Releases vs. Features vs. Requirements — What Is the Difference?
"Is it better to build several features with minimal requirements each? Or a few features with many requirements?" A recent attendee of a product demo posed this to our Customer Success team. It is a good question — one we get asked a lot. Product managers want to know the best way to structure work in Aha! Roadmaps for optimal flexibility, simplicity, and visibility.
The short answer? It depends. Several factors like product type, release cycle, and team dynamics will determine how you organize your daily work.
There is truly no right or wrong way to structure information in our software. We encourage customers to change terminology in their workspace settings to suit their team's needs. Instead of releases, for instance, your team might have multiple ongoing projects, or perhaps your features are renamed to user stories.
That said, we speak with hundreds of customers every week and use our own software, too — so we have a unique perspective on what tends to work well. For us, building well-defined releases, features, and requirements gives us a clear view of daily work and promotes accountability across the team.
So let's start with some definitions. A release is the date when you are ready to deliver a new customer experience and support every customer interaction point associated with it. Features are slices of functionality that you plan to deliver, housed within releases. And requirements are defined capabilities that need to be completed in order to deliver a feature. (A single feature can have multiple requirements.)
In simple terms, we think of releases as the "when" and features and requirements as the "what." They fit into the larger hierarchy of records in Aha! software like so:
Goals: Measurable, time-bound objectives that underpin your product strategy
Initiatives: Areas of investment that support overall business and product goals
Releases: The containers for work that will be delivered in a specific time frame
Epics: Larger bodies of work that are comprised of many features
Features: Functional components of your product that support specific use cases
Requirements: Granular details of each feature that must be implemented
There is value in establishing a consistent, logical structure for your team. It shapes when and how work is completed — ultimately contributing to the development of a lovable product.
The exact terms you use are not critical. Ensuring that every element helps you deliver customer value is what matters.
Understanding how releases, features, and requirements fit together can help you decide how to use them in your team's work. Let's explore them further:
Releases detail the work items the team needs to deliver in order to make progress towards your goals. They contain features or activities that should be completed within a specific time frame. Product managers use release schedules to clarify timing with the cross-functional teams responsible for doing the actual work.
Features are discrete pieces of functionality that provide a corresponding benefit to the user. Product capabilities, design elements, and performance upgrades — these would all be considered features. Product managers prioritize features based on how much value they provide customers and the business.
Requirements define what a feature should do. They are more granular and can be highly technical. Any one feature can have several requirements owned by different teams or individuals.
Releases outline the critical phases of work upfront — including important elements like feature definition, testing and QA, and launch day activities. Releases should include:
An associated goal and initiative: The product goal(s) and initiative the release is part of
Description: How the work within the release delivers on the associated initiative — including specific dates, progress statuses, and details about the scope of work
Time frame: The release date, key milestones, and dependencies
Features should include:
An associated goal, initiative, and release: The product goal, initiative, and release the feature will be delivered under
Description: A description of what the feature will do. This may be written from the user's point of view as a user story
Estimate: Days, hours, or story points to complete
Requirements: Capabilities that need to be built in order to deliver the feature
Requirements may include:
Description: The purpose, context, and any relevant background information
Acceptance criteria: When the requirement is considered complete and meets user expectations
Priority and status: The importance or urgency of the requirement, as well as progress
Wireframes or mockups: Visual representations to help illustrate how the requirement should look and function
Releases are typically owned by the product manager or release manager. Product managers have significant influence on what gets prioritized and when it gets released, so they are directly involved in release planning.
Features are typically owned by the product manager or product owner and then prioritized and assigned to engineers or designers. Product managers may own tens or hundreds of features at a time — coordinating them across many teams and dependencies.
Requirements management is usually owned by the product manager or engineering manager. Product managers are generally responsible for helping the team define requirements and manage any changes throughout the product development process.
When to use each
Use releases when:
You are determining the scope of what you will deliver.
For example, if you have a large initiative, you can split that into specific releases based on areas of your application.
Use features when:
You are defining individual functionalities that will be part of an upcoming release.
You want to describe what you are building, who you are building it for, and what users should be able to do.
Teams will often draw from their feature backlog to define functionality that fits within a defined release and supports their goals.
Use requirements when:
You need to break down each feature into bite-sized chunks of work.
You want to provide clear direction to the engineering team on what needs to get done and when.
Use releases, features, and requirements to turn your product goals into tangible efforts — building a clear path toward achievement.
You can see why we cannot give a simple "yes or no" response to the original question about features and requirements within a release. To answer it for yourself, think about where you want to go, how you are going to get there, and which conditions enable your team to do their best work. Create a product plan based on this — using releases, features, and requirements as the building blocks of your team's success.
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