It’s that time of the year again when Microsoft have published their plans for the upcoming 2022 Release Wave 2 for Power Platform and Dynamics 365. “How exciting! New PDF documents with hundreds of pages to read!”
I’m sure many of you have learned to skip the static PDF files by now and instead add bookmarks to quickly get to the online version of these plans. Like these:
That’s much better, but it isn’t really optimal either. I don’t know about you, but personally I’ve had a hard time getting very excited about the new Release Plan drops for a couple of years now. There’s just something not quite right with this “wave” model.
Everything changes, always
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that the Power Platform community members are curating their own top lists from these Release Plans twice a year. There’s plenty of value in seeing what items people are actually excited about, not just reading MS corporate style “excitement” on everything included in the Plan.
Yet the reality is this: the contents of these Releases Plans is likely to reflect less than 50% of what will actually be delivered into the products over the course of the wave. If you need proof, then check out the most important page of the online Release Plans: change history.
At any given time, Microsoft product teams are working on several new features and enhancements that they are not yet ready to disclose. They’ll get added to release plan later (or sometimes launched without it). As a very recent example, Managed Environments was announced as a preview feature on the same day as the 2022 wave 2 plans came out. The feature is not yet in either wave 1 or wave 2 documentation. It’s very natural that the product marketing’s need for making feature specific big announcements is a higher priority. After all, diligently maintaining the long list of similar release items won’t bring that much attention to any single feature.
Then there’s the inevitable reality of planning / estimating in software development. Things can get delayed due to too optimistic estimates, dependencies to other items/products, changes in MS product strategy, acquisitions, and so on. Ultimately the Release Plans are just a publicly visible backlog of what the team is working to deliver. It’s better not to get too excited about any specific feature on the list – often those will be the ones that get eventually postponed / removed…
While it’s kinda nice that we have a steady rhythm of 2 release waves per year that can be easily communicated to customers, the reality is more messy. These waves are forcing an artificial structure onto the ongoing product development work. Remember: the “wave” is not any actual release in itself. October 2022 will deliver a tiny fraction of the items listed in the 2022 wave 2 plan, as the wave lasts for 6 months.
While the waves themselves are sequential, Microsoft’s communication model has overlap for the waves. The fact that the wave 2 plans are first announced when there’s still 3 months worth of wave 1 to go (until end of September) can make it complex to keep track of items. You can’t tell whether a feature is in the product roadmap just by looking at the latest plan since it might be in the previous pipeline still. Here’s one example:
If only we had a more dynamic view into the Power Platform and Dynamics 365 product backlog, without these artificial “waves” to confuse us…
Say hello to the Release Planner website!
Although it’s still a preview in itself, the Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Power Platform release planner is already a very worthy rival to the familiar Release Plans. If you’re familiar with the Microsoft 365 roadmap, then this a similar website that provides the current state of what features are being planned, rolling out or recently delivered.
The data on release items is largely identical to what the official release plans already offer. However, it’s not wrapped within the wave concept, meaning everything can be found under a single site.
There have been recent enhancements made to the Release Planner (listed here). Searching the release plan items with keywords is now possible. There’s a change history to reflect updates made to delivery milestones (i.e. delays in early access / preview / GA dates). Finally, filters and sorting options have been introduced, so you can view only the latest additions (7/30 days) or updated items across Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.
Since the Release Planner is a
Power Apps Portal Power Pages website instead of a Microsoft Docs site, it is much easier to implement such features that are intended for working with a list of records. Docs is great for documentation of course, as well as version control through its GitHub back end.
One really neat feature in Release Planner is the personalization option. When I log into the site, I have the ability to pick items into “my release plan”. Essentially its a way to create a list of favorite items to follow. Because let’s face it: we all focus on some corner of Power Platform or Dynamics 365, not the entire MS BizApps cloud. Creating a personal release plan also provides an option to copy a public share link for it:
Using a short URL service, I can now create an easy to remember link that will always take me to the list of Power Platform release plan items I’ve flagged for myself to follow. You can of course have a look at it, too:
With this link, I can now spend less energy on A) remembering if an item has been in wave 1 or 2, and B) stop hunting through the change history page for status updates. Oh, and it also works fairly well on a mobile device, whereas trying to navigate the legacy release plans on MS Docs seems to be impossible (at the moment at least, on Android/Chrome).
Of course any dynamic website is only as good as the underlying data that is used for rendering it. At the time of viewing, there seem to be tens of release plan items from 2022 wave 1 that have not yet been updated to reflect the current status. The Release Planner site says they should be available/GA when in reality they’ve been delayed, postponed or even cancelled. This is something that technology in itself won’t fix. I hope as Microsoft’s release planning process matures beyond thinking about “waves” we’ll see more up to date information in the Release Planner site, too.
Did you know?
This Release Planner isn’t the first step for Microsoft to use the Power Platform to manage the product development of the very same platform. Already back in 2019 the process and tools used by the BizApps team for release planning was published in a blog post. There’s a sample app on GitHub that contains a solution with the tables, forms, plugins, PCF controls, cloud flows etc. for deploying your own copy of the release management tools.
This process was designed to dynamically produce outputs from the release items data managed in Dataverse. Both the release plan document as a Word output as well as the Docs pages as markdown files on GitHub were generated with Power Automate cloud flows:
Since the solution was built on top of a solid platform designed for managing business process data, there were of course other opportunities to leverage it. As was pointed out in the comments section of the 2019 blog post, by a certain ex-MVP (now at MSFT) with a long history on Portals in the form of Adxstudio:
Which brings me back to an even more ancient blog post of mine, from 2015, called XRM Strikes Back. Inspired by Microsoft’s acquisition of Adxstudio, I argued why in the long term it would be a more successful strategy for MS to bet on the platform, rather than trying to integrate SaaS products from outside the ecosystem into the Business Applications portfolio.
Success doesn’t happen overnight either way. Looking at the XRM based acquisitions, Adxstudio is now the 5th product in the Power Platform family, with the new name Power Pages. FieldOne Sky turned into Dynamics 365 Field Service that has quite a solid position in the market (from what I know). Mojo Surveys evolved into Dynamics 365 Customer Voice, which may not have an extensive roadmap right now, yet it’s still widely used by the customers we are working with at least.
Back in 2011 when Dynamics CRM Online itself was used for managing the Dynamics CRM Online launch website, backed by (Windows) Azure, so might have considered that a crazy thing to do with a business application platform like XRM. Well, who’s laughing now?!?😁
The journey up to this point has been long, but that’s exactly what such low-code application platform journeys are for customers, too. Microsoft is now in the process of also migrating their third party Ideas sites for product feedback into the Dynamics 365 Customer Service Community portal template (meaning Power Pages). The Power Automate Ideas site is moving there next week. Dynamics 365 Ideas already lives on this platform, so I’d imagine other products will soon follow. Another piece of the digital feedback loop coming together, through the power of the platform.