How To Define Project Release Criteria


In software development, the most hateful question is: “Are You Done?” To answer it, we first need to know what done actually means. This is another post from the project management series. The post is based on a remarkable book written by Johanna Rothman, Manage It!

Release Criteria is what done means. Project teams usually have release criteria. The problem is that each team member is using different release criteria. For example, for the most part of my career, I worked on a project where the testing team approved product release. That was the release criteria. The problem was that product was not ready to release, but that critical decision was put on software testers.

Johanna points out that release criteria are not about blame or being right:

Release criteria provides objective measurement when a product is ready to release.

Developing the release criteria list is very simple when you know what is essential for this product release. Then you can imagine what success for this release is. And you need to incorporate success criteria for the whole team, not just customers.

What Is Important For The Project

You have already done this analysis in defining project purpose and goals. You need to repeat it for this release. Iterating over project goals, purpose, and charter is ok. You have a priority list of customer expectations that are grouped in drivers and constraints. This also could change. Do not forget that what is essential for the project release would be something from the scheduled date, list of features, and list of defects.

Make A Draft

Create your version of release criteria and stamp it with DRAFT. Then discuss is with other team members. They could have different release criteria. Software testers (me included) always want to have zero defects. But having several bugs with documented workarounds could be ok for some customers.

Johanna’s SMART Criteria

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable. Each release criteria must satisfy SMART.

Release criteria must be specific for a product release. Otherwise, you would have a situation that you are trying to implement the same thing over and over. And failing each time.

Measurable. Measuring enables you to compare the product with that criteria. The product must have beautiful icons is not measurable criteria.

Attainable. It must be somewhat possible to achieve criteria. Stretching scope requires replanning, and criteria should be fixed.

Relevant. Keep in touch with reality and sponsors.

Trackable. It must be possible to track it from the start to the end of the release.


Present draft release criteria list as final to team members. Some members could say that this is not possible. Find out what is the reason for this opinion and gain consensus. The release criteria list helps you to break illusions and fears about product release.

Originally published at on April 25, 2020.



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Karlo Smid

Karlo Smid

Founder of Tentamen, software testing agency.