Developing Epics for Scrum Masters

The term ‘epic’ in agile refers to a large user story that has not yet been defined in detail. Typically, an epic will cover a single business process that must be fully completed as a whole for the business value to be realized. These user stories are described as epics because they will require refining over multiple cycles before they can be considered done.

Defining epics and scheduling them into a release plan is an effective way to manage the product backlog. Part of identifying what epics can be made for the project requires an understanding of the granularity of backlog items. Scrum masters can help the product owner and the development team in defining and planning of Epics by letting them understand what epics are and how they can be broken down into user stories.

Collecting Content for the Product Backlog

The product backlog consists of requirements that come from conversing with the stakeholders. Some ways that can be used to collect such content could be the following:

1. Workshops – Meetings and sessions where the team empathizes with a group of customers and users by having them present problem areas and solutions to each other. This can be done by writing them down on post-its, grouping them together, and later on processing next steps.
2. Interviews – Up close conversations with individuals that have more personal statements, which can lead to useful and unique insights for the product.
3. Questionnaires – Surveys that are accessible to various users and customers and can be answered at their own convenience. Results can be more quantitative in nature since trends and patterns can be found based on the answers.

Collecting Content for the Product Backlog

Analyzing results from workshops, interviews, and questionnaires will help the team come up with personas who represent user groups for the product. Designing the product around personas helps ensure that the developed product is valuable by addressing the problems and preferences raised by users.

59 Seconds Agile - Developing Epics

59 Seconds Agile – Developing Epics

Breaking Down the Product Backlog

One could think of the product backlog as a large repository of work that can be divided into smaller and smaller parts. There’s the overarching statement of what the product is, broken down into what its objectives are, and then further split into what functionalities it has.

The granularity of a feature will vary from one organization to the other. Some organizations use themes or value streams to group features together. Some organizations come up with epics that cover different focus areas, and then map user stories that complete these epics. The Scrum team and the stakeholders need to work together on deciding how to categorize user stories into epics and epics into themes.

User Stories

User stories note the agreements between the stakeholders and the Scrum team and detail what actions need to take place within the product. A popular template used for writing user stories are:

As a (type of user), I want to (action here) so that (reason or intended output here).

This statement encapsulates what the Scrum team needs to cover when developing the product: who the user is, what they want to do, and why they want to do it, as well as the value it will give to them.

INVEST Criteria

The INVEST criteria guides Scrum teams into coming up with good user stories, and it stands for the following:

Independent – Story is not redundant and provides enough detail as it is.
Negotiable – Story can be discussed and is eventually negotiated.
Valuable – Story is important to the customer.
Estimable – Story has an approximate range along which it can be estimated.
Small – Story fits within an iteration.
Testable – Story is clear enough to be tested.

Following the INVEST criteria helps the team practice exchanging feedback, estimating effort, and implementing features with sufficient understanding.

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