How to Write an Epic (for Product Managers)

Product managers are often tasked with writing epics as part of their role. But what exactly is an epic? In this article, we will dive into the definition of an epic, explore different perspectives on writing epics, and provide a step-by-step guide on how to write an epic effectively. Whether you are a seasoned product manager or just starting out, this article will equip you with the knowledge and skills to write epic stories that drive your product's success.

What is an epic?

Before delving into the process of writing an epic, it's important to understand what it is. An epic is a large body of work that is too big to be completed in a single iteration or sprint. It is usually a high-level user story that captures a significant functionality or feature of a product. Think of an epic as a strategic initiative that helps achieve the product's overall goals.

Epics are often used in agile project management to break down a project into smaller, manageable chunks. They provide a way to organize and prioritize work, allowing teams to focus on delivering value incrementally. By defining epics, teams can better understand the scope of a project and plan their work accordingly. This approach also enables stakeholders to have a clear view of the project's progress and make informed decisions based on the completion of each epic.

When creating an epic, it's essential to ensure that it aligns with the product vision and roadmap. Epics should be well-defined, with clear objectives and acceptance criteria. They should also be flexible enough to accommodate changes and iterations as the project progresses. By breaking down a project into epics, teams can maintain a balance between delivering value to the customer and adapting to evolving requirements and market conditions.

The top-down view

From a top-down perspective, an epic provides a broad overview of the problem or opportunity that the product aims to address. It highlights the business value, user needs, and overall objectives. The top-down view allows stakeholders to gain a high-level understanding of the epic and its strategic importance.

When looking at a project or product from a top-down view, it's essential to consider the overarching goals and vision that drive the initiative. By starting with a big-picture perspective, teams can ensure that their efforts are aligned with the broader strategic direction of the organization. This approach also helps in identifying key stakeholders and understanding their needs and expectations.

Furthermore, the top-down view enables teams to prioritize features and requirements based on their alignment with the overall objectives of the epic. By focusing on the most critical aspects first, teams can deliver value early on and iterate on the product incrementally. This iterative approach not only helps in managing risks but also allows for flexibility and adaptation as the project progresses.

The bottom-up view

In contrast, the bottom-up view focuses on the nitty-gritty details of an epic. It involves breaking down the epic into smaller, actionable user stories or tasks. This granular approach helps the development team understand what needs to be done and allows for better planning and estimation.

When adopting the bottom-up view, teams often start by identifying the smallest components of the epic and then gradually work their way up to the larger picture. This methodical approach ensures that no detail is overlooked and that every aspect of the project is carefully considered. By breaking down the epic into manageable tasks, teams can prioritize their work effectively and deliver incremental value to stakeholders.

Furthermore, the bottom-up view encourages collaboration and communication among team members. As each task is clearly defined and assigned, team members can work closely together to achieve their goals. This collaborative environment fosters creativity and innovation, as team members can freely exchange ideas and build upon each other's work. Ultimately, the bottom-up view promotes a sense of ownership and accountability among team members, leading to a more cohesive and successful project outcome.

What is the format of an epic?

An epic typically follows a specific format to ensure clarity and consistency. It starts with a descriptive title that succinctly captures the purpose of the epic. This title serves as a guiding light, illuminating the path ahead for all involved in the epic's journey. It is a beacon of focus amidst the vast sea of tasks and stories that make up a project.

Following the title, a well-crafted epic delves into a narrative section that serves as the beating heart of the story. This narrative is not merely a recounting of events but a tapestry woven with threads of context, motivation, and vision. It paints a vivid picture of the problem or opportunity at hand, drawing stakeholders and team members into a shared understanding of the epic's significance.

After the narrative, the epic should establish the scope by defining the boundaries and constraints. This delineation of scope is akin to setting the stage for a grand performance, outlining the space within which the epic will unfold. By clearly demarcating what is within the epic's purview and what lies beyond, this section acts as a safeguard against the encroachment of extraneous elements that could dilute the epic's impact.

Furthermore, the scope should meticulously detail any dependencies or external factors that may exert influence on the epic's trajectory. These dependencies are the invisible threads that connect the epic to the larger web of project interconnections. Understanding and addressing these dependencies is crucial for navigating the complex landscape of project management with finesse and foresight.

Defining the completion criteria is another crucial aspect of the epic format. This section serves as a roadmap to the finish line, laying out the milestones and deliverables that mark the epic's progression towards fulfillment. Just as a skilled cartographer charts the course for a voyage, the completion criteria guide the epic's evolution from inception to realization, ensuring that every step taken is purposeful and progress-driven.

What should an epic include?

