Release Plan vs Launch Plan

Product Development

Difference between Release and Launch

The terms ‘release plan’ and ‘launch plan’ are sometimes used interchangeably but they have different meanings and involve different groups of the organization. In this article we’ll set those terms straight as well as address a couple other related terms you may have heard in this context:

Release Plan

This is a term often used in relation to the Product Roadmap.  The Product roadmap provides a broad-stroke longer-term view of major projects and initiatives the team will tackle, the release plan takes a slice of that (either a specific project or a time slice such as a quarter) and breaks it down to inform specific dependencies and milestones.  The release plan is an internally focused plan that focused entirely on the delivery of a feature or project. A Release Plan is informed by Product but ultimately owned by the technical team doing the work or a Program Manager working with the tech team.

The Release Plan is known by many other teams such as “Delivery Plan” or “Project Plan” depending on context and cultural emphasis. Delivery plan is perhaps the most self-evident term since it describes the real value of the plan – it explains quite literally when output will be delivered by a team.  Project Plan is used in more Waterfall organizations where everything is tracked as a project. The term Release plan meanwhile is more aligned to Agile and try to provide a looser form of delivery projecting by anchoring to releases/iterations rather than dates.

In an Agile context, the Product Manager and Engineering lead generally work together to target specific sprints (2 wk intervals) in the coming quarter for specific stories that must be completed during that time.  Such a Release Plan is often done in order to determine which a feature will launch which has many related stories to complete. A team would then line up those stories to be ‘released’ in sequential sprints, with the intention of using a ‘feature flag’ to turn on the future for outside use once all of those user stories have been completed and released. 

Launch Plan

The Launch Plan is more holistic and externally focused by comparison.  Releasing code to the servers is but one aspect of the launch – we also need to consider Marketing efforts, Account Management and Customer Support, Financial and Legal interests, and any expected impact on other features or products in our ecosystem that need to be aware or coordinated as part of the launch. 

The Launch Plan is a tactical action plan that is in response to the Go To Market (GTM) strategy that accompanies the launch of new products and major features.   It is common that we’d create a checklist to account for all of the many moving parts that must be orchestrated during launch, to ensure they happen in concert and nothing is missed. Since the launch plan is a means of executing the GTM strategy, this is typically driven by Marketing, or a Product Marketing Manager.  Since Product Management owns the success of the product, however, Product is a strong stakeholder in this plan and needs to assume ownership of a successful launch if there is not sufficient support from Marketing to drive this effectively.

Below is an example of a launch checklist that might be used to ensure successful launch:

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In summary, every project/Epic/feature can benefit from some sort of delivery planning.  A Release Plan is an Agile-centric determination of which Sprint a particular story will complete in and thus projects forward to which release that will be completed by.  This is purely an internal delivery tracking perspective however and this is a subset of a broader launch plan which tracks across the efforts of many departments when orchestrating major feature launches.  The Launch Plan has a market-facing emphasis and is the tactical coordination plan for execution of the Go To Market strategy.

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