Effective project management is essential in software development. Jira’s Epics provide a powerful solution for managing complex software projects, and understanding how to use them can make all the difference.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the technical aspects of utilizing Epics in the Jira workflow, exploring the advanced features and Jira best practices that can streamline your software development process. So, let’s delve into the intricacies of agile project management in software development and take your workflow to the next level.
Example of an Epic
In essence, an Epic is a collection of user stories that groups them together into one valuable item. This helps the team, Project Managers, and Stakeholders see the bigger picture and the overall strategy of the project without needing to dive into the details.
Let’s say you run a general goods store. There are dozens of daily activities you need to keep tabs on: keeping the inventory in check, making sure new products are labeled properly on the shelves, cleaning the aisles, etc. These are your “stories.”
Putting all of them into one gargantuan to-do list doesn’t make a lot of sense as you’ll end up with a lot of checklist items of various value and complexity. This will make prioritization and even simple analysis of the workload way more challenging than it needs to be.
However, if you group them together using a common denominator, you’ll have a much more manageable list. In this case, related tasks like an inventory check, ordering a new delivery, and paying the vendor will become an Epic for your procurement process. You can then use the newly created Epics to prioritize your work based on the following factors:
The impact an Epic has on your business.
The effort or the amount of work you’ll need to complete the tasks.
The risks that are associated with Epic like, for example, the risk of not having full information, the risk of being a bad market fit, or the risk of not meeting regulations, etc.
Any dependencies with other tasks or Epics.
An example that’s closer to software development can involve the addition of Augmented Reality functionality to a mobile app of a beauty product vendor. You’ll need the involvement of multiple people working on various tasks to accomplish your goal. Therefore it would make sense to group them together into an Epic.
What’s the Right Size for an Epic?
The appropriate size for an Epic is somewhat of a hot topic in the development community. You won’t find the “correct” answer in the Scrum Guide or in any other reference material.
I’ve heard arguments that one Epic should be doable in one Sprint, and I’ve also heard that Epics can take as long as several years. In both cases, the justification was something along the lines of, “Hey, it works for our team; therefore, it is a good practice.”
In my experience, several years is a very long time to complete an Epic. This timeframe is closer to themes and initiatives in terms of volume and complexity.
A single Sprint time frame doesn’t make too much sense to me, either. This is enough time to make a feature, and a feature is indeed composed of multiple stories, but I don’t believe Epics should be feature-sized.
I’m more inclined to agree with Mr. Chris Belknap and his estimation of how big an Epic should be:
A theme is a multi-year endeavor.
Epics take from six months to a year.
Features take around three months.
And stories take one Sprint or less.
That said, at the end of the day, the “correct” size of an Epic is whatever works for you and your organization. The key is making sure that everyone, including the stakeholders, managers, and team members, understands what an Epic is in your case.
Difference Between Epics, User Stories, Themes, and Initiatives
By default, Jira has three elements to its hierarchy: Epics, Issues (Stories), and Subtasks. You can add additional layers to this functionality with Themes and Initiatives. The latter is only available for Jira Premium or third-party add-ons.
Initiatives are like epics for other epics, providing a strategic bird’s eye view for overseeing multiple company projects. For instance, an initiative could aim to boost a certain project’s market share in Spanish-speaking countries, such as an e-commerce store. This initiative would then be broken down into smaller projects like establishing connections with new vendors, investing more in advertising and marketing, or developing a mobile app for the store.
Themes are labels used to group work by categories in Jira. For example, a theme might involve adding a Spanish localization to reach a new market.