Agile 101

Project Management, Digital Publishing and Agile Software Development

Introducing the Agile Epic Board

Posted by Tara Hamilton-Whitaker on July 8, 2009

Being somewhat of a process fiend, there is little I enjoy more than discovering a way to turn something really complicated into something that is simple.  With that said, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when I discover a way of doing things that:

  • Promotes collaboration,
  • Improves morale,
  • Increases productivity
  • Maximises stakeholder satisfaction
  • Drives growth (revenue/traffic)
  • Minimises risk and error

The inspiration for this tool was the good old Scrum Task Board, a hugely useful Collaboration, Planning and Project Management tool.  However, the strength and the limitation of Task Boards rest with the fact that they are focused at an iteration level. Cards on the board represent stories and tasks being addressed by a single team during a single iteration.

The question is – what do you do when you’re interested in planning across teams, across products and across sprints? The Scrum of Scrums is a great starting point and is the perfect time to introduce an Epic Board into the mix. With that said, Scrum of Scrums are best suited for single-project scenarios, whereas the Epic Board offers value in any Programme Management, Project Management or Portfolio Management scenario

The Epic Board is similar to a task board, but sits one level higher i.e. at the project/programme/portfolio level.  It can be used to drive conversation at the Scrum of Scrums or can be used at the Programme-level planning sessions to ensure projects/products are being prioritised appropriately.

The benefits of this tool?

  • Promote face-to-face collaboration
  • Plan releases across multiple teams/projects/sprints
  • Prioritise and move high-level deliverables around on a timeline
  • Produce a sufficiently granular and VISIBLE release plan
  • ‘Get the conversation started’ at the Scrum of Scrums
  • Easily manage cross-programme dependencies

EpicBoardDiagram

EpicBoard

The Epic cards I use include the following information:

  • Epic sponsor
  • Epic prioirty (e.g. Mandatory, Highly Recommended, Optional
  • Kick-off date*
  • Brief description of the epic/any drawings (as per Task Cards)
  • A list of stories required to deliver the epic
  • Indication of whether the story is complete
  • Distinguish between the backlog and the high priority or (minimum marketable features – MMF)

(*the requirements workshop where possible but may need to be a separate session if these workshops aren’t synchronised across teams)

Each Epic Card is then coupled with a pack of story cards (some story cards may be small enough to be task cards) which are automatically produced by a rather nifty excel spreadsheet that I concocted. This could in effect replace your product backlog.

The finished product (Epic Card plus pack of Story Cards) looks like this:

epic-card

The Epic cards are then arranged in order of priority on the board. We update progress against stories on a ‘sprintly’ basis by checking them off the list – there’s nothing stopping you from burning down on this progress if you’d prefer.

We now hold our Programme-level sprint-planning sessions in front of the board. Epics and stories are prioritised, dependencies/bottlenecks identified and workload allocated. The result is a multi-team/multi-sprint release schedule.

We also hold the Scrum of Scrums in front of the board.  We still answer the recommended questions and keep things short, however this helps to add context to the discussion.

Having this board also means that the teams are aware of what’s coming/what everyone else it up to.  To further remove barriers to awareness, I’ve created an electronic version of the Epic Board using Excel, which automatically generates a release schedule.  This is stored on sharepoint and circulated weekly to Senior Product Owners.

In short – I don’t know how we ever managed before!

Read more about Epic Boards and see more photos.

A few people have asked me to share some Epic Board tools and templates – Feel free to subscribe to my RSS feed if you’d like to be notified when these are added.

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7 Responses to “Introducing the Agile Epic Board”

  1. Rob Evans said

    An excellent article. As the manager of a programme I am very interested in projects as epic level. I would really be grateful if I could see the blank spreadsheets you are using to define epics and stories for your wall. Is there any chance you could share them?

    Thanks

    Rob

    • taraleewhitaker said

      Hi Rob,

      Sure! I’ll pull something together over the next few days and will drop you a line when they’re up.

      If anyone else would like me to email them once the templates are up, feel free to leave a comment here.

      Thanks,

      Tara

  2. vbkarthik said

    Excellent one. Currently struggling to get multiple sprints across teams. please do mail me the templetes.

  3. Great read. I would greatly appreciate if you could email me the templates as well.

  4. Bale said

    Hello, I also would be interested in the templates, I am trying to solve the exact same problem as we speak :)

  5. Adam said

    Hi
    Great article well written.
    I am keen to see these templates too if you are in a position to circulate them?
    Thanks

  6. Stuart said

    Taralee,

    This was an article some time ago, however thought I would ask if you have those templates? And perhaps additional photographs to provide further context :)

    Cheers,

    Stuart

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