If you think that agile epics are the latest YouTube trend showcasing epic fails compilations where the people are more agile than ever… we’re gonna have to let you down. 😝
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Epics actually give teams a way to tackle large projects without failing.
With agile epics, you can break down your work into smaller tasks and ship value to your customers regularly.
But what exactly is an agile epic, and more importantly, how does it fit into agile project management?
In this article, we’ll cover what agile epics are, how they fit into the agile framework, and how you can create one. We’ll also discuss how you can measure epics and the benefits of using them.
Let’s get your user story started!
What Are Epics in Agile?
Epics are large chunks of work that can be broken down into smaller, more manageable user stories (tasks). Epics are vital because they help teams prioritize their product backlog.
But what exactly is an epic?
An epic can be a new feature, a specific customer request, a product launch, or any other major endeavor.
Business epics are usually based on the needs of customers and end-users. However, enabler epics focus on upcoming business or technical requirements.
Epics are also super flexible. 🤸♀️
What do we mean?
As your team works towards the epic, they’ll receive customer feedback and go through a backlog refinement process. If a user story isn’t needed anymore, your team can pull an old switcheroo and remove that backlog item from the product backlog.
How Does an Agile Epic Fit Into Agile Project Management?
Before we dive in, let’s take a brief look at what the agile methodology is all about:
The agile methodology encourages teams to manage projects in phases.
As a result, Agile project management is a project management approach that encourages teams to execute projects by breaking them down into manageable chunks of work (sprints).
And like Yoda, agile teams are committed to learning since they use the lessons learned from previous sprints to improve on future ones.
While you’re working towards a specific chunk of work, you can track progress, incorporate customer feedback, and make project changes.
An epic is the top-tier of the scrum work hierarchy for agile teams.
Epics provide agile teams with an efficient way to organize tasks and maintain workplace agility while executing those tasks.
However, an epic is just one piece of the agile puzzle.
To understand epics better, you’ll need to know how epics connect with the other pieces of the puzzle. 🧩
Here are a few other components of the agile structure:
A. Product roadmap
Roadmapping helps teams create a plan of action to help them visualize how a product or project will evolve over time. 🗺
Roadmaps usually have initiatives or milestones that a team needs to achieve within a specific timeframe. These tasks are typically found in the product backlog.
You can think of roadmaps as a puzzle box with an image of the completed product. By looking at the picture, teams get a clear view of their responsibilities and the project goal.
A theme is a long-term organizational goal that teams will use as inspiration when creating agile epics and initiatives.
Themes are basically why your team wants to complete the puzzle, for example, increasing website traffic.
Having a specific theme helps teams understand how their projects and tasks connect to the overall company goal.
Initiatives are the cross-functional team goals that are found along the product roadmap’s timeline.
You can also think of initiatives as a group of epics that focus on the same goal. Once a set of epics have been completed, the team also completes the initiative.
Once a team breaks down an initiative into smaller tasks, those tasks become epics.
Epics are basically the building blocks of themes and initiatives. Once every epic is in place, a small section of the puzzle is completed, and the team achieves a specific initiative.
E. User stories
Once the product owner breaks down an epic or a large user story into even smaller tasks, those short-term tasks, which can be completed within a single sprint, become user stories.
User stories are the delegated tasks that’ll help your team plan for and execute the puzzle! For example, turning all the puzzle pieces face up before starting the project.
From an agile software development point of view, user stories are requirements or requests made by the end-user. On the other hand, enabler stories are tasks that benefit the agile team rather than the end-user.
Bonus: Software Development Tools
Agile Epic Examples
Here’s 2 examples of agile epic themes/initiatives:
Agile Epic Example 1
Boost our eCommerce sales by 30% by the end of the third quarter.
- Launch a new website so customers can buy items on the go
- Increase our site’s security by adding a security badge
- Add 15 customer testimonials to our eCommerce website
- Create a wishlist feature
User stories (for launching a new website):
- Make a site structure mockup
- Create a landing page
- Launch it
Once the above user stories have been completed, your site will be ready for take-off! 🚀
Agile Epic Example 2
In this example, we named our Goal/Epic “Improve Mobile UI” and broke it down into smaller Targets of “Add mobile shopping cart, Optimize speed, and Consistent font.” The Target types used in this example are Done/Not Done, and linking Lists and tasks.
