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Roadmap ≠ Release Plan

March 17, 2024

It is very common for a roadmap to be considered the same as a release plan. However, they are not! They serve different purposes for different audiences.

A Product Roadmap outlines the strategic reasons and 'Why' behind a product's development. It sets the direction towards the Product Vision and often extends over a year or more. Generally, it's used for external communication with customers and executive stakeholders.

A Release Plan focuses on the 'What' and the 'When'—detailing the schedule of upcoming product releases. It often covers several releases over a few months, rather than just a single release. Primarily used internally, it coordinates and synchronizes development efforts and is considered a tactical tool.

They both have their place. Over 2500 years ago Sun Tzu wrote in his legendary book 'The Art of War' the following:

Sun Tzu - Wikipedia

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat

They are two sides of the same coin. One depends on the other.

Now I would like to share how I personally think about it and how I approach those two in my Agile work.


As the Product Owner you own the Product Vision -- The Why -- and the strategy to get there. I like to think about the strategy as a vector, pointing us in the right direction. The Product Vision and the strategy need to be well communicated, they need to be based on a strong narrative. The narrative, includes the past and shows us a better future, has to be understood by anyone who is involved with the endeavor - both the stakeholders and the people working on the product. The strategic vector consists of the Product Vision and the next Product Goal. I like to consider a Product Goal to be 4-6 months out.  Maybe a candidate follow up Product Goal in case everything works out according to plan. Further is unrealistic.

The strategic vector is the path we intend to walk on, however, if new information emerges, we will adjust accordingly. The Product Vision is adapted not pivoted. In case we understand that the current Product Vision is not valuable or viable any more we drop it. A good Roadmap is a strong communication tool, a battle call. 

Release Plan

The Release Plan as the name states is the plan for our next or upcoming releases -- The What and When. It is tactical with a shorter time horizon. It is an internal document for the people actively engaged with the product development effort. It usually groups features into anticipated releases. It allows various teams to synchronize their work around release dates. For project managers a release plan is the tool to manage the required horizontal integration of all involved parties. A Release Plan is an internal coordination tool.

Roadmap and Release Plane comparison


Is a Roadmap important? Yes, absolutely.
Is a Release Plan important? Yes, if needed!

The more of the following is true, the more you will have to rely on a Release Plan: 

  1. Component 'Products' - Products are not real customer facing products with P&L (profit and loss) but components (could also be from an external provider) which need to be integrated to form a product. Hence, often a project manager owning the horizontal integration is needed.
  2. Wrong Organizational Design - Products are broken down into the existing organizational structure, leading to component (product) teams. Teams should be arranged around the development value stream(s) needed for the product.
  3. Not being Done at the end of the Sprint - you need to be Done (See this post about the Definition of Done) at least once a Sprint. Actually, good teams always have a releasable product. 

Once your internal capabilities and structures are right, you will be able to make frequent releases. When you can ship once a day, why would you need a Release Plan? Your organization is the Release Plan! Making a release is a business decision. We move away from engineering releases to outcome based releases.

If you heavily rely on a Release Plan, look at the causes and see where you should improve.
The less you depend on a Release Plan the more agile you are.

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