In agile development, an ‘epic’ refers to a series of ‘stories’ which can be grouped together by strategic objective. The epic, or epics, then fit underneath a ‘theme’.
Let’s say your theme (a product’s high-level objective) is to sell airline tickets, one epic may be to create personalized ‘must-see’ destinations or itineraries, based on user data profiles. Within this, the stories (small units of development work) may include gaining permission from users to track their search histories, creating and sending personalized email campaigns, or hosting a ‘suggested for you’ page on the website.
Structuring your workflow this way may seem like a lot of work — and it can be! — but it helps streamline the development process in return.
If you’ve ever found your workflow overwhelming, or have been unsure of the strategic value of a feature or build, then spending time organizing your epics can help you feel more in control.
As the mid-layer of the theme > epic > story structure, epics can give the team a greater sense of where their effort is best spent. If you have a long list of stories, contained within an epic that doesn’t add a lot of strategic value, then you can — with confidence — de-prioritize those stories until a later date.
It can be difficult to assign accurate development deadlines when all you’ve got is a backlog of stories or themes which are too broad to understand. However, by adding up the story points — units of effort — within each epic, you can quickly calculate a useful timing guideline. If it’s unrealistic to expect the backlog to be completed within the current sprint, it’s better to now that now rather than later.