A release plan forecasts how a major release is developed. It’s a type of project plan—albeit an agile one—and it usually covers the next three to six months. I use the term major release to refer to a version of your digital product that introduces a noticeable change, for instance, by adding or optimising functionality or enhancing the user experience, and it typically results in a new product version—think of Windows 10 or iOS 9.3, for example.
Release plans come in different shapes and sizes depending on the process used. In Scrum, the release burndown chart is the default release plan. It helps you track the progress from sprint to sprint, anticipate if the relevant product backlog items can be delivered on time and budget (or how long it will take and how much it will cost), and to make the necessary adjustments, such as, reduce or remove a feature, or add a new team member to the team. The following picture shows a sample release burndown chart.
In the chart above, the vertical axis captures the remaining effort in the product backlog required to create the next release, and the horizontal axis captures the number of sprints necessary or available to develop the release. The first data point on the chart is the estimated effort of the entire product backlog before any development has taken place. To arrive at the next data point, you determine the remaining effort in the product backlog at the end of the first sprint. Then draw a line between the two points. The burndown line shows the progress that has been made, and after a few sprints you should see a trend emerge and be able to forecast future progress. The forecast is represented by the dotted line in the chart above.
A product roadmap communicates how a product is likely to evolve across several major releases. Unlike the release plan, it is a product plan that looks beyond an individual project or release: It describes the journey you want to take your product on over the next 12 months or so—much like a roadmap helps you plan a road trip.
Product roadmaps vary in their format. I prefer to work with goal-oriented roadmaps (also called theme-based roadmaps). As their name suggests, these roadmaps focus on the goals the upcoming releases should provide. The picture below shows the GO Product Roadmap, a specific goal-oriented roadmap format that I have created. You can download the roadmap template from romanpichler.