What is an Epic in Agile?

An Epic is a large chunk of work which is too much for a single Sprint and then can be divided into smaller chucks of work.

Epics is another term widely used as part of Agile Methodology. An Epic in Agile Methodology is a large chunk of work which can be divided into smaller chucks of work. Often, we refer to those as user stories, but the correct Scrum terminology is Product Backlog Items. Epics usually spreads across several different Sprints, and can be united under a broad banner label, known as a theme. In this article, we break down the key terminology and explore exactly how Epics fit into an Agile team’s workload. As with most Agile concepts, understanding and implementing Epic can be beneficial for teams and in helping them achieve project goals.

Let’s summarise the key terminology below: 

  • Epic: A placeholder that eventually will be split into a group of user stories
  • User story: A single request
  • Theme: A group of Epics

The Product Owner is responsible for organising Epics. They collaborate with the stakeholders to ensure it meets the required needs. 

There is no specific time period for an Epic and it cannot be completed in one Agile iteration. It usually takes between one and three months, across multiple Sprints. During this time, the Epic evolves as it is updated regularly to reflect customer and stakeholder feedback. This also corresponds with the value of continuous improvements which is outlined in the Agile Manifesto.

What is an example of an Epic?

It can all sound a little complicated so let’s take a look at an example of an Epic in practice. Here is an example for a new eCommerce store: 

Theme:

Boost eCommerce sales by 20% by the end of the second quarter. 

Epic: 

Launch a new mobile-friendly website so customers can purchase items on the go. 

User stories: 

  • As a curious customer, I want to browse the various products, so that I can see if there is something that catch my interest
  • As a busy customer, I want to search for a specific product, so that I do not waste time looking at irrelevant items
  • As a price sensitive customer, I want to see what is on sale, so that I can make a good bargain
  • As a returning customer, I want to save my credit card details, so that I can make a fast check-out
  • As a returning customer, I want to save my delivery address, so that I can make a fast check-out

Once the above user stories have been completed the website will be ready to be launched. This example highlights how important the User Stories are for the Agile Epic and the overarching goals. It breaks the work down into manageable pieces which are much more attainable for the team.

Benefits of Epics

Epics are a useful way to organise work and create a hierarchy. The idea is to break down the work into manageable chunks which can be delivered regularly. This means that for large projects, the team can continue to deliver value to the customer on a regular basis. Creating more manageable pieces of work for the team also helps the team to stay on track and work towards the bigger goal.

Summary

Epics are a practical driver for Agile Teams and it’s, therefore, useful to understand how they work and where they fit into the Agile program. Moreover, an Epic should give the team of Developers everything they need to be successful. Understanding how they work provides important content for daily development work. This highlights the real value in team alignment in using Epics.

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