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What is the relationship between a "Product Release Plan", a "Minimum Viable Product", and a "Roadmap" in an Agile environment? How are they different? How are they similar? How do they interact?

Essentially, what role does each one serve in the Agile process?

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This can be confusing because there is no authoritative body that sets terminology for Agile and, therefor, there is not "right" answer. But, these definitions and distinctions should be close.

Roadmap

The roadmap provides stakeholders with a view of how the product might roll out. Many teams do a planning that is longer out than a sprint but within about a quarter. The roadmap often indicates what major features are in that time period and their likely order. Though things change from sprint to sprint, this near-term period is the most likely to have minimal change. The roadmap then often describes the "next up" features. For a new bank teller application, it might look something like this:

Q(n) Focus: Account History. Likely features: Account overviews, transaction history, transaction search, cross-account reference

Q(n+1) Focus: Account Settings (details changes and switch account types)

Q(n+2) Focus: New Account Creation

Visually, this can take many formats. The right amount of detail would give stakeholders and idea of where a given feature might fit over the next year and no more.

Product Release Plan

This could be synonymous with roadmap. If so, use is as above. However, I've also heard this refer to a go-to-market strategy. This might actually be less detailed than the roadmap, if you can imagine. However, it would also have key market information in it. For example, if the first release would only serve customer segment X, my Product Release Plan would call that out and include information on how we reach out to those customers without confusing others. Then, when release 2 also incorporates customer segment Y, there will be new market strategy needs to loop in. In this case, this is a document used to coordinate efforts between teams and maybe whole departments.

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

This term has a definition from The Lean Startup and is the smallest amount of work that must be done to learn something about your customer. These are incredibly small and usually delivered in a sprint or two (tops). However, the common use of the term does not match this definition. Instead, the common use of this term is the smallest amount of product that is viable in the market. This would be that first release from the release plan I mentioned. The real term for this is Minimum Marketable Featureset, but as I said, the common use of the term is all mixed up.

As an example, if I were creating a streaming service like Netflix, a true MVP would be something that lets people simply go to a page and stream a movie - probably with a basic HTML tag. The goal here would be to see if people go to it and actually watch a movie online. (we take this for granted now, but when Netflix was created, a lot of people thought no one would watch movies online)

An MMF would involve a small library of content, some sort of browsing, user accounts, and payments. These would be nowhere near as robust as we think of Netflix now, but they would be there.

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Worth to mention that some agile frameworks such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) do set some definitions to concepts that, if not identical to the ones you asked, can be somehow be considered related.

TL;DR:

A Roadmap is a long term, high level view, composed of a detailed Product Release Plan to deliver the milestones considered more critical, which could include a MVP.

Or even:

  • A Roadmap is what Business needs;
  • A Product Release Plan is how the Product can evolve so that the business needs can be delivered;
  • A MVP defines how the Solution will be implemented to minimally confirm if the Product Release Plan (and subsequently, the Roadmap) are valid

Now, follows the SAFe definitions for the terms more relatable to the ones you asked.

Roadmap

SAFe clearly define what is a roadmap within its context:

The Roadmap is a schedule of events and Milestones that communicate planned Solution deliverables over a planning horizon. SAFe currently defines two types of roadmaps: A near-term PI roadmap and a longer-term solution roadmap. A PI roadmap includes near-term commitments for an Agile Release Train (ART) or Solution Train for the planned, upcoming Program Increment (PI) and offers a forecast into the deliverables and milestones for the next two to three PIs. The solution roadmap provides a longer term—often multiyear—view, showing the key milestones and deliverables needed to achieve the solution Vision over time.

Product Release Plan

The concept that closer to a Product Release Plan in SAFe is the Program Increment:

A Program Increment (PI) is a timebox during which an Agile Release Train (ART) delivers incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. PIs are typically 8 – 12 weeks long. The most common pattern for a PI is four development Iterations, followed by one Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration.

MVP

MVP is a broadly used concept in agile frameworks. SAFe does not offer a specific definition of it (and it isn't required, IMHO). An MVP can be a Milestone. SAFe provides further examples:

Learning milestones provide the necessary means to understand the feasibility of the solution and frame the right set of capabilities. Testing a concept of a new capability with a focus group, building and releasing a minimum viable product (MVP), or validating Lean UX assumptions for a minimum marketable feature (MMF) are examples of learning milestones.

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