Release Dates in Agile, Not Taboo

I’ve heard a lot lately about how it’s not-so-Agile to set release dates for major features, epics, and projects.  Some are uncomfortable being given a date (mainly teams) and others are uncomfortable without a date in hand (mainly, Product Owners, executives, and stakeholders).

This very much a myth to be dispelled.  Dates do not go away with Agile!  Rather, it is how we predict and communicate dates that should change.

With Agile, release dates are fixed based on time-boxed iterations.  In our case, we tend to release after every sprint, so there is always a release date every two weeks.  Therefore, by nature of time-boxing, the schedule is a fixed constraint.  With the schedule being a fixed constraint (as is cost based on team size), it is scope that remains flexible.  So, the scope that is included in any given release is flexible based on what the team was able to accomplish, what stories get dropped, what natural disaster impeded the team, who was out sick, and so on and so forth.  Whether that scope accomplished is acceptable for release to production is always a Product Owner decision.

Second, what’s critical to understand is that in Agile we PREDICT.  We predict dates for major features, epics, and projects.  In fact, everything we do in Scrum is in support of us all getting better and better at predicting or being predictable rather … Capacity, story points, velocity, release planning, etc. Furthermore, the closer you get to any given date, the better you are at predicting it and the greater the confidence too.

With that understanding, how we communicate dates needs to be adapted for our Agile world.  First, we should modify our language.  Rather than say “Project X will be released on 7/1” let’s say “Project X is predicted to release on 7/1 and the team has an 80% confidence in that date”. Second, we should always remember that with schedule and cost as fixed constraints, scope is flexible. So, we might say “Project X 1.0 with A and B features is predicted to release on 7/1 and the team has an 80% confidence in that date”.

With some education around this topic we will all be better able to talk dates without the taboo of it not being Agile.

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About Stephanie Davis

Stephanie is Executive Director - Enterprise Agility Office at Catalina, driving lift and loyalty for the world's leading CPG brands and retailers.  Most recently, Stephanie was Senior Director of Enterprise Agility at Valpak. She was with Valpak for 13 years, most of which were focused on leading their agile transformation to what became a world renowned success story published in case studies and demonstrated to over 50 different companies through the years via agile tours.  Prior to Valpak, Stephanie held past positions in the project management domain with AT&T and IBM. Stephanie's academic credentials include a BS in Marketing from the University of South Florida and an MBA in International Business from the University of Bristol in England. She also maintains the Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credentials. Stephanie is big on tech community involvement!  Most recently, she served as an elected board member to the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization with global membership, committed to advancing agile development values, principles, and practices. In addition, she serves her local community as an organizer for Tampa Bay Agile, the largest and most active tech Meetup in the area, and the annual Agile Open Florida event. In 2016, Stephanie was awarded Tampa Bay Tech’s Technology Leader of the Year and the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s BusinessWoman of the Year (Tech) and Emerging Technology Leader of the Year. View all posts by Stephanie Davis

One response to “Release Dates in Agile, Not Taboo

  • Bill

    Always a good reminder. I have heard a number of folks recently saying “I know Agile means we can’t have fixed dates…” Of course we can, but if scope is fixed, resources essentially fixed, AND the release date is fixed…you are in a bad space. Good post, thanks!

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