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Importance of Epics

Why do you need Epics?

Epics are used in agile software development to classify your user stories and lend a structure to your backlog. For example, if you're working on two-week sprints and you take on an integration between your product and a third-party application, it will likely take more than a single sprint to complete. This is where you can use epics. Your epic could be called <Product Name> Integration and the user stories required to achieve it could be spread across multiple sprints.

It's often not clear what our path is when we set off, so epics are a useful way to capture ideas and flesh them out as we go. In this way, an epic can be useful as a placeholder.

An epic can also help you capture abstract ideas with a single item in your backlog until your team decides to break it down into user stories. You could have an epic titled "Online Payment" in your backlog and you could flesh it out (Credit card, debit card, store credits..) when your team takes it up during their sprint planning meeting. Epics help identify milestones in your feature roadmap, or even features themselves, making your work more organized and easier to track.

 

How big should an epic be?

Based on the practices of a team, they decide how high-level or granular an epic should be. It also depends on their need for an extensive hierarchy in their work: some teams mandate that all their user stories need to be classified under one epic or another while other teams work with a more relaxed approach. Some teams complete their epics in a month and some run theirs over the course of several months.

Breaking down an Epic

Whether you're breaking down an epic, a user story, or any work item in your backlog into tasks, it's important to remember to split them across functional boundaries and not technical ones. For example, if the work item is enabling online payment for an ecommerce store, you can split it into "Debit card payment" and "Credit card payment" instead of "Design," "Development," and 'Testing."

Horizontal breakdowns often cause bottlenecks since every item will be dependent on other items and not be able to contribute any value by itself. It also creates technical silos within the team and works against a shared understanding of what the team is working on.

I would like to hear from you guys on your perspective on Epics.

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