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What Is An Agile Epic? Best Practices, Template & Example

19th Feb, 2024
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    What Is An Agile Epic? Best Practices, Template & Example

    Project management involves a series of activities to understand user journeys, pain points, and a lot more to build the vision and create a niche for the organization to sustain and grow. Building requirements around the customer journey is no mean feat and especially in agile environments this involves a lot of research, refinement, and customer feedback to ensure keeping up with the ever-changing user needs, fancies, and environmental challenges. 

    In our organization, I, as a product manager, have the onus of converting all user needs, wants, and challenges into our vision and decomposing the same into strategy, roadmap, and task-level activities. This is where the agile solution of an “Epic” comes to my aid. In this article today, let me share with you what an epic is in agile, how we, as agile teams, use it, its benefits, and a lot more. Keep reading

    What Is An Agile Epic?

    What is an epic in agile is a fundamental question that arises as a part of any agile discussion. To make it a lot simpler, let me help you understand an epic as a large collection of requirements that is further decomposed into several user stories to formulate units of value delivery to the customer. By this definition, it is very evident that an epic is a set of user requirements that can be achieved or completed in either two or more sprints. For agile teams during the backlog refinement session or during the sprint planning ceremony, any requirements that cannot be accomplished as part of one sprint's backlog would formulate an epic and need to be further decomposed to effectively plan and achieve the acceptance criteria as well as the definition of done.

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    Add an Agile Epic Structure image

    To better understand what is an epic in agile development, let us look at the levels of planning in agile and how they help build an alignment from the daily task to the high-level vision statement. 

    • At the first level, a high-level vision statement is published which involves an overarching business objective.
    • Next, a strategy is formulated to decompose the statement into a roadmap which formulates the product backlog. 
    • Then, the milestones and release checkpoints are formulated to define how features will be delivered which results in the release schedule or calendar. (at the above two levels is where features and epics come into the picture)
    • Then, the iteration or sprint-level planning is performed to determine the sprint backlog
    • Finally, the daily activities or task-level analysis is done to determine progress and weed out any impediments or challenges.

    This layer-by-layer planning resembles the act of peeling an onion and is often referred to as the “Agile planning Onion” which shows how work items correlate between agile user stories and epics. 

    Understand the agile framework and a lot more project management knowledge by taking up the most advanced and quality-oriented courses from the vast catalog of KnowledgeHut’s Agile certificate programs. 

    Creating an agile epic 

    An epic is formulated to achieve user needs and represents the goals broken down from the roadmap, which further need to be detailed to ensure granularity to achieve the desired outcomes. Epics transcend from the top-most strategic planning to feature-level increment planning and sprint-level user story, task, and sub-task planning. To achieve this level of detail, the epic must address the problem or current state in the introduction to define "what is to be achieved" and "why it must be achieved"; in addition, anyone creating agile epics and user stories must introduce the following areas of work:

    • Business or Product requirements - the fulfillment criteria based on the user persona or journey to address pain points and provide value to the user.
    • Solution or Design requirements - the requirements or criteria that must be fulfilled to create the business or product requirements and enable the achievement of desired outcomes.
    • Technical requirements - Also known as tech debts, these must be fulfilled to void or get rid of any gap that development processes or tools may introduce 
    • Definition of Done - validation of the how part of activities performed to achieve the what and why, to avoid any other challenges or impediments in value-delivery
    • Measurement criteria - Criteria or metrics to measure progress, benefits, and compliances.

    Break down an agile epic 

    Having understood what is an epic in agile, we now know how a product manager or business owner is tasked with the herculean activity of connecting the dots between the vision and team-level activities and does this by striking the right amount of balance between strategic and tactical planning. Based on market research and analysis, the business team determines some key outcomes that may have the top priority and fit into the product backlog. The product manager carries the baton from here to the team by way of detailing the epic and breaking it into user stories, epics, and features for the team to consume in their iteration planning and build the story-level functionality while keeping the focus on the overall epic level. 

