotive industry.
  • Scrum focuses on creating smaller "Scrum teams" with precise accountabilities to take care of units of development called artifacts.
  • Lean development focuses on a minimalist product roadmap and aims to create an MVP as soon as possible to see how it performs in real market conditions.
  • Extreme programming, developed in the 90s, is an agile approach that focuses on the big picture instead of getting bogged down in the details. It takes a "values and principles" approach to the project where you track progress not only by lines of code but by how successfully you've adhered to the core philosophy that has inspired the product.

Implement an Agile release planning approach that best suits the structure of your team, the complexity of the software, and the preferences of the stakeholders.

Create Road Maps and Segment Tasks

Now that you've chosen an approach to tackle development, it is time to create a coherent product vision, a concrete roadmap, and a proper workflow.

  • Start by determining the release goals you need to meet and the timetable you need to adhere to.
  • Create a Work In Progress (WIP) queue and segment larger development goals into smaller, leaner tasks that can be performed iteratively.

Create Agile Teams

The agile methodology is a collaborative process, and the success of the project will largely depend on how well your team is reorganized to handle it.

There are some key pointers when creating Agile development teams:

Proper communication channels

Team collaboration is essential for any development project to succeed, but it is doubly true for agile ones. Due to the fast development cycles and the shortened time to market (TTM), lack of or miscommunication can be costly and snowball rapidly. Make sure your teams are on the same page and there are dedicated communication lines to address questions, concerns, and ideas.

Clear delineation of responsibilities

Though dividing development into many smaller tasks makes it more manageable, with tens, sometimes hundreds, of tasks, iterations, and follow-ups, roles and responsibilities can blur. This, at best, slows down development, and at worst, creates friction within the team and grinds the product release calendar into a halt. This is why it is crucial every team member is on board with the product strategy and fully understands the product backlog.

A product manager committed to agile principles

A product manager creates the workplace culture. He's the most responsible for both the success and the failure of the project. As the team completely shifts its approach to software development, it is the product manager's job to make sure everyone understands the agile process and its benefits. Whether you implement agile release planning successfully or not will depend on the team's willingness and attitude.

Iterate and Improve on the Processes as You Develop the Project

One of the biggest benefits of agile release planning is its flexibility. By improving and fine-tuning your agile processes, your team can adapt to any environment.

This makes iterating on the agile approach itself a cornerstone of the methodology, and in this section, we'll go over a few ways you can improve your agile release plan:

Incorporating user stories

A key strength of agile release planning is putting clients/customers/users first, and this is primarily done through user stories, which are hypothetical scenarios of how users will use your new feature.

User stories help you put the user at the center of development, considering the utility they'll derive from the feature, how they'll interact with the UI, and the potential difficulties they might face. User stories will help you iron out your designs and work out the kinks with each iteration.

Incorporating feedback to improve future releases

Due to the cyclical, iterative approach of agile release planning, developers receive feedback from users and clients fairly quickly as product releases and updates happen. Both direct and indirect feedback will be invaluable in improving your approach to product management.

Direct feedback includes emails, reviews, surveys, and discussions on social media. Indirect feedback includes user behavior data like the number of downloads, the daily active users (DAU), the DAU/WAU ratio, and more. The product owner can use this feedback to understand what the team got right and what the team got wrong.

Learning when to cut losses

Not every product, feature, or update will be well received. Alongside helping you receive feedback quicker, agile release planning helps you understand when you've made mistakes.

Changing the release scope of a project, cutting development on a feature that's not being well received, and pivoting to a different release goal and target market are all actions agile release planning allows you to take without incurring the costs and risks associated with more rigid methodologies like waterfall.

Part of perfecting and embodying an agile release plan is the product owner learning when pivoting and reaccessing goals and the scope is correct!

The Advantages of Adopting an Agile Release Plan

Respond to Market Conditions

Segmenting development into smaller, more manageable chunks means quicker release schedules and shorter development time. With agile, instead of a feature being developed for two years and then released, a minimum viable product is released in a few months with the team iteratively improving on it.

With longer development times, you run the risk of releasing products and features that simply don't meet market demands. Trends change, new competitors enter the market, new IT features become available, and an agile release plan is one of the only methodologies that can cope with the uncertainty in the tech market by quickly helping you pivot as market conditions change.

Address Deficiencies and Bugs Quickly

No matter how thorough your planning and quality assurance phases are, it is simply impossible to catch all the bugs and inadequacies before release. There's always an eventuality that's not accounted for, a bug that slips into the cracks, a UI element that's confusing and hard to use.

By implementing shorter development cycles, agile project management allows you to address mishaps quickly and roll out updates and tweaks on a weekly if not daily basis. In an oversaturated digital market where apps live and die by their reputation, agile release plans shine in this aspect.

Minimize Risks Through Incremental Releases

Not every product, feature, or update will be well received. Whether it is due to the lack of market research, miscalculations, or simply luck, failure is common and sometimes unavoidable. However, not all failures are equal. The larger an update, the more capital and development time it requires, and the more it will hurt your company if it flops.

This is where agile product management comes in. By breaking down development into smaller tasks, it significantly reduces risks for the company. If a small agile task fails, the company won't incur substantial losses, and they can quickly investigate what went wrong and how they can pivot going forward. It is simply a more resilient development approach.

Scrum Release Planning

Scrum operates on a Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle. which is famous for its responsiveness and flexibility in both the marketing and manufacturing world.

Scrum cycles typically start with Sprint planning, with Sprint being a short, fixed-length development cycle to achieve a specific goal. After planning, it is time for "daily scrums" where a scrum team sets out to achieve the goals set out during the planning phase. Lastly, the sprint ends with a review/retrospective where the team evaluates performance, checks goals achieved, and accesses the Scrum product backlog to measure success and introduce changes.

A sprint is the building unit of a scrum release plan, though the methodology can scale rapidly with many moving parts to cope with more complex software development. It is common for mid-sized companies to have multiple sprints, a regular sprint release planning meeting, complex artifact and accountability structures, and more.

When Is a Scrum Release Plan Suitable?

When There's a Lot of Uncertainty

The short sprint cycles make scrum release planning one of the best tools to deal with uncertain development environments. Your team can regroup and reassess product vision, release goal, budget, and deadline after each sprint changing the team's approach to better answer the new market/social realities.

When You Have a Live Service Product

It is increasingly rare for the product release to be the end of development. Fixing bugs, updating core functions, and introducing new features have long become necessary for a software product to see continued success. Scrum release planning with weekly/monthly sprints lends itself exceptionally well to post-release support, with teams already being structured to handle smaller tasks that are limited in scope.

When Discipline is Required

Though agile is known to be lean and flexible, scrum is one of the more disciplined approaches to agile. There's a dedicated planning and design phase, regular meetings are scheduled, and the team commits to the sprint planning and goals. This makes Scrum an excellent tool for larger companies that might find approaches like Extreme Programming too unstructured.

- Releasecat Team

Releasecat Team


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