Tracking big features and themes with epics

Epics overview

Epics allow your team to plan, discuss, and monitor the progress of large features or themes, at a level higher than individual stories. You can associate multiple related stories with an epic, which all have a purple epic label to help distinguish them.

Epics live in their own panel. You can expand, update, and drag them in much the same way as you can stories. You can order them independently of stories in the Backlog to make the project’s big-picture priorities obvious to the whole team. Epics work well for design collaboration on big features, and make it easy for developers to find assets (such as mock-ups) and business rules for a big feature that spans many stories.

Creating an epic

Opening the Epics panel, creating a new epic, adding a title and a linked label

Here’s how to create an epic:

  1. Click the Epics link in the sidebar.

  2. Click the Add Epic+’ button at the top right of the Epics panel.

  3. As with a story, you can now add a title, description, comments, and attachments to your epic.

  4. By default, the linked epic label will default to be the text placed in the title field. You can click the Linked Label drop-down arrow to convert an existing label (and its associated stories) to be part of this new epic. In this case, the converted label will become the linked epic label instead of the title text. You can also rename any label after mousing over it in the Labels panel.

Epic labels

Stories are tied to epics via a special label, called the epic label. You can apply this label to stories to make them part of the epic. Labels linked to epics are purple, instead of the usual green.

Like standard labels, epic labels make it easy to filter and see the stories associated with them. Simply click on the epic label in the Labels panel (click Labels in the sidebar) to open a panel that contains all the stories associated with the epic. Alternatively, you can open the Epic Stories panel by clicking > to the right of a collapsed epic, clicking Add/View Stories from an expanded epic, or directly from the sidebar if you have saved it there (see below).

You can also filter Tracker charts by epic label, allowing you to see more fine-grained metrics.

When creating a new epic, an epic label is automatically created. The epic label defaults to the epic title.

Renaming an epic label

You can rename an epic label by performing the following steps:

  1. Click Labels in the sidebar.

  2. From the labels panel, mouse over the desired label.

  3. Click the cog icon and select Rename Label.
    Using the cog icon in a label panel to rename an epic label

  4. Enter the new epic label name and click Save. Any stories that are associated with the epic will be updated with the new label.

  5. Any stories that are associated with the epic will be updated with the new label.

Adding stories to your epic

You can add stories to your epic a multitude of ways.

Drag and drop

You can drag a story (or selected stories) from the Icebox, Current, or Backlog to an epic’s story panel to position it and associate the story with the epic. To link stories to an epic without changing their position, drag and drop stories onto the epic itself in the Epics panel. In either case, the epic label will automatically be added to the story.

Via epic label

Just like adding a regular label to a story, you can expand a story and add an epic label that will associate the story with the epic. You can also click the selection box to the right of multiple stories, then use the bulk actions menu at the top left to add one or more epic labels to the selected stories.

From within an expanded epic

You can also create new stories directly within an epic:

  1. Click the Epics link in the sidebar to open the Epics panel.

  2. Open the Epic Stories panel by either clicking the arrow on the right side of the epic preview, or expanding the epic and clicking Add/View Stories.
    Using the 'add/view stories' link in an epic to open the Epic Stories panel

  3. Click the Add Story + button at the top right of the Epic Stories panel.
    Adding a story to an epic within the Epic Stories panel

Epic progress bar

In the Epics panel, you’ll notice a multicolored bar for each epic. This bar shows a visualization of relative epic size and progress, including accepted, in-progress, prioritized, and on-ice stories. The width of the bars is scaled relative to the largest epic in the project. The size of each bar reflects the relative number of stories contained within each epic.

Epic progress bars shown in two epic previews within the Epics panel

Story Color Represents
Green Accepted (in Current or Done if the iteration it was accepted in is complete)
Yellow In progress (in Current)
Grey Prioritized (in the Backlog or Current)
Blue Unscheduled (in the Icebox)

Mouse over an epic’s progress bar to see a more detailed breakdown, including an estimated completion date. This date is the last day of the iteration in which the epic’s last prioritized story appears in the Backlog.

Detailed breakdown of story progress within an epic after mousing over an epic progress bar

Prioritizing your epics

Just like stories, it’s good practice to prioritize your epics. Is epic X more important than epic Y? You can reorder your epics to communicate their relative priority to your team and stakeholders. To do so, simply open the Epics panel (click Epics in the sidebar), then drag and drop the epics to the desired position, just as you would with stories in your Backlog. Priorities can change, so it’s good to review this order every once in awhile.

Setting an epic milestone

An epic milestone is just another epic, but using markdown syntax in the title is a way to make it stand out in the epics list (e.g., 3.0 release). This helps give a visual distinction the same way release markers do for stories.

Breaking up an epic by version is a natural way to keep the theme but allow the product manager to manage scope. We’ve also used the visual hierarchy to break up an epic. This can have the added benefit of parallel development tracks.

Besides the visual distinction, you can now prioritize which epics go above or below this confidence line. Add an epic milestone for a version of an app, a release date, or a financial quarter, depending upon how you plan. You can link releases that fall into this epic milestone by adding the epic label to the release marker.

Epic milestones within the Epics panel

When is an epic done?

An epic is considered done when it has at least one story accepted, and no remaining stories in the Backlog. Stories in the Icebox aren’t factored in. The reason for this is that Product Owners and business stakeholders often decide that the stories already delivered for a particular epic provide enough value and the rest are put off indefinitely. From the business and customer perspective, the epic is “done,” and Tracker will hide it from view until it is needed again.

However, if there is even one story for an epic in Current or your Backlog, the epic will not show as done.

Completing your epics

Release stories to production is exciting. Completing an epic deserves an even bigger celebration! So, if you have “forever epics” that never get done, you and your team will be missing out on that feeling of progress. It may also be a sign that you’ve taken on too much. When an epic turns green, it’s a good reminder to mark the occasion! If Icebox stories remain in the done epic, you’ve got a few choices:

  • Make a new epic (e.g., Profile V2).

  • Keep them in the Icebox and remove the epic label.

  • Archive them by moving them to a project created for stories you don’t expect to get to soon (or ever).

  • Delete them.

Prior to a retrospective, take the time to review stories in the epic to see what went well and what could be improved.

Saving an epic

You can save an Epic Stories panel to the sidebar by clicking the Panel actions menu at the top of the Epic Stories panel and selecting Save epic to sidebar.

Saving an epic to the sidebar, shown in the Epics panel actions menu

Then, after you’ve closed the panel, you can quickly reopen it from the Epics section of the sidebar. To remove the saved epic from the sidebar, you can either click the Panel actions menu and select Remove epic from sidebar, or select it from the heart menu.

Removing an epic from the sidebar, shown in the Epics panel actions menu

Deleting an epic

Deleting an epic removes the epic itself, along with its description, comments, and file attachments, but it does not delete any stories or the label itself. The label just converts to a regular (green) label.

To delete an epic, simply expand the epic in the Epics panel, then click the trash can icon to the right of the epic ID field. Afterwards, you can delete the associated label from the Labels panel.

The trashcan button in an expanded epic

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Linking related stories and epics