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Epics are an essential part of Agile project management. They help teams stay organized and bring together related tasks for easier management.
Many different types of Agile teams that have broader initiatives use Epics, which can also be described as larger user stories. Developers, design teams, and agencies have all embraced Epics to make sense of Agile projects that span many iterations.
But how do Epics work, and why should you use them? Let’s take a look.
An Agile Epic is a larger project that can be broken down into subtasks. If you use “story” terminology, an Epic is a larger user story that contains smaller stories.
Since Agile is all about making continuous progress with the help of iterations, Epics are the solution to long-term projects or initiatives.
Not everything can get done in one Sprint, which is typically 1-2 weeks. This is where Epics come in handy. Teams usually deliver an Epic over a number of iterations, ensuring that visible progress is made every week.
Here are a few more facts about Epics:
An Epic has a flexible scope.
There’s room to adjust as user stories (or subtasks) are completed, so that teams continue working toward the right objective.
Epics are collected into themes, which are groups of Epics that drive toward a common goal.
Themes represent long-term objectives and have a broader scope compared to an Epic.
Before we get into using Epics, let’s get a refresher on user stories, or tasks.
A user story is the smallest piece of work in Agile. It’s an end goal, usually expressed from a user’s or customer’s point of view. If you’ve worked in Jira, you’ve likely heard this term before.
User stories help teams stay focused on the end-user. It’s important to draft these well in order to create powerful Epics.
Here’s the formula for writing a user story:
"As a [title/end user], I want to [some action] because [reason]."
User stories need to articulate how a piece of work will deliver value to a user or customer.
Here’s an example:
"As a contractor, I want time tracking to start and stop automatically when I arrive and leave a work site because I travel throughout the day and don’t want to have to remember it all."
That user story will focus solely on building out the features that allows contractors to do that.
A quick note on features
It’s important to differentiate between user stories and product features. A feature refers to specific functionality, and can come out of a user story.
Typically, a user story isn’t describing a specific feature. Instead, it’s a narrative built around the end-user, that guides the team toward the solution. This solution is often one or more product features.
Make the most of your Agile Epics by starting with strong user stories. Here’s a checklist to keep you on track.
User stories should be small and manageable.
The key is to balance the amount of work with a detailed and true user story.
If it takes longer than that, it might be too much work. In which case, you’ll need to break it down into multiple stories.
You'll want to add as much detail to each story to ensure clarity and understanding.
This also has an added benefit: When you write a user story from the perspective of your customer with a high level of detail, your whole team aligns on the purpose of the work. That keeps you from wasting time by heading in the wrong direction and derailing the project. It can also help with team engagement.
Now that we understand the basics of Epics, user stories, and features, let’s look at how you can use Epics for your business.
Often, smaller tasks roll up to a larger objective. This is especially true for product development.
Epics are great ways to represent large units of a product, whether you’re a software developer or a growing retailer.
One product, for example, may require multiple, time-intensive steps. Let’s take a look at a curated gift box for your ecommerce business.
The goal is to help customers easily give their friends and family a premium gift experience full of meaningful, small batch items in time for the holidays.
Your Epic will include everything that needs to come together to create the gift box: Gather pricing, source items and work with vendors, shoot product photography, add the product to your ecommerce platform, send promotional emails, and write social posts. All of these tasks can roll up to your gift box Epic.
This is a useful approach if you want to have a clear overview of the product parts you’ve finished. It also gives you a way to quickly see what you still need to complete.
You can create Epics for each part of your business’ workflow.
Let’s take a look at how a marketing team within a business might use Epics.
Marketers may create an Epic to tackle a quarterly project, where different tasks are dependent on others. Using Epics to manage related but independent tasks can help visualize how your business works.
As an added bonus, some Agile project management tools allow you to plan out tasks or user stories on a timeline or with a roadmap feature. This helps you see the work that needs to be completed before the next task starts, and how long each task takes. This makes Agile estimating more accurate in the future.
Using Epics is also a great way to divide a project into clear phases. With this approach, each project phase has its own Epic.
Here’s an example of a project that will take many iterations to complete.
It requires input and steps from different team members.
Each task within the Epic helps accomplish the overarching goal of a phase. This improves transparency and gives stakeholders a clear overview of project progress.
Epics give you a way to organize user stories and track progress. They allow you to establish a hierarchy for backlog items.
They also help to focus team efforts on key goals.
So when should you use them?
• If you’re using a creative process to make something new
• If you know your goal, but need a flexible way to get there
• If you need input at various stages that can shape the story
You should use Epics when you have a user story that’s too broad in scope or takes too much time to complete. In most cases, if a user story takes many iterations to complete, it might be best for an Epic.
For example, “We want to add a shopping cart feature to our app.” Accomplishing this would most likely require multiple people and several Sprints to implement.
Some teams who use Epics include:
• Software developers
• Ad agencies
• Non-tech teams
• Customer support
To solidify what we’ve learned about Epics, let’s dig into one specific example.
Let’s say you work at a SaaS company that wants to grow the number of partnerships it has with other SaaS companies.
You could create an Epic titled “Grow SaaS partnerships” and then add the following user stories to it:
Create a list of potential partners
Outreach and follow-up with your targeted list
Create partner content
This might be broken down into specific tasks for each partner
Track success of partner tactics
Refine outreach for future partners
Using this Epic would help you organize all the tasks you need to complete and help you track progress.
Don’t forget: Your Epic contains individual user stories, which can be further broken down into sprint-length tasks.
Here’s one example of how that might look. You’ll see this Epic for a marketing’s team quarterly website updates contains 4 separate tasks.
Within each task, the work is broken down into checklist items. Each checklist item is a step in the process that will help accomplish the task.
Here’s what the checklist looks like when you click into the Redesign the sidebar task.
When you’re ready to get started, here’s a quick primer on creating your first Epic using Agile project management tool, Hubstaff Tasks.
Create or log into your Hubstaff Tasks account.
Once you’re logged in, navigate to the Epics section of the app.
Click the New Epic button under your organization’s name.
The Create new Epic dialog box will appear. Add a name, description, start and due dates, assign an owner, and then click the Create button.
That’s it. You’ve created your first Epic.
Don’t forget to refer back to the earlier part of this guide to make sure you’re following best practices. This will set your team up for success.
For more information on using Epics in Hubstaff Tasks, check out the our support page.
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