Epics. When some people hear the word ‘epic’ they think about great works of literature or movies like ‘The Ten Commandments’. They seldom think about software project management, which is what Ryn Melberg (www.rynmelberg.com) takes on this week on her podcast, The Guardian. The Guardian podcast can be heard on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/harold-nicoll/epics-in-agile) iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/epics-in-agile/id977764101?i=361733748&mt=2) and her web site at www.rynmelberg.com.
As the name describes, Epics are the highest form of planning in Agile. Epics take the most time to complete and are the most resource intense of any in Agile or Scrum. An epic in agile is big from any point of view.
How To Know An Epic
There are several ways to describe epics in agile. Some are simply a really big user story while others are a bundle of user stories tied together. But another way to discern an epic is via the time-box. “It should not take more than two months to complete a feature in agile,” Ryn told her listeners. “Anything that takes three months to a year is an epic.” Epics are also the things that deliver the greatest value. “An epic will benefit the organization in some way,” Ryn said. “That benefit can be for a customer, but it can also be internal in the form of better infrastructure or another operational advantage that makes the business more competitive.”
The Lightweight Business Case
Since Epics are resource intense, they require a good deal of analysis before they are agreed to. The ‘lightweight business case’ is a process where team members and business stakeholders work together to define and articulate the benefits of an epic. It is during this time that analysis and description of the business benefits that will result from the epic are researched with examples given and accepted. A well-written epic is the first step in the process. “The best written epics are the ones that are the most concisely written,” Ryn advised her audience. “The longer an epic, the more chances there are for a misunderstanding. Shorter epics mean there are fewer chances for anyone on the team or in leadership to get the wrong idea.”
Describing the benefits and the steps involved for the entire team or more likely teams is a large part of developing the business case. Ultimately knowing when the project is drawn to a successful completion and how to recognize that success are defined as part of the lightweight business case. The lightweight business case procedure as part of the epic writing exercise helps leaders and team members alike know that they are choosing to work on the best projects for their organization and for their customers.