Where epics fail

Many epics are waterfall projects in disguise.

I’m not a big fan of epics. Not poems. I have no real opinion on those. I’m, of course, talking about those items in our backlog that are bigger than a story.

This came up recently in a conversation about the ideal size for an epic, and my response was “0”.

So why don’t I like epics?

Well, I’m not prepared to say that the concept is inherently flawed, but I’ve never seen it used in a way that I think is healthy. In my experience, epics have usually, perhaps always, represented one of two things:

  1. An ambiguous, undefined, or on-going iniative. These epics usually have titles like “Improve performance”
  2. A waterfall project in disguise. This variety usually represents a large task that just hasn’t been properly sliced to deliver iterative value. If such tasks would be properly sliced, the need for an epic is usually eliminated.

What is your experience with epics? Have you ever seen them used effectively in an iterative or agile environment?

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