Comparing Agile Development Sprints and Release Sprints

By Mark C. Layton

During a project using agile management methodologies, most work is done during the development sprints. The release sprint — often the last sprint before the project is released — can be very different from a development sprint:

  • You do not develop any requirements from the product backlog.

  • Based on the work you need to do, your release sprint may be a different length than your regular development sprints.

  • The definition of done is different for work completed during a release sprint. In a development sprint, “done” means the completion of working product that fulfills a user story. In a release sprint, the definition is the completion of all tasks required for release.

  • A release sprint includes tests and approvals that may not be practical to do within a development sprint, such as performance testing, load testing, security testing, focus groups, and legal review.

The table shows a comparison between the parts of a development sprint and a release sprint:

Development Sprint Elements Versus Release Sprint Elements
Element Used in Development Sprint Used in Release Sprint
Sprint planning Yes Yes
Product backlog Yes No
Sprint backlog Yes
For a development sprint, your sprint backlog contains user stories
and the tasks needed to create each user story. You estimate user
stories relatively, with story points.
In a release sprint, you no longer need to put your requirements in
the user story format. Instead, you will create only a list of
tasks needed for the release. You will not use story points,
either; just add the estimated hours each task will take.
Burndown chart Yes Yes
Daily scrum Yes Yes
Involve stakeholders from outside the scrum team who have tasks
associated with releasing the product, like enterprise build
managers or other configuration managers.
Daily activities In a development sprint, your daily activities focus on
creating shippable functionality.
In a release sprint, your daily activities focus on preparing
your working product for external release.
End-of-day reporting Yes Yes
Sprint review Yes Yes
Some organizations use a release sprint review as a go or no-go
meeting to authorize launching the product.
Sprint retrospective Yes Yes

A release sprint should not be a parking lot for tasks the development team didn’t finish in the development sprints. You may not be surprised to hear that development teams are sometimes tempted to delay tasks until the release sprint. You can avoid this by ensuring that the product owner and the team create a proper definition of done for requirements in development sprints, including testing, integration, and documentation.