What Is Epic in Agile? (Definition, Best Practices and Pros)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An agile product development framework allows an organisation to adapt a flexible approach to its workflow. Epics in agile organise tasks into smaller units and create hierarchy in the development process. Understanding epic in agile can help you learn effective product development strategies that you can implement with your team to help you succeed. In this article, we define what epic in agile is, outline best practises for using this approach and highlight its benefits.

What is epic in agile?

In agile project management, an epic is a useful tool for structuring agile backlogs and roadmaps. An epic is a large chunk of work comprising several smaller, manageable tasks called user stories. It allows a team to break down tasks to fit into the agile framework of a sprint. You can group several stories with a common goal into a broader business objective called a theme.

Another epic component is the roadmap that communicates the product plan and aligns the entire organisation. Unlike user stories that may take the sprint team a short time to complete, epics may take longer. Continuous analysis of customer and organisational needs during the epic period is essential to determine and implement changes that can improve the production process. A product owner can collaborate with key stakeholders, such as customers and investors when writing an agile epic to ensure it addresses requirements.

Best practises for creating an agile epic

Once you've understood the basic concepts of an agile epic, you can implement them in the organisation you work for. This can help teams perform tasks more efficiently. Here are some of the best practises for creating an agile epic:

Involve the entire team

Involving all team members when writing epics is essential to ensure that everyone understands the project's objectives. Each member can share ideas and provide input on the appropriate work plan. This creates an open-minded, conducive environment for exploring diverse ideas and can provide new information leading to better decision-making and problem-solving. Involving the team can also give each member a sense of ownership of the project and help motivate them to deliver quality output.

Related: What Is the Importance of a Team? (With Team Skills)

Define the end user

Defining the user persona for the product or service can guide the product development process. This can help the sprint team understand who the target audience is and what their potential needs are to inform product requirements. It can also provide insight into time frames for the production process.

Related: What Does a UI Designer Do? (With Role, Skills and Salary)

Organise user stories

User stories are smaller fragments of the larger project that enable more efficient task management. Organising these stories when writing the epic can give you a clearer idea of the production workload. Here are some specifications to consider when organising user stories:

  • Introduction: Define what you're developing and the objectives of the project.

  • Product requirements: Outline the required project resources, such as skills and materials.

  • Technical requirements: Decide on the software's programming language, the operating system to use and the regulatory standards to meet.

  • Design requirements: Define a suitable user interface, the level of customisation and the required speed and responsiveness of the system.

Set up feedback loops

Receiving feedback throughout the epic is essential to enable product changes in the early stages. You can do this by setting up continuous feedback loops with the end users. Consider using direct or online feedback channels, creating surveys or distributing questionnaires to gauge customers' opinions about the product as it evolves.

You can also distribute product samples to the target audience in the final stages of the production process to get an idea of the product's reception. This enables the sprint team to identify last-minute product flaws and avoid costly rework. It also allows them to focus on the customer throughout the process.

Related: 5 Constructive Feedback Examples for Colleagues (Plus Tips)

Define metrics

Defining metrics when writing an epic is important and allows the team to track progress and measure the success of new product features. They can help you transform customer needs into measurable targets. Metrics provide the team with set targets to achieve, motivate them to work towards objectives and help them understand the amount of work the project requires. Some common agile metrics include:

  • Lead time: Lead time is the period from making a delivery request to the time of actual delivery and also includes business request development and bug fixing times. It provides accurate time calculations for all processes.

  • Throughput: This metric provides an average of the processed tasks within a specified time period. You can use it to assess the team's productivity level and get a general overview of their capacity.

  • Sprint burndown: This metric tracks the progress of user stories and time-bound sprints. You can use it to evaluate the amount of remaining work.

  • Epic and release burndown: Unlike sprint burndown that tracks sprint progress, epic and release burndown tracks the progress of a larger volume of work. You can use it to retrieve data on project progress and align goals with the project plan.

Related: What Is Continuous Improvement? (Plus 12 Key Metrics)

Identify work process blockers

This involves identifying factors that may contribute to performance delays. Determining these blockers can give you an idea of setbacks to expect and help you prepare solutions and strategies to overcome them. Consider analysing experiences from previous stories to identify potential blockers. These blockers can include:

  • dissatisfied customers

  • underestimated budgets

  • software testing

  • quality review testing

Related: What Does a Project Planner Do? With Duties and Skills

Set a timeframe

The purpose of dividing tasks into user stories and sprints in the agile strategy is to ensure the team completes smaller tasks on time. Unlike traditional project frameworks that can have longer deadlines, sprints typically take two to three weeks. Setting timeframes can help you and the team determine an appropriate work rate to meet deadlines.

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and Improvement Strategies

Implement flexible epics

An open-minded work approach can allow the team to easily adapt to changing circumstances. This can include re-prioritising tasks according to customer demands and adjusting work plans to work around or overcome obstacles. Flexible epics can help the team avoid delays and make accurate time estimations.

Related: Workplace Flexibility For Employers and Employees

Use a progress visualisation method

Project visualisation is an effective performance monitoring strategy. It can help the team keep track of progress, identify bottlenecks early and improve the workflow. Consider using a kanban board that can visualise the work process by using cards to represent tasks and columns to represent different stages of the process.

Related: What Is an Idea Board? (With Definition, Uses and Steps)

Benefits of epic

An epic framework offers many benefits to the end user, the sprint team and the organisation. These benefits can include:

Improved decision-making processes

Epic in agile frameworks encourages collaboration among team members and promotes a diverse approach to problem-solving and decision-making. The team can offer a variety of ideas and perspectives on the processes. The agile framework also enables members to analyse and learn from their experiences, focusing on continuous improvement. It can also enable informed decision-making and contribute to the company's success.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition and Examples for Leaders

Maintained focus on goals

Segmenting tasks into smaller sections allows the sprint team to focus on one goal at a time. Themes contain the overall project goals in the product roadmap, while user stories are tactical units that track individual tasks and add up to the organisation's overall goals. An epic framework enables sprint teams to monitor progress and make tasks more manageable.

Related: How to Achieve Goals in 8 Steps (With Common Benefits)

Customer prioritisation

Epic frameworks put customers at the centre of product development through the feedback process. They allow teams to modify the product according to customer requirements. This framework also involves customers from the beginning of a project right through to the final stages of product development.

Improved time management

Breaking down epics into smaller, more manageable user stories and sprints makes it easier to create project timelines. You can use metrics, such as story points, that track the time to complete a user story and a lead time that measures the time between delivery request and completion. Agile strategies promote continuous improvement, and knowing the standard time to complete tasks can give the team a reference point.

Improved data analysis and reporting

Performance metrics, including throughput, burnout charts and lead time, allow the product owner to monitor progress. They can use these metrics to create progress reports by comparing the values of each user story. This can help them identify performance improvements and the changes that led to them. It also enables a product owner to identify performance flaws and determine their specific causes.

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