Honey, I Shrunk the Epic!

The Challenge

For a long time, I have been trying to work with the business to break down XXL epics (the demands) into smaller, more workable epics. I am lucky to be a part of a team who live the Vodafone Spirit #ExperimentAndLearnFast, and so when the perfect example of a super-sized epic presented itself, I jumped at the chance to break it down.

Why do I want to break down epics?

Well, there are several benefits and most of them are only realised when we get our product in front of the customer. After all, the code is worthless just sitting on our machines.

· Clear Product Roadmap with frequent deliveries.

· It is, SO MUCH easier to get smaller epics ready.

· It’s less stressful for everyone.

· Teams can find it easier to self-organise themselves and become proactive as they can more easily understand the iterations ahead.

· Easier to visualise and limit WIP (Work in Progress).

· It is faster to realise the value, even if just to go out to a small group of customers with a Minimum Marketable Product and gather feedback.

Above all, we get a chance to celebrate small successes and boost the team morale! Who doesn’t like celebrations!?

The Planning

Lot of you may know the theory around it and would have read about it but I am going to share my story on how I did it!

Our story starts with a new epic (a demand item) from our Product Owner, who presented us with the following:

· An end to end user journey flow, with high level dependencies on other teams.

· A set of UX designs.

· And the draft Solution Blueprints.

We’re 15 WORKING DAYS to go until PI planning. The countdown begins!

We begin with a kick off meeting for the Epic with the scrum team, and went through the E2E user flow, followed by the Solution Architect giving an overview of the draft Solution Blueprint. The team had a lot of queries, comments and concerns.

We are nowhere near ready to take this epic into the very fast approaching PI!

The team has sprint commitments and I must ensure that these are not disrupted. They were getting agitated with breaking their chain of thought, but similarly wanted to talk and discuss their queries.

11 WORKING DAYS to go

Feature Discovery Session

I wanted to try different approach to ensure everyone participates, so asked the team to do some solo brainstorming and then group the thoughts together to come with features ready for the next session.

My concerns were not easing at this stage, they were just beginning to take off!

We have 5 other epics, some spill over features and don’t forget tech work to pre-plan!!! I know what you’re thinking — yes, I was screaming!

Okay, the other epics were mainly spill overs and not a priority, but I still need time with the team to look at them.

I planned those for our pre-planning days and a couple of short meetings with individual team members. Now they’re in the diary, at least I can sleep easy about those.

Back to my main Priority Epic.

9 WORKING DAYS to go

Me and my Product Owner met Face to Face — old school way with Whiteboard and Markers.

We looked at the flow together and I asked the PO to walk me through it, while I was drawing out what I understood on the whiteboard.

“Think of a journey as a main tree trunk, and then certain main branches coming out and from there we have further small branches.”

· The PO said for two branches that we can’t work on them until another team is ready which is not for another couple of PIs — Prune that now!

· There are two more branches we discussed, and they are low priority — Again Chop it away!

Bit simplified, right!

We then only focused on the main branch — let’s see how much we know now, and have we got enough information to have that ready for PI planning?

Then we looked at the remaining branches — a couple of them are important for the Customer Experience to be complete — cool, let’s keep them. Of course, everything we’re doing is for the end customer!

There’re two other branches, but the PO is not sure what is required (need to liaise with other team). — Okay, let’s not worry about it now. We agreed to have that ready for a future PI.

We are already prioritising, amazing!

8 WORKING DAYS to go

Took that information to the team and this time it was better and focused!

I came out of the session with some features — Hurray! but it still seemed too big ☹ to fit in a PI.

Now need to compile all the notes and my thoughts together to make sense out of it.

7 WORKING DAYS to go

We needed 8 Features, plus the 4 branches we chopped away earlier with the PO.

I then, with lot of courage, went to my PO and “Highly Recommended” that we break down the work into 3 Epics (+ one for analytics for later date). Yes, I was prepared for NO as an answer!

But guess what, I love my PO, they said break down further. So, now we had 5 epics and they are even prioritized. Win-Win!

First two priority epics, i.e. two Minimum Viable Products (MVP1 & MVP2) — together will give us Minimum Marketable Product (MMP) and we planned a tentative realistic date to go out to customers. We can work on the other epics incrementally.

MVP1 — is the scope of this PI. You are right, I was over the moon and since I was working from home — I put on the loud music and started dancing!

5 WORKING DAYS to go

Having the newly established initial epic, I wrote the requirements with the PO for all the three features and then had a Feature Refinement and Sizing session with the team after that.

We were winning, and with time to spare.

The PI planning went seamlessly, and the team was confident on what they need to deliver.

Breaking down the big epic into small deliverable epics has shown immediate benefits with the team, for example increased motivation, collaboration and pro-activeness.

The PO felt confident with the road map and we will start to refine the next Epic — MVP2 and be ready to deliver to our customers.

Watch this space to learn how the PI went!!!

Co-author — Andrew Polland

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Vidhi Wadhwa

Vidhi Wadhwa

Certified BA, working in Vodafone with wealth of experience allowing me to build strong relationships with stakeholders to deliver business requirements.