Epic, stories and quest perfection

I’ve been working on an epic-story feature off and on for a couple weeks now. Today, I finished most of the work for it and stepped back to take a look. I tried to explain it to Ajay, the other ScrumDo founder, and was having a real hard time describing what it did and how someone would use it. It was at that moment that I knew I missed the mark. Something just wasn’t right.

The guidelines I originally came up with were:

  • Epics could only be created on your backlog.
  • Under epics, would be a single level of stories.
  • You could send those stories to an iteration. They would stay listed under the epic in your backlog until you marked the epic complete.
  • From the epic, you could “remove” a story so it’s just a stand alone story again.
  • Wherever that story was listed, would be a link back to the epic.
  • You could size an epic, and it would add that many points (minus the sum of the stories within it so we don’t double count them) to your overall project burn up.

Looking back, I think I made two mistakes. First, it was too focused and limited with only a single level of epics. I had heard from a few people the desire to have deeper nesting, but I had been convinced that a single level would be easier to use and understand. Balancing the feature-complexity scale is a tough one sometimes. You want a feature that’s useful, but not so complex to scare anyone away. I think I might have been on the wrong side of the line this time.

Also, I tried to shoe-horn the epics into the Backlog page. It seemed a logical fit at the time, and it certainly was easier than whipping up an entirely new page. But after it was done, it was confusing. Do stories not in the backlog appear in Epics in the Backlog? How do I get those stories back into the backlog? Does the filtering affect the top-level epic, or the individual stories within it? How do I rank stories in epics with stories not in epics? Those were all questions I didn’t have good answers for.

So now, I’m taking a step back and tackling Epics a little differently. I’m treating them more as a tool you use to figure out what your stories are, and less as an organizational mechanism for those stories (we have Tags and Categories for organizing). I’m dropping the single-level idea to support a more complex work breakdown structure.

So the bad news is that Epic story support will come a bit later than I had hoped. The good news, is that it should be better than what I came up with the first time.