    Getting cues from some of the popular agile epics examples, here are some key points and techniques that are helpful when breaking down epics into stories:

    1. Estimate epics with the team - It is always a good idea to get the epic-level estimation from the team as soon as they are ready for grooming/refinement to know how they need to be sliced into user stories. Remember, it is the business that defines the “what and why”, while the team defines the “how”.
    2. List all the stories in the epic - To ensure the team members see the bigger picture and know the overall depth of the epic, the product owner/product manager needs to ensure the list of all stories is included in the epic, which can be then broken up during refinement or versioned as per priority.
    3. Take advantage of versioning - Versioning is a key technique, however, a lot of product managers miss it causing scope creep and derailment of planned activities. Product owners must be clear about what needs to be baselined and what should be improved/reserved for future versions to ensure the effective completion of epics.
    4. Focus on rolling wave planningProduct owners must use this strategic project management technique to ensure the right refinement and inclusion of stories in the epics.
    5. Use prioritization techniques - The product owner must keep the epics/product backlog listed in the order of priority using prioritization techniques such as:
      1. MoSCoW Method
      2. Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) method
      3. Risk/value matrix analysis
      4. Theme scoring analysis
      5. Impact mapping analysis
      6. Functional/Non-functional requirement analysis
      7. Vertical slicing techniques

    It is always important to remember that whatever the level of planning, epics need to be refined and detailed or updated as the team moves ahead in their sprint cycle and should have a shorter time-to-market to yield the maximum ROI on them.

    Measuring agile epics 

    Measuring the epics is important to track the goals and associated metrics, here are some key techniques using which epics are generally measured:

    Epic burndown chart - showcases the team’s progress in completing child items against the estimated time remaining to complete the work items.

    Epic Burndown Chart

    Cumulative Flow Diagram - Helps visualize workflow, put the limit on the number of in-progress items, and identify impediments, and corresponding cycle time in the completion of stories within the epics.

    Cumulative Flow Diagram

    Velocity Chart - showcases the commitment vs completion of the team to understand progress over time and identify challenges.

    Agile Velocity Chart

    Optimize your epics with automation

    Agile management tools offer vast opportunities for automating routine tasks to reduce friction points in the process and ensure team members working in close collaboration always have the latest inputs and information. Here are some ways in which product managers/owners can ride on this bandwagon to yield its benefits:

    • Set up templates for epics to get rid of manual efforts in epic creation
    • Embed checklists within the epic to track dependent compliance tasks/work items besides the acceptance criteria
    • Generate automated insights from epics utilizing reports and dashboards
    • Set up a checklist based on acceptance criteria and definition of done
    • Ensure to set watch/review of epics by all stakeholders
    • Set up workflows for approvals, status updates, and development branches on epics.

    All of these above methods of automation are facilitated by most of the agile management tools and go a long way in making the life of a product manager as well as an engineering manager easy. Automation ensures the one-time configuration or sets up of the automation rules help businesses and teams get the latest and greatest on the team's progress and understanding of what is completed vs what is left. 

    Best Practices For Using Agile Epics 

    Building the right epics or using the right approach to define epics can ease the software development life cycle and its iterations to a greater extent. Epics features and stories are known to help create and build a platform for collaborative development and to achieve this, some of the proven industry best practices include:

    • Convert ideas and research into epics as early as possible to ensure all inputs, content, and key criteria to be achieved are included.
    • Use the right naming convention to convey the end goal at a glance whether it is brought up in any executive meetings or backlog refinement sessions
    • Know when to baseline and use the right versioning to ensure the right mix of requirements without any scope creep
    • Ensure rightful information to help the team with relative sizing or definitive estimation 
    • Ensure cross-vertical or team dependencies are called out with the right predecessor, successor, or related links for information transparency
    • Keep the epics flexible to be refined to learn and adapt as teams progress in their development cycle
    • Ensure the definition of done and definition of ready are called out, met, and documented
    • Have a checklist-based approach for metrics and OKRs to ensure visibility and tracking

    In a section below just a few minutes away, I have provided an epic feature user story example which includes some of these key best practices to be referred to as a sample. 

    Agile Epic Template

    Although there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to creating epics - some key details or fields that need to be detailed in an example agile epic include:

    • Core information:
      • Epic Name
      • Epic Description
      • Child Issues or Child Items
      • Dependencies
    • Epic Attributes: 
      • Labels
      • Release/fix versions
      • T-shirt size
      • Requirement Quality (Red/Amber/Green)

    Let us see this in detail in the example of an agile epic in the next section.