- Click on the Target type Done/Not Done to mark it as finished
- Targets that have tasks or Lists linked to them will automatically update the Goal’s progress as the individual task statuses are changed to Done statuses by teammates
As each Target is completed, we’ll see the Goal completion percentage update in real time. Now, your team can easily stay updated on the health of the Epic by tracking the completion of accompanying Targets.
3 Major Benefits of Using Agile Epics
Here are three epic benefits of using agile epics:
1. Helps teams tackle large projects
Since agile epics are broken down into smaller phases, they can help any team tackle large, complex ideas and projects.
Managing a project in stages lets you ensure that each phase is up to par, and it helps you prepare your team for the next phase.
This is especially useful for projects that have multiple, time-consuming tasks.
2. Keeps the team focused on key goals
Remember when we discussed themes?
Themes are the big goals on a team’s product roadmap, and stories are the tasks that need to be done to achieve those organizational goals.
Agile epics can help teams see the connection between organizational goals (themes) and the actual work that’s being done (stories). Without epics, your team might be unsure about why they’re doing what they’re doing:
3. Improves project and sprint planning
When a product owner creates stories, they also have to assign story points to each story.
A story point is an agile metric that helps a product owner estimate how much effort is required to complete the sprint backlog. Agile teams prefer focusing on a smaller user story since smaller stories are more flexible.
Once all the points are added up, your product team will get insight into the amount of time, effort, and resources needed. This way, no task is delivered late, and no developer is left developing a cure for boredom!
How To Create an Agile Epic
Here are seven steps you should follow to create effective agile epics:
1. Refer to your quarterly goals and OKRs
Creating epics based on existing company objectives ensures that the epic is relevant and contributes to the organization’s overall goal.
If you don’t set relevant epics, your team will have a hard time understanding how their efforts are connected to the overall company objective.
An excellent way to make sure your team is working towards their goals is by using a goal-tracking tool like ClickUp.
ClickUp Goals can help you set goals and track your progress towards any product backlog item with measurable Targets and real-time progress tracking.
And since agile teams rely on transparency and collaboration, ClickUp’s Weekly Scorecards let you set transparent goals (multiple user stories) for the week.
Every team member can see the weekly goals and ensure that every goal contributes to the overall objective (epic). ⭐️
2. Structure the specs
Once you’ve chosen some goal-related epics, you need to give a detailed breakdown of what you expect from your agile team.
Here’s an example of some specs for an agile development team:
- Introduction: the introduction needs to explain what you’re developing and the reason you’ve chosen this project
- Product requirement: a description of what the team is going to design, build, and release
- Technical requirement: here, you’ll need to decide what language the software will be programmed in, which operating system it’s being created for, and which standards it must meet
- Design requirement: some design requirements you’ll need to look at are what type of user interface your users want, the level of customizability, speed and responsiveness, ease of use, and more
Without detailed specs, your team might take shortcuts and end up delivering a terrible product!
Homer, you might as well cut your losses now and follow the instructions. ✂
3. Involve the whole team
Although product managers are responsible for writing epics and keeping an eye on the specs, you can’t finish an epic as a one-man band.🥁
Well, you could, but we doubt your customers would enjoy the show.
Epics span across multiple teams, and you’ll need to collaborate with your teammates if you want to secure a loyal fanbase.
As a product manager, you should collaborate with your engineering, design, customer support, and marketing team when writing up the specs. This way, every team is involved and understands the objective of the epic.
Here are some ways ClickUp can help you boost team collaboration:
- ClickUp Docs: create and collaboratively edit epic briefs, design briefs, project plans, and more. Docs are shareable, and you can set permissions for who can view, comment, or edit the Doc
- Multiple Assignees: collaborate and keep every teammate in the loop by adding more than one person to a work item
- User Groups: create an “Marketing” team in ClickUp so that you can Assign tasks, mention teammates, and even add watchers in bulk
4. Set a timeframe
Every sprint needs an estimated timeframe.
Without one, your team will end up sprinting endlessly.
But this is also where agile teams differ from traditional project management teams.
Project teams usually set specific due dates for their projects, whereas agile teams rely on estimation frameworks. However, sprints are generally completed within a week or two.
But how can you make sure your agile team sticks to those estimated time frames?
