Jun 12, 2024 Project Management

Agile Epics - Definition, Structure, Usage

Agile Epics - Definition, Structure, Usage

Understanding the role and structure of epics is crucial for steering projects toward success. Epics are significant in Agile because they can provide a high-level overview of the project, enabling teams to focus on the broader goals while managing the minutiae of daily tasks. This article will explore what makes epics a vital component of the Agile methodology, which helps teams navigate complex projects with clarity and purpose.

What Is an Epic?

An epic is a key concept in Agile methodology. It refers to a large, overarching project goal broken down into smaller, manageable tasks known as stories. It's a broad work category that guides teams toward achieving substantial outcomes over time, ensuring all efforts align with the project's main objectives. This approach helps with strategic planning and efficient project execution within the Agile framework.

How Long is an Epic?

The duration of an epic in Agile methodology varies widely depending on the scope and complexity of the project it encompasses; unlike user stories, which are typically completed within a single sprint (usually two to four weeks), an epic spans multiple sprints or even entire project timelines. The length is dictated by the amount of work involved, ranging from a few weeks to several months.

Who Creates Epics in Agile?

In Agile frameworks, epics are usually created by product owners or managers who comprehensively understand the project's vision, goals, and customer needs. These individuals are responsible for identifying significant work areas that require attention and breaking them down into epics. However, the creation process is often collaborative, involving input from stakeholders, the development team, and other relevant parties to ensure that the epics align well with the overall project objectives and deliver maximum value to the customer.

How to Write an Epic?

Writing an effective epic is crucial in Agile project management, as it lays the foundation for a clear and achievable roadmap.

Epic Structure

  • Title: Choose a concise, descriptive title that encapsulates the essence of the epic.
  • Summary: Provide a brief overview that captures the epic's goal and its value to the customer or project.
  • User Stories: Outline the smaller, actionable tasks (user stories) that fit under the epic's umbrella. These should be specific, measurable, and directly contribute to the epic's objectives.
  • Acceptance Criteria: Define what success looks like for the epic, including specific outcomes and quality standards.
  • Dependencies: Identify any dependencies that could impact the epic's progress, including other epics, external factors, or resource availability.
  • Timeframe: While not always fixed, a rough timeline helps prioritize and plan.

Epic Writing - How to Write a Good Epic

  • Start with the End in Mind: Make sure you are clear about the goals of the epic, identifying the problem it aims to solve and the value it brings to the project.
  • Make it Collaborative: Engage with stakeholders, including team members, customers, and end-users, to gather insights and ensure the epic aligns with user needs and business goals.
  • Keep it Flexible: While the epic should be detailed enough to provide direction, allow room for adaptation as new information and feedback become available.
  • Focus on Value: Every aspect of the epic should contribute to delivering value to the customer or advancing the project's goals.

What is an Epic Setting?

Epic Setting usually refers to the broader context or environment within which an epic unfolds. In Agile, this could be interpreted as the project or product landscape that the epic aims to impact or improve.

Epic Planning

Epic planning is a strategic process in Agile project management that involves outlining, organizing, and prioritizing large-scale work items known as epics. These epics encompass broader objectives that guide the development team toward achieving significant outcomes over multiple sprints.

Epic Mapping

Epic mapping is a technique to visually break down epics into smaller, more manageable user stories or tasks. This method helps teams understand the scope of work involved and how each piece contributes to the overarching goal of the epic. It involves:

  • Identifying Key Objectives: Determining what the epic aims to achieve.
  • Breaking Down Tasks: Segmenting the epic into smaller, actionable tasks the team can complete.
  • Visual Representation: Using tools like story maps or flowcharts to represent the relationships between tasks and their priorities.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: Engaging stakeholders in mapping to ensure alignment and clarify expectations.

Epic Backlog

The epic backlog is a prioritized list of epics a team has identified but has not yet started working on. It serves as a repository for future work, ensuring that ideas and requirements are captured and considered for future sprints. Managing the epic backlog involves:

Prioritization: Epics are ranked based on their value to the customer, impact on the project, and the urgency of implementation.

Refinement: Regularly reviewing and updating epics to reflect new insights, stakeholder feedback, and changes in project direction.

Estimation: Gauging the size and complexity of epics to aid in planning and resource allocation.

