Scrum tips: Differences between epics, stories, themes and features

A complicated story …

Constantin Guay
Jan 26, 2018 · 4 min read

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Have you ever been confused by the use of terms like « epics » or « features »? Some teams use them with no regard of the meaning, others make their own terms. It can be pretty confusing for new-comers, and may even lead to mistakes.

The Scrum Guide and the user story

Scrum doesn’t have “stories”, “epics”, etc. Scrum has Product Backlog Items (PBIs), which are often split into Epics, Stories, Technical Tasks, Bugs in most teams, because it’s very useful.

The Product Backlog lists all features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that constitute the changes to be made to the product in future releases […] Product Backlog items have the attributes of a description, order, estimate, and value. Product Backlog items often include test descriptions that will prove its completeness when “Done”.

The Scrum Guide

Everything is PBIs

The idea of using user stories originates from Alistair Cockburn (one signatories of the Agile Manifesto) in 1998, as he explain on his site. In 2001, Ron Jeffries proposed a “Three Cs” formula for user story creation, which is the template often seen within Scrum Teams today.

An epic is a user story

a large user story, perhaps a few to many months in size […]. Epics are useful as placeholders for large requirements. Epics are progressively refined into a set of smaller user stories at the appropriate time.

The epic will be split into small user stories, and will not “remain”. If you have 4 stories that represent what was your epic, the epic is gone. Replaced by 4 stories.

Epics become stories

Theme — or Feature

That big story was context. It was my simple way of thinking about the whole activity that people were doing. It’s my quick way of explaining to others what the system is about.

For me, a “theme” (sometimes called “feature”) is great for this purpose. Kenneth S. Rubin’s book defines a theme as:

a collection of related user stories. A theme provides a convenient way to indicate that a set of stories have something in common, such as being in the same functional area.

Stories by theme

The constraint of software

Software like Jira or Yodiz use epics to store a group of related stories. In my world, these epics are “themes“.

Other product management tools don’t take side or, like IceScrum, set “Features” to regroup related stories, and allow to transform a story in epic, and vice versa. Which is — in my opinion — the good way to go to.

Adapt to the team

Conclusion: Is it just a matter of choice?

Just be careful that your Definition of Ready sets a maximum value for a story to go into the sprint. If it’s too big, calling it an epic –or a big story– is the same: it shall not pass if it’s not INVEST.

How is it managed in your team?

Originally published at on January 26, 2018.

Constantin Guay

Written by

I used to be a developer. Now, I help teams to self-organize to solve complex problems. #ImpedimentRemover #TeamFacilitator