Epics, Stories, and Tasks

Definitions: Epics, Stories, And Tasks

We spend a lot of our days talking about epics, stories, and tasks, and in many cases, we assume others understand these concepts as expertly as we do.  Sometimes they don’t, and today I intend to take Leonardo da Vinci’s advice:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Below you’ll find a table that boils epics, stories, and tasks to their most primitive forms, and it comes at a risk.  Some may read this blog post and wish to prescribe these definitions on their teams.  They shouldn’t.  Others might argue details suggesting that one thing should be another. Today is for simplicity; details are for another day.  For example, I write below that tasks should be no more than 8 hours, but what I don’t write about is the nuance:

  • Tasks are for the team to find what works best for them.
  • Tasks that are less than eight hours allow for team members to touch and advance a task every day.
  • Such tasks also make impediments easier to spot when they’re not verbalized.
  • Some teams choose not to decompose stories into tasks.  That’s okay.

My point is that your mileage may vary, and as long as we clearly understand why we do what we do, then that’s what matters most.  So without further ado, here’s how I simply define epics, stories, and tasks.

As extra credit, feel free to also read about spikes and how they apply to agile teams.

EpicA large user story that drives toward a single business objective
  • Time to Completion: 2-4 sprints
  • Owner: Product Owner
  • Creator: Anyone
  • Non-technical in nature
  • Contains clear Definition of Done
  • Decomposed into stories at the last responsible moment
  • Drives business priorities
StoryA piece of work that creates value for the customer and that usually takes more than one team member to complete
  • Time to Completion: < 1/3 sprint
  • Owner: Product Owner
  • Creator: Anyone
  • Follows INVEST
  • Non-technical in nature
  • Contains clear Definition of Done
  • Should only be inserted into a sprint at sprint planning
  • Decomposed into tasks at the last responsible moment
  • Drives team priorities
TaskAn action item usually for a single team member and sometimes called a sub-task
  • Time to Completion: < 8 hours
  • Owner: Team Member
  • Creator: Team Member
  • Follows SMART
  • Technical in nature
  • Does not change scope of story
  • Can be created as often as necessary and within an active sprint
  • Provides clarity and visibility into ongoing/upcoming work

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2 thoughts on “Definitions: Epics, Stories, And Tasks”

  1. Typo i think:

    “Tasks are for the team so find what works best for them.”

    was probably supposed to be:

    Tasks are for the team to find what works best for them.

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