When writing an epic, certain elements should be included to provide a comprehensive understanding. Start by clearly stating the problem or opportunity that the epic addresses. This should be followed by the desired outcome or goals to be achieved. Additionally, consider including the target audience or users, as well as any metrics or success criteria that will be used to measure the impact of the epic.

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It's also important to highlight any risks or challenges associated with the epic. This allows stakeholders and the development team to anticipate and address potential issues early on. Finally, consider including any support or resources that may be required for successful implementation.

Furthermore, when outlining an epic, it can be beneficial to provide a detailed timeline or roadmap for the project. This timeline can help in setting expectations and ensuring that all stakeholders are aligned on the project's scope and delivery schedule. In addition, including a section on dependencies and constraints can help in identifying any external factors that may impact the epic's progress.

Another important aspect to consider when defining an epic is the alignment with the overall strategic goals of the organization. By clearly articulating how the epic contributes to the larger mission and vision of the company, stakeholders can better understand the significance and priority of the project. This alignment can also help in securing the necessary resources and support for the successful execution of the epic.

How to write an epic?

Writing an epic is no small feat; it requires careful planning and execution to ensure its success. By following these steps, you can create an epic that not only captures the imagination but also delivers tangible results for your product and its users.

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Step 1: Name the epic

Start by giving your epic a clear and concise name that reflects its purpose. The name should capture the essence of the problem or opportunity that the epic addresses. A well-chosen name can set the tone for the entire epic and provide a guiding light for all subsequent steps.

For example, if your epic revolves around improving user onboarding for a mobile app, a name like "Streamlined Onboarding Experience" could effectively convey the goal and focus of the epic.

Step 2: Write a narrative explaining the epic

In this section, provide a detailed explanation of the epic, including the context, background, and rationale. Clearly articulate the problem or opportunity and highlight its significance to the product and its users. By crafting a compelling narrative, you can engage stakeholders and team members, fostering a shared understanding and commitment to the epic's objectives.

Consider including real-world examples or user scenarios to illustrate the impact of the epic. This can help bring the abstract concept to life and demonstrate why it is crucial for the product's success.

Step 3: Establish the scope for the epic

Define the boundaries and constraints of the epic. This involves specifying what is included and what is not. Consider any dependencies or external factors that may impact the epic's implementation. By clearly delineating the scope, you can prevent scope creep and ensure a focused and achievable outcome.

Collaborate with key stakeholders to identify potential risks or challenges that may arise during the epic's execution. By proactively addressing these issues, you can mitigate risks and enhance the likelihood of a successful delivery.

Step 4: Define completion for the epic

Outline the criteria that need to be met for the epic to be considered completed. Clearly state the desired outcomes and goals that need to be achieved. By establishing clear metrics for success, you can track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of the epic's implementation.

Consider setting key performance indicators (KPIs) or success metrics that align with the overarching goals of the epic. This can provide a quantitative basis for measuring the epic's impact and value to the product and its users.

Step 5: Break the epic down into stories

Now it's time to break down the epic into smaller, actionable user stories. These stories should be manageable and measurable. Assign them to the appropriate iterations or sprints for development. By decomposing the epic into granular tasks, you can facilitate incremental progress and ensure a steady cadence of delivery.

Collaborate with the development team to prioritize user stories based on their impact and dependencies. By sequencing the stories effectively, you can optimize development efforts and maximize value delivery throughout the epic's lifecycle.

What is an example of an epic?

To better illustrate the concept of an epic, let's consider an example. Imagine you are developing a project management tool, and one of your epics is "Enhanced Task Management." In the narrative section, you would explain how the current task management functionality falls short and how enhancing it will benefit users. You would define the scope by outlining the specific features and improvements to be implemented. The completion criteria may include successfully implementing the new task management features and achieving a certain percentage increase in user satisfaction.

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Expanding on the example of "Enhanced Task Management," let's delve deeper into the intricacies of this epic. Within this epic, you may have user stories that detail the different scenarios and interactions users will have with the enhanced task management system. These user stories could include tasks such as creating new tasks, assigning tasks to team members, setting due dates, and tracking task progress. Each user story contributes to the overall narrative of improving task management within the project management tool.

Furthermore, when crafting the epic "Enhanced Task Management," it is crucial to involve key stakeholders from various departments such as product development, design, and customer support. Collaborating with these stakeholders ensures that the epic aligns with the overall product strategy and meets the needs of all user groups. By incorporating diverse perspectives and expertise, the epic can be refined to address a wider range of user requirements and enhance the overall user experience.

In conclusion, writing an epic requires a structured approach and attention to detail. By understanding the definition, different perspectives, format, and steps involved, product managers can effectively communicate their product's strategic initiatives. Remember, an epic is not just a story—it's a journey towards achieving greatness for your product and users.

Last Updated:

Kareem Mayan

Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.

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