After all, agile teams aren’t superheroes with enhanced memories. 🧠
Why not try out ClickUp’s Time Estimates?
ClickUp lets you add Time Estimates to any user story so that you can create clear timelines for your epics and manage resources efficiently. This feature also helps you make better predictions for future sprints.
5. Select a metric for the epic
Of course, epics need metrics!
When setting an epic, you’ll need to decide which business metrics you’d want to track and improve.
Metrics help teams transform vague customer requests into measurable targets. This way, teams can easily measure their progress towards epics.
On top of that, working towards relevant metrics will keep the team motivated, and every stakeholder informed.
Here are two examples of agile metrics:
- Lead time: the total time spent from the moment a customer places an order to the time the order is delivered
- Throughput: the total amount of work delivered in a specific period
6. Find a way to visualize progress
Workflow visualization can help your agile team keep track of progress, spot bottlenecks before they turn into delays, and improve team collaboration.
An easy way to visualize progress is by using kanban boards.
A kanban board is a lean project management tool that streamlines agile workflows through standardized task queues like “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.”
Luckily, ClickUp’s already visualized what every agile team needs.
The Agile Board view in ClickUp is the perfect place for teams to visualize work, adjust priorities, and monitor team capacity.
And you have no reason not to get on board since ClickUp’s Kanban Boards are also super easy to use. The Multitask Toolbar lets you update tasks in bulk and the drag-and-drop functionality lets you move tasks around with ease.
7. Identify any blockers
Once your epics have been finalized, you’ll need to identify factors that might delay your team’s progress.
Here are some examples of progress blockers:
- Software testing
- Acceptance criteria tests
- Quality review processes
- Clients disagreeing with the agile transformation process
- Dissatisfied customers
But just identifying blockers isn’t going to make them go away.
What will work is ClickUp’s Gantt Charts and Task Dependencies.
With Gantt Charts, your team can schedule tasks, keep up with project progress, manage deadlines, and handle bottlenecks.
But sometimes, teams end up scheduling tasks in the wrong order. For example, your team decides to create and launch a new feature before addressing multiple customer bug reports.
Launching a new feature while your app has tons of bugs is only going to lead to more bug reports and unhappy customers!
Luckily, product managers can set a clear order of operations with Task Dependencies. This way, your team always knows what to work on first.
But as we all know, it’s hard to get things done when you keep running into bugs! Squash those bugs using ClickUp’s integrations with Jira, GitLab, Bugsnag, and more.
How To Measure Agile Epics
Agile epics can be measured using reports like burndown charts, velocity charts, and cumulative flow diagrams.
Here’s a breakdown of each of them:
- Burndown charts: help teams track how much work a team has left in a project and the time remaining to complete that work. This way, the project won’t go up in flames 😉
- Velocity charts: help teams predict the amount of work the team can get done in future sprints
- Cumulative flow diagrams: help teams visualize their progress and identify anything that’s blocking their workflow
By using these reporting tools, teams can see how close they are to achieving their goals. In addition, teams can use these metrics to identify blockers and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Here’s a summary of how ClickUp can help you keep track of your agile epics:
- Dashboards: get a high-level overview of your portfolio backlog and track your sprint progress with Sprint Widgets like burndowns, burnups, cumulative flow, and velocity
- Sprints: break your projects down into smaller tasks and easily track your Sprints with Sprint Points
- List view: create a structured project backlog and group, sort, and filter items as you like
- Custom Fields: create weekly sprints, add Scrum Points, provide status updates, and more
- Custom Task Statuses: create unique statuses for your projects and if you’re a true Scrum Master, simply use ClickUp’s pre-formatted Statuses for scrum team workflows
- Start Dates and Due Dates: create accurate timeframes for your stories and epics
An Epic End to the Story
While agile epics aren’t actually a set of funny Youtube videos, you might find yourself featuring in some sort of failure video if you try to manage them manually. 👀
Luckily, with a tool like ClickUp, you can manage every page of your agile stories with ease.
Whether you need help to sprint through any agile software development life cycle, track your development team’s progress, or anything else related to project management, ClickUp is the best app to do it, end of story.
And unlike stories, ClickUp’s free plan is never-ending!
Get ClickUp for free today to improve your team’s productivity epically!
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