Stakeholders and their Epics

Stakeholders should write, size and prioritise their Epics, but watch out for the signs it’s not working right

For Product Owners to decompose Stakeholders Epics into User Stories & Acceptance Criteria, the Stakeholders must first write their Epics, size and prioritise them.

Here are some sign to watch out for which can indicate that the Stakeholders Epic sessions are not working properly and need to be addressed…

The Epics don’t make sense

If you read an Epic and it doesn’t make sense, then A) Product Owners cannot decompose it, and B) It means the Stakeholders have too much in their heads (probably assumed) and haven’t articulated it clearly enough.

It can typically fall to the Product Owners to have an Epic clarification session with the relevant Stakeholder(s) to re-write the Epic to make it decomposable.

The Epics are really long

An Epic doesn’t have to be War and Peace (despite being called an Epic). The longer an Epic is, the more open it is to ambiguity or misinterpretation. Encourage Stakeholders to keep their Epics short and to the point.

Epics without Acceptance Criteria

If an Epic doesn’t have any Acceptance Criteria how will the Stakeholder(s) know whether or not it’s been delivered? Product Owners should encourage Stakeholders to write a number of Acceptance Criteria which collectively are the Definition of Done.

All Epics are Sized as SMALL or HUGE

It doesn’t help if Epics are either sized as small (e.g. one Sprint) or huge (e.g. 8 or more Sprints). If Epics are estimated using t-shirt sizes (XXS, XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL and OMG) then any Epic at the more obese end of the scale really needs to be decomposed by the Stakeholders into smaller sizes otherwise they risk becoming a Waterfall Project in themselves.

Stakeholders are unavailable to agree User Story decomposition

Any Stakeholder genuinely interested in how their Epic has been decomposed should be willing (if not champing at the bit) to sit with you and knock out what the User Stories are. Ideally the Product Owner should drive this session – the aim being to come out of the session having worded the User Stories and agreed them with the Stakeholder(s) in real time.

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