The Term ‘Release Planning’
Is the term ‘Agile Release Planning’ useful?
Mike Cohn has a good blog post about this, here.
I agree and slightly disagree.
First, we need to state the obvious principles. It is important, as far as possible, to be clear and consistent about what a word or phrase means.
Release Planning normally implies planning for the next release.
As Mike Cohn says, the term typically gives the idea we are looking ahead a few sprints (1 or 3 or 10 ….), to get an idea which features to include in that release. Or, to see if the features we ‘need’ to release can be released by that date.
BTW, this is not what I mean by the term now. What I really mean is planning the next 6 months of work (or some period like that). And often that will be 12 releases or 1 release (at least!) or something in-between. And I agree that ‘release planning’ is not a very accurate name for what I mean.
Now, as Mike says, often we are releasing each sprint. And some have Continuous Delivery (eg, releasing every day). So the term is inaccurate. True.
In agile, we assume nothing is fixed in the sense that everything has some degree of negotiability. Everything changes; nothing remains the same, as the Buddha said 2000+ years ago.
More broadly, I mean by release planning a set of tools and techniques, with a way of thinking about how to plan the product, short-term and long-term. And how this planning will feed the sprints (where we have ‘sprint planning’). We do release planning to feed the sprints. And we also do release planning to enable us to end up with a better, sooner, smaller, higher-quality release…whenever the release might be.
‘Garbage in, garbage out.’ We have heard this many times. So we are also using agile release planning to feed good stuff into the sprint, so that good working product comes out of the sprint.
I agree with Mike on this: More people are releasing faster now. Often every sprint. This is great, almost always.
So, does ‘release planning’ go away? Well, we must admit it is not a very accurate name in many situations.
And perhaps the same exact tools and techniques may not be needed in every situation.
Still, usually, most firms have a lasting, evolving product. So ‘release planning’ is perhaps better called ‘product planning’ over multiple releases. Or ‘forward planning’ or ‘a product roadmap’. Essentially the same tools, techniques and ideas apply. ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ as Shakespeare said.
Do I want to stop using the term ‘release planning’? No. It is still useful to most people, I think. And, more and more I want to discuss the issues mentioned here, when I use the term.
For the long view, Jeff Sutherland likes the term ‘product road map.’ He thinks most firms need a product road map that gives them an idea how the product will likely evolve over 12 months (some products less time, some products more time). This seems like a sensible idea to me.
Guarantee, predict, estimate, commit, forecast. Be very careful with these words. Or similar words.
Do not be mislead people.
‘To predict is difficult, particularly of the future.’ This was said in Latin some 2000 years ago. And remains true today, maybe more.
To guarantee is not our main purpose. Learning is really our main purpose. Still, time is important. The customer wants (and needs) something yesterday. This burden or bind is always with us. And we need to set a date and work hard to deliver the most we can in that time-box. These are useful disciplines, and they can and should lead to a sense of pride and satisfaction.
Managers: It will not help you to drive a ‘death march’ or anything like it. Not to mention that it is immoral. They are not your slaves. Almost always, if you think they are lazy, then you have been too lazy to work with them closely. Almost always, it is (in part) your fault that their work situation is so disrupted that they can barely get anything across the goal line for the customer.
Workers (if we may divide the world into managers and workers): Do not say things that the managers can easily misunderstand. Tell the truth. ‘No’ is often the right answer. Do not use weasel words that, to you, mean ‘no’, but to managers are often heard as ‘yes, I can figure out how to do that.”
We can use ‘agile release planning’, or all the tools, techniques and thought patterns around that idea, to help ourselves be more successful. That means: your life is better, your Team’s lives are better, and your customers’ lives will become better.