Agile team managing agile epics during a sprint

How does an epic fit into an Agile framework?

Let’s put epics in context by looking at the overall Agile framework. Typically, a product road map sits at the top of the hierarchy. The road map provides a high-level view of how the project unfolds over time. Each road map may include a series of clearly defined initiatives, individual goals, or milestones. These larger initiatives can in turn be broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks, called user stories. An epic, short for “epic user story,” is simply a big, broad, high-level user story that can then be broken down into smaller user stories.

While the typical user story can be completed in a single sprint, epics may stretch across several sprints. At the end of each sprint, the team reviews the epic’s progress and determines whether they need to make any adjustments. Feedback from stakeholders, executives, and clients can help teams fine-tune the epic to better support initiatives—and the overall product road map—in a continuous cycle of improvement. 

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How to write an Agile epic

When creating an Agile epic, always tie it to the broader initiative or product road map. Teams should also consider their monthly (or quarterly) objectives and key results when deciding on epics. In general, epic user stories should solve a specific problem from a client’s or stakeholder’s perspective. 

If you’re learning how to write an epic in Agile, follow these guidelines: 

  • Phrase epics in storytelling language to demonstrate your product’s value. 

  • Break each epic into manageable, bite-sized user stories that can be completed within a single sprint. 

  • Develop epics for high-priority initiatives first.  

There are no specific rules for how to write an Agile epic. Just try to keep your epics simple and manageable. 

Agile epic examples:

So, how do Agile epics look in practice? Here’s a look at some Agile epic examples. 

Music streaming 

Let’s say you have the following user stories you need to complete for a music streaming service: 

  • Users should be able to share the playlists they create on social media. 

  • Users should be able to like or favorite other users’ playlists.

  • Users should be able to invite other users to view their playlists.

Because these user stories are related, you could create an overall epic: “As a user, I can use my playlists as a way of connecting with other users.”

Video chat 

Here’s another series of potential stories for a video chat program. 

  • Users should be able to import contacts from their phone’s contact list. 

  • Users should be able to find contacts by email address. 

  • Users should be able to invite their friends to use the service. 

You could combine these user stories into an epic like “As a user, I can easily add friends to the video chat program.” 

How to track an Agile epic

Many teams use a modern work management platform to help keep track of Agile epics, including each epic’s component user stories. A transparent list of accountabilities that everyone on the team can easily access helps everyone—from the scrum master to the stakeholder to the individual participant—stay informed, on task, and efficient. 

In some cases, teams may decide to add or remove user stories from a particular epic. And that’s okay. Embrace the flexibility of the Agile framework and allow your epics to change and adapt as needed. After each sprint, consider reevaluating your ongoing epics to determine whether adjustments are warranted. 

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Use Agile epics to keep your team organized and moving forward

Agile epics are a useful tool for grouping related user stories together and supporting broader initiatives in the product road map. While epics may need to be adjusted from time to time, they help teams stay focused on creative, productive product development.

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