Selection: Choosing which epics to move into active development based on their priority, available resources, and current project needs.

End-to-End Process for Epics

The end-to-end process for managing epics in Agile project management encompasses several key stages, from initial idea to final delivery. This comprehensive approach ensures that epics are effectively defined, executed, and contribute to project goals.

1. Identification

  • Idea Generation: Ideas for epics can come from various sources, including customer feedback, market research, and internal strategy meetings.
  • Needs Analysis: Assessing the business needs and the potential value of the epic to determine its feasibility and alignment with project objectives.

2. Definition

  • Epic Writing: Clearly define the epic with a descriptive title, a detailed summary of its scope, and its expected impact.
  • Stakeholder Alignment: Ensure all stakeholders understand and agree on the epic's objectives and outcomes.

3. Planning

  • Epic Mapping: Breaking down the epic into manageable user stories or tasks and mapping out their interrelations and dependencies.
  • Prioritization: Setting priorities based on strategic importance, customer value, and other relevant criteria.
  • Resource Allocation: Determining the resources required for the epic, including team assignments and budget considerations.

4. Execution

  • Sprint Planning: Integrating user stories from the epic into sprint plans, ensuring they are appropriately sized for completion within a sprint.
  • Development: The team works on the tasks, constantly communicating and adapting to changes or challenges as needed.
  • Review and Adaptation: Regularly review progress against the epic's goals and make adjustments to stay on track.

5. Review

  • Completion Assessment: Evaluating the completed work against the epic's objectives and acceptance criteria to ensure all aspects have been addressed.
  • Stakeholder Feedback: Gathering feedback from stakeholders and customers to assess the epic's impact and identify any areas for improvement.

6. Closure

  • Documentation: Documenting outcomes, lessons learned, and any unresolved issues for future reference.
  • Celebration: Recognizing the team's efforts and achievements in completing the epic.

7. Retrospective

  • Reflecting on Processes: Analyzing the entire process of handling the epic, identifying what worked well and could be improved.
  • Actionable Insights: Based on the retrospective findings, developing strategies for enhancing future epic management.

Epic Example

Consider a digital marketing company aiming to enhance its online presence and customer engagement. An epic example of this scenario could be "Revamp Website for Enhanced User Engagement."

Epic Details:

  • Title: Revamp Website for Enhanced User Engagement
  • Objective: To improve the website's user interface and content, making it more engaging and user-friendly to increase visitor retention and conversion rates.
  • Expected Outcome: Increased website traffic, improved session duration, higher conversion rates, and enhanced customer satisfaction.

User Stories Under This Epic:

Redesign Homepage Layout:

  • Simplify the navigation menu.
  • Introduce a more visually appealing design with interactive elements.

Optimize Mobile Experience:

  • Ensure the website is fully responsive on all devices.
  • Improve loading times for mobile users.

Integrate Customer Testimonials and Case Studies:

  • Create a dedicated section for testimonials and case studies to build trust.

Update Blogging Platform:

  • Improve the content management system for easier publishing.
  • Enhance the visual appeal of blog posts to encourage reading and sharing.

Implement New User Onboarding Features:

  • Create interactive tutorials for first-time visitors.
  • Introduce pop-up guides for key website features.

Execution Plan:

  • Research Phase: Conduct user research and competitor analysis to identify areas of improvement.
  • Design Phase: Based on research insights, work with UI/UX designers to create a new layout and design elements.
  • Development Phase: Backend and frontend developers implement the new designs and features.
  • Testing Phase: Conduct usability testing to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments.
  • Launch Phase: Officially release the updated website and monitor performance metrics closely for any necessary iterations.

What is Epic Used For?

Epics serve multiple purposes in Agile project management:

  • Strategic Planning: They help align the team's work with the organization's broader strategic goals.
  • Scope Management: Epics provide a high-level view of the work required, helping to manage the scope of projects effectively.
  • Prioritization: By breaking down projects into epics, teams can prioritize work based on value, impact, and urgency.
  • Resource Allocation: Epics allow for better forecasting and allocation of resources by understanding the magnitude of effort needed.
  • Stakeholder Communication: They offer a clear and concise way to communicate progress and plans with stakeholders.

