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GuidesProduct developmentAn introduction to agile epics

An introduction to agile epics

Last updated

11 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

Imagine trying to manage a project without breaking down the main objective into smaller, more manageable parts. Lacking an organizational method while managing a project could cause numerous problems, including chaotic efforts, increased expenses, quality issues, delayed project completion, and strained client relations.

An agile methodology, specifically an agile epic methodology, is an organizational technique you can apply when managing projects. This approach allows for increased flexibility and adaptability when you are confronted with issues and changes in market trends. It also lowers the risk of missed goals.

Read on to learn what agile epics are and how to incorporate this methodology into your next project.

What is an epic in agile?

Applying agile epics to software and website development projects is common, but you can also use them for whatever project you need to manage.

The first task in agile methodology is identifying the end goal you want your project to deliver when completed. The goal is then broken down into epics—or smaller projects. You can then prioritize these and divide them among different teams.

What is a story?

Just as epics break an overall initiative down into smaller pieces, stories (also called user stories) are used to break an epic down into even smaller pieces of work. This approach enables teams to understand how their efforts will contribute to completing the epic while delivering the epic’s individual components.

What is a story point?

Story points estimate a story’s complexities and how difficult it will be for the team to complete. It’s not so much about how much time it will take but rather how much effort and resources a team might need to see the story through. The higher the story points, the more complex the delivery.

Story points help teams plan, prioritize, and track their progress during the project.

What comes first: the story or the epic?

The epic comes first, dictating the high-level view of the objective. A series of related and interdependent stories are then created to support the epic.

Completing smaller, specific stories contributes to the success of the big-picture goal.

What is a feature?

Features are solutions that add value and benefit to the business and customer. A feature usually sits in between an epic and a story; an epic is larger than a single feature, and a feature is often larger than a single story.

Examples of epics, features, and user stories

Let’s say you’re building a food delivery app.

“User payments,” which allow users to submit payments through the app to pay for their order, is an example of an epic.

“Allow users to pay with PayPal” is an example of a feature. It sits underneath the overall epic.

“Connect to the PayPal API,” “Show the PayPal option in the payment options menu,” and “Allow users to enter their PayPal login information” are all examples of user stories. These stories are required to build the fully functional feature.

What is a task?

Stories can be broken down into specific actions that you can assign to individual team members. These particular actions, responsibilities, or steps in a story are called tasks.

What is a sprint?

The epic’s objectives are broken down into stories and tasks to make it more manageable. Sprints are set periods of time (usually one to four weeks) in which a team commits to a certain number of stories.

There can be many sprints within an epic’s timespan.

Agile epic example

Visualizing the hierarchy of themes, epics, and stories could help you further understand the concept of agile epics. The theme is the end goal, which is segmented into smaller goals of epics and even smaller goals of stories.

Theme

An example of a theme may be to decrease factory manufacturing costs by 5% in the next year because customer feedback revealed that product prices were too high. If the business can reduce manufacturing costs, they can lower prices to make the product more affordable.

As the manager of this project, you now have to segment this goal into smaller goals contained in epics.

Epics

Having epics in place, like reducing energy consumption, negotiating with suppliers or contracting new ones, and improving worker efficiency, will help reduce manufacturing costs. You’ll need to assign these epics to the appropriate teams. Once assigned, you’ll create stories for the individual teams.

Stories

Stories define a smaller goal than epics. For the epic to reduce energy consumption, you may first need to define how much energy is currently being consumed. The team may then need to identify the sources of the highest energy consumption and then develop solutions that reduce specific outputs. This may involve changing equipment, automating energy use, and other measures.

Benefits of epics

Your epics will list all the stories in one place. Visualizing your epics helps you keep track of ideas, manage projects effectively, and ensure you don’t miss important requirements to reach your project’s goal. Epic timelines tend to be quite long, so dividing them into sprints makes it easier to keep track of the project’s progression over time.

How to write epics

You should write an epic in a way that leaves no room for doubt or misunderstanding among or within teams. Before you write one, collaborate with different teams that may be involved. Everyone will bring a different perspective to the table. The epic should define the shared outcome you want to achieve.

Choose a good name that is clear to others. In the description, outline what the epic is for and reference how it ties in with business priorities. It’s also a good practice to describe the benefits that the epic offers.

Best practices for creating agile epics

It’s very effective to visualize epics and stories in a hierarchy chart, with the epic titles at the top, stories under the epics, and appropriate tasks under the stories. This type of diagram makes it easy to see everything in one place.

Another best practice is to include success metrics in your epics so everyone involved understands what you’re trying to achieve with each one.

The great thing about agile epics is that they allow you to be flexible. Create epics that are flexible in scope so that you can increase or change the scope by adding more stories as new requirements emerge. You can also re-prioritize the order of epics as needed while the project progresses.

Effective project management starts with understanding agile epics

Lacking an organizational methodology when managing your projects can take quite a toll on your success rate and business goals. Taking the concept of agile epics and applying them to your own projects will ensure you account for all your objectives, organize and communicate all of a project’s components, and handle flexibility along the way. This can ultimately lead to completing projects when promised, meeting all business goals, and making your customers happy.

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