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Product building: Epics

Unless you create a very simple product, your User Stories will keep growing and multiplying. It’s a recipe for chaos, or…

You can tackle the User Stories volume by grouping them into Epics. While a User Story is about a singular interaction, Epics are about complete experiences. This distinction allows us to think about the product from a higher-level perspective: instead of considering every detail, we will see specific experiences. It will make it easier to come up with missing User Stories, but also limit the scope of the product.

Imagine for a moment that you do a shopping application. In the easiest approach you would end up having product categories, product details, cart, and the checkout. You should already know that each of these features can consist of many different User Stories. They can be grouped into Epics like browsing the products, managing the cart and checkout process.

One very important thing to remember: Epics = user experience. That’s why, when planning your product features, you could follow the information processing checklist:

  • Listing: does the user see a list of items?
  • Adding: can the user add new items?
  • Details: can the user see the item's details?
  • Editing: can the user change existing items?
  • Deleting: can the user delete existing items?
  • Other actions: can the user perform other actions on the item?

Following this checklist ensures that you won’t end up with broken User Experience, e.g. actions that cannot be reverted or were not planned. It also makes the creation of User Stories much simpler, because you will always ask yourself about the context, intent, and outcome, creating a natural and organic-feeling transitioning between various places in your application (also called User Journey, which is a topic for another time).

Epics and User Stories are the most useful tools of the digital product designers: not only are they a natural way to document your product, but also create a transparent and universal platform of communication with designers and engineers. And they also help you focus on specific pieces of your product, instead of forcing you to think about everything at once!

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