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What are Epics, User Stories, and Story Points? | Video

What are Epics, User Stories, and Story Points?

Epics, User Stories, and Story Points are three terms that are widely used in Agile Project Management and some of its methodologies, like XP (eXtreme Programming) and Scrum.

But if you haven’t worked on agile projects, then Epics, User Stories, and Story Points may be confusing terms. Let me explain.

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User stories

A user story describes something a user wants. It is a simple description of a product requirement, in terms of what the product must be able to do…. And for whom.

So, they represent features that a client or user expects from the project. Together, user stories that have not been built by the project team form the Product Backlog.

They are usually documented on cards that typically contain:

  • A title
  • A unique ID
  • An estimate of the work required (usually in Story Points)
  • A description of what the feature needs to achieve
  • Maybe a list of tasks (like WBS elements) that are needed to create the product or feature

User Story Description

The description will usually define the scope and quality requirements and may often be articulated in a form similar to this one:

  • As a … (user/persona)
  • I want to …(action)
  • So that … (benefit)

And they may also have a validation test like this:

  • When I … (action)
  • This happens … (outcome)

Epics

An epic is nothing more than a big user story. Often, they are described as ‘over-sized’ user stories, because they are too large to complete in one sprint or iteration. They are a higher-level story that is really a group of closely related user stories. So, epics are usually split into user stories that represent smaller product features. There is no definitive threshold to distinguish a big story from a small epic.

Themes

A theme is a collection of user stories that go together in some way – they have a ‘thematic’ connection to one another.

Story Points

Story Points are unitless measures of the amount of effort needed to complete a user story. What matters is not the scale of effort in story points but the relative values between the sizes of each user story.

Estimating Story Points

Estimates of relative numbers of story points depend most often on:

  • The amount of work
  • The complexity of the work required
  • The risk or uncertainty of that work

One way of estimating story size is Planning Poker – I made a video about that a while back.

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About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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