    Agile Epic Example 

    Let us see an epic and user stories example where we as the PMO team for an organization, introduce agile and work towards increasing its adoption across the departments. 



    Epic ID



    Increase Agile Adoption in the Technology division by 15% in Q1-24


    Overview - As a part of our agile adoption strategy, we want to increase our agile footprint in the technology division by 25% in Q1-24

    Business impact - Increased adoption and process compliance

    Key metrics - 

    Adoption across the organization - % of teams on agile methodologies vs % of teams on traditional methodologies

    User Stories (child items)

    • Identify teams within the division
    • Identify methodologies currently being applied
    • Identify projects in progress and in pipeline for the division
    • Identify stakeholders across each team in the division
    • Set up training sessions to bring teams onto agile
    • Distribute agile materials and schedule working sessions
    • Set up roles, hierarchies, and processes
    • Schedule teams to move methodologies adopt tools and practices
    • Appoint scrum masters or designate roles within teams
    • Review impediments/process challenges to tailor processes
    • Monitor progress and measure adoption


    Labels - Q1-Process Adoption

    Release/fix versions - Q1-24

    T-shirt size - Medium

    Requirement Quality - Amber

    As mentioned earlier, there is no standard epic user stories example or format or template that may be baselined as an example; each organization/division may adopt its method of formulating epics by what conveys meaning to items team members with ease.

    Benefits of epics

    To know more about the agile epics benefits, let me help you revise our understanding of what agile activities are performed to create epics and derive their benefits. In any given framework, product managers take epics from the release backlog and disintegrate them into features which are further fragmented into user stories to help formulate the product backlog. The product backlog now becomes a list of epic feature and user story items ordered by priority which is picked by the product owner and refined (i.e. discussed for understanding) with the team who then based on the definition of ready (crisp and clear acceptance criteria with all checks fulfilled) move items from the product backlog in to the (future) sprint backlog. Here are some of the key benefits that this exercise helps the teams with: 

    • Create alignment between vision and daily activities by breaking down strategic goals to formulate sprint-level stories and tasks.
    • Formulate cadence based on refinement discussions, stand-up, and iteration syncs to incorporate changes and course-correct with ease.
    • Ensure the team focuses on key goals and limits scope creep to avoid deviations.
    • Helps track completion of bigger projects with feature-level tracking of deliverables
    • Creates a culture of transparency and visibility with the establishment of quarterly, half-yearly, and yearly roadmap goals.


    I am sure by this time, you are now demystified by the popular question - what is an epic in agile? To summarize it all, an epic is the agile solution for the top-tier level of planning and helps break the organization's vision into a strategic roadmap, which is further molded into user stories and tasks to form achievable business objectives. Epics are created by the product management team to club user stories and define the unit of value delivery or iteration deliverables. 

    By following the structure of initiatives, epics, and user stories, the organization weaves an alignment from the strategic planning layers to the tactical execution levels which involve the understanding and cadence of the team to align and create deliverables as per the plans which are formulated based on user needs and market research. Epics to be effectively tracked must have their key performance indicators or metrics clearly defined to result in actionable outcomes and derive planned benefits.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1How does an Epic differ from a User Story?

    An epic is a group or collection of user stories and is large enough to be planned over more than one sprint or iteration. Epics are used to measure the capabilities that the team will deliver typically for the quarter or any custom timeline.

    2Do all Agile teams use Epics?

    Product managers use epics as the development backbone, to track features and their corresponding releases to the customer, especially in teams where iterative and incremental features are aligned as per the milestones and deliverables.

    3Can an Epic be changed or refined over time?

    Epics are created with a basic understanding envisaging how the feature may look in the hands of the customer and is subject to changes based on customer feedback and the accent of the team as development progresses.


    Deepti Sinha

    Blog Author

    Deepti is an Agile Coach by profession and Freelance Trainer with over 11 years of industry experience working primarily with healthcare & finance clients in delivering business. She has played a wide variety of roles in the graph of her career, whether it be, management, operations or quality. She likes reading fiction, management and loves to write her experiences. Her colleagues mostly describe her as very detail oriented person with a knack of creativity and imagination. And yes, she loves feedback more than her coffee!!

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