An epic is sometimes described as a large user story which is too big to fit into a sprint.
There’s also a similar definition: epics can span multiple sprints.
But if an epic is just a big story (“it’s so big, it’s epic!”) and it can span many sprints, shouldn’t we break it down? Is it still a story?
Shouldn’t we aim to complete all the stories by the end of the sprint?
You should be able to complete an epic
I think it’s helpful to think of an epic as a goal – something we can complete – that can encompass a few stories.
By making sure epics are completable, the team can see progress, instead of feeling that everything they work on is from an endless grab bag of tasks.
For instance, “Revamp products menu” is not specific enough to be a story, but could be an epic that includes a few stories that lay out the different ways we’re going to achieve that goal.
Epics and sprint goals
If an epic can be achieved in a single sprint, the epic could also become the goal of that sprint.
For epics that are bigger than a single sprint, each sprint can have a more specific goal that allows the team to ultimately complete the epic.
While you could work on more than one epic per sprint, this may split the team’s focus. The team can rally around a single goal far better than a few separate goals.
Make your epics completable
Making sure that epics are completable is important to avoid stories being grouped simply under a theme. There’s a place for themes, but without epics, a backlog with themes is just a categorised list of things to do.
Grouping things into logical, completable chunks helps to build momentum and work towards meaningful goals.