Product Owner Dilemma — Why tell a story when you could have an epic journey!

I applied for a Product Management role where the focus of the interview was on User Stories and how to manage them. What makes a great user story? How would you define the criteria of a user story? How would you manage hundreds of user stories or thousands of them? I was able to answer every question, but each time I had to reiterate that focussing on the User Story is missing the point, we should focus on creating an epic journey!

I want to have an epic life. I want to tell my life with big adjectives. I want to forget all the grays in between, and remember the highlights and the dark moments. — Isabel Allende

As Isabel Allende mentions, epics are far more significant and are a way to covers the highlights and dark moments. Here are the reasons why I put more emphasis on epics rather than stories. I’m not advocating we remove user stories, but that we have to ensure our epics is the center of the Product Owner’s universe.

1. Epics are easier to manage

Why manage many stories, when you can maintain a few epics

In a previous article, “Chaotic Backlogs,” I mentioned that I had joined a company with over 1000 user stories in the backlog. The user stories were an accumulation of technical debt, bugs, leftover work, and feedback from 45,000 customers. User stories are not scalable for a single Product Owner.

Epics can group user stories into specific areas, whether it is a product feature, goal, or theme. Reducing the 1000 stories into 30 epics meant I could efficiently prioritize and track them while freeing up 90% of my time on more product management tasks.

2. Epics provide a single point of truth

Too much information everywhere, keep it in one place

User Stories can represent a change in the product. Ten stories can represent many changes in a product. When I launched a release with over 50 completed stories, it becomes a lot of hassle to have a clear message to users in what is in a version.

From a delivery point of view, you can improve the team output when a single story can be independent, negotiable, valuable, can be estimated, small, and can be tested (INVEST). This technique forces us to split big stories into smaller ones.

These are excellent practices that I continue to teach and use; however, the epic is critical to contain a single point of truth. It tells us:

  • The objective we’re trying to achieve
  • The definition of success
  • Context of the problem
  • Brief description of the solution. I like to use a FAB statement. This technique describes the features, advantages, and benefits.
  • The user journey for the epic if using User Story Mapping
  • UX/UI Designs
  • Linked to all user stories (for tracking)

Now the epic describes the goals, problem, solution, and the ability to track progress. The result is a clear epic with all the context. I can answer the following questions in a single place:

  • What is the problem?
  • What is the solution?
  • What is our progress?
  • What is in the release?

3. Epics can focus on strategic goals

Think about the strategy and not the short term goals

When I began using epics, I focused on features. Concentrating on features can lead to creating feature-factories. I started to link epics to the strategic objectives of the product and business.

I can create two epics that solve the same problem.

  1. SSO in registrations and login pages to increase sign-ups
  2. Increase conversion of sign-ups by 2%

The first epic is feature-oriented, where a development team will begin to ask about requirements. Questions will refine the solution proposed.

The second epic will begin with questions about the problem. Where is the most significant drop-off? Why are they dropping off? These questions can lead to further investigation and experiments.

Strategic epics focus on discovery and delivery that change the dynamics of the team to become strategic too.

Create an epic journey

Stories are great, but epics are grand! Epics are here to:

  • be easily managed
  • create a single point of truth
  • elevated to strategic goals

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Gino Toro

Gino Toro

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