Types of Epics

There are several types of epics, each serving different purposes within a project:

  • Feature Epics: These focus on delivering new features or enhancements to existing ones. They are directly tied to improving product functionality.
  • Technical Epics: Aimed at addressing technical debt, infrastructure improvements, or architectural changes that may not directly impact the user interface but are crucial for the product's long-term health.
  • Business Epics: These are broad initiatives driven by business goals, such as entering a new market or implementing a new business model.
  • Learning Epics: Focused on activities that gather insights or validate hypotheses through experiments or research, often leading to more informed decision-making.

Epic Charts

Epic charts are visual tools used to track the progress of epics over time. Common types of epic charts include:

  • Burn-Up Charts: These show the progress towards completing an epic, displaying the total scope and what has been completed over time.
  • Burn-Down Charts: Like burn-up charts, burn-down charts focus on the remaining work and show how much work is left before an epic is completed.
  • Cumulative Flow Diagrams (CFDs): These illustrate the stages of work for an epic across time, helping identify bottlenecks in the workflow.

  • Epic Roadmaps: Visual timelines that display when epics are planned to start and end, providing a high-level overview of the project timeline and dependencies between epics.

Epics in ActiveCollab

ActiveCollab is a project management tool designed to help teams organize work, track progress, and collaborate effectively. While ActiveCollab does not use the term "epic" in the same way as some other Agile project management tools, the concept can still be applied within its framework.

Structuring Your Project for Epics

Task Lists as Epics: In ActiveCollab, you can use task lists to represent epics. Each task list can encompass a broad goal or feature set, similar to an epic, and contain individual tasks that represent user stories or smaller tasks that contribute to completing the epic.

Projects as Epics: For larger initiatives, you can even structure entire projects as epics, especially when they are complex, span multiple departments, or have a long timeline.

Managing Epics in ActiveCollab

Defining Your Epic

  • Create a Task List/Project: Depending on the scope of your epic, start by creating a new task list (for smaller epics) or a project (for larger epics). Name it after the epic for easy reference.

Breaking Down the Epic

  • Add Tasks: Within the task list or project, add tasks representing the work needed to complete the epic. These tasks should be specific and actionable and ideally follow the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound).

Tracking Progress

  • Set Milestones: Use milestones to mark significant achievements within the epic. This helps track progress and maintain momentum.
  • Task Dependencies: Establish dependencies between tasks when necessary to ensure a logical workflow.
  • Labels and Tags: Utilize labels and tags to categorize tasks within your epic for easier sorting and prioritization.

Communication and Collaboration

  • Discussions: Use the Discussions feature to communicate about the epic. This can include strategy meetings, brainstorming sessions, or updates on progress.
  • Files and Notes: Attach relevant files and notes directly to tasks or the task list/project to keep all information centralized.

Review and Adaptation

  • Review Tasks Regularly: Regularly review tasks within the epic for completion, quality, and impact. Adjust the plan as needed based on feedback and progress.
  • Use Reports: ActiveCollab offers reporting features that can help you analyze the progress of your epics, understand workload distribution, and identify any bottlenecks.

Epic vs Story

An epic is a large body of work that can be broken down into smaller tasks, known as stories. It encompasses a significant feature or objective that spans multiple sprints and captures a broad goal.

On the other hand, a story is a smaller, more manageable piece of work that fits within an iteration or sprint. It describes a specific requirement or piece of functionality from an end-user perspective and is often completed in a single sprint.

Epic vs Sprint

An epic represents a large-scale work item, often comprising several features that contribute to a major part of the project. It's not time-bound but is broken down into smaller tasks over time.

A sprint is a short, time-boxed period (usually 2-4 weeks) during which a development team completes select work items from the backlog, potentially releasable by the end of each cycle. Sprints are about execution and delivery, focusing on a subset of the project's tasks, including those from epics.

Download Free Materials

Fundamentals of Agile Project Management

Learn the fundamentals of agile project management so you can develop software and manage your team more efficiently.

*Enter your email address and subscribe to our newsletter to get your hands on this, as well as many other free project management guides.

Thank you for subscribing!
Download the Ebook

Newsletter subscribers can download all free materials

Make Real Work Happen!

Start your trial today, free for 14 days! Onboard your team, plan, collaborate, organize your work, and get paid.

By signing up you are agreeing to the ActiveCollab Terms of Service & Privacy Policy.