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Refining Your Agile Epic Investments

Cyberdime
Published: October 19, 2022

Since its inception in 2001, the agile software development framework has grown from a small manifesto and short list of core principles to a project management standard and—in some cases—a default project management style for tech and non-tech companies alike. 

In fact, a recent study by Zippia found that roughly 71% of the companies in the United States are currently using agile in some capacity. The same study also found that on a global scale, 86% of software developers have adopted and are currently using the methodology. 

And who can blame them? Agile’s a great framework that produces undeniable results like: 

  • Increased project success rates

  • Increased revenue and profits

  • Accelerated software development

  • And improved quality

The list could go on and on. 

But here’s the thing: teams know that they’re saving money using agile, but they rarely know how much money, let alone how they can save even more. That’s because their investments and processes can and should be improved, refined, or optimized to produce even better results throughout the agile software development lifecycle. 

Now, before you whip out your guns, swords, lightsabers, and other weapons of choice to strike us down—just hear us out. Because in this article, we will hone in on one epic piece of the agile puzzle to highlight how investment profiles, and Pluralsight Flow’s Investment Profile report, can lead to even greater outcomes.

What is an epic in agile?

Before we throw ourselves into the refining fire, let’s hop into our proverbial DeLorean and head all the way back to 2004 to define what an epic actually is. 

(If you’re well-versed in all things “epic,” feel free to jump on down to the next section.)

2004 was a surprisingly big year for technological advancements and changes. It was the year Facebook was born. The year Firefox started to seriously compete with Internet Explorer. And the year the classic iPod was discontinued. (That one still hurts a little bit.)  But it was also the year that Mike Cohn, a co-founder of Scrum Alliance, introduced what is often referred to as the original definition of an agile epic. 

In his book, User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development, Cohn simply states that “when a (user) story is too large, it is sometimes referred to as an epic.” 

Pretty straightforward, right? 

Not quite.

Over the years the term “epic” has come to mean different things for different teams. Yes, it can be defined as a large story that contains smaller user stories and tasks. But agile epics have also been seen as structural or hierarchical pieces, like “backlogs” or “projects,” that are slightly disconnected from the standard user story and are more focused on requirements and initiatives. 

We’re positive that investment profile data can also improve epics of the latter two definitions, but this article will primarily focus on epics with the OG definition: a larger user story.

What are investment profiles?

Historically, the term “investment profile” or “investment portfolio” has been associated with the idea of putting all of your fiscal assets and investments (eg, stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.) into one place so that you could monitor them collectively and assess your overall risk. But in software development, investment profiles have a slightly different focus and meaning—and they also do more. 

Yes, engineering investment profiles, like Flow’s Investment Profile report, can help leaders and managers to understand their impact on a budget, assess some levels of risk, and consolidate information. But these profiles can also help technologists to dig a little deeper, fill-in knowledge gaps, and provide answers to common questions, such as: .  

  • Where is your engineering budget going?

  • What types of work are you focusing on (eg, features, defects, maintenance, etc.)?

  • What is your engineering team’s capacity?

  • How is the work being distributed across individuals and teams?

  • How are you capitalizing software development costs?

  • Are we providing a healthy variety of work to increase engineering satisfaction?

  • Are the workloads fairly balanced?

  • Are your engineers happy?

With their powers combined

So where do epics and investment profiles overlap? We’re going to focus on three of the most common benefits: work prioritization, financial clarity, and engineering satisfaction.

Story Prioritization

As mentioned in the two sections above, investment profiles can provide technologists with greater visibility into an epic’s distribution and progress. With that knowledge, tech leaders can then prioritize their story loads and epics, plan for future epics, and appropriately allocate resources. 

For example, leaders and managers could view the total number of story points, story types,  and contributors to determine which agile epics are going to demand more time and attention. Or, to achieve a similar result, they could also view the total number of tickets, ticket types, and their contributors. They could view their overall efforts for a given iteration, month, quarter, or year to identify trends and missteps—then make plans to prepare for or prevent them. Or, if they’ve invested in one of those fancy-schmancy services that allows you to create custom investment layers (*cough* Pluralsight Flow *cough*), they could build their own list of work types to ensure their user stories are being appropriately labeled and prioritized by their own standards instead of an external company’s.    

The prioritization possibilities really are endless . . . as is the data.

Questions this data answers:

  • How are we allocating our work across epics?

  • How are we prioritizing our work across epics?

  • How are we planning our work across epics?

  • What types of work are slowing epic projections?

  • What is our engineering capacity?

  • Which projects can wait?

Financial Clarity

When CFOs, leaders, or other co-collaborators ask you how much an epic costs or where all of the money is going, you want to have a definitive, data-driven response at the ready. You want to be able to show, not tell. But unfortunately, this data is really difficult to gather and it’s even more difficult to get it right. The investment profile strategy makes it much easier. 

Investment profiles empower tech leaders with the data they need to quickly identify key cost informers for each agile epic. They can view the total number of contributors and their level of involvement, the percentage of time that has been invested for each work type (eg, features, defects, maintenance, etc.), and the percentage of time invested in comparison to other existing epics. These reports can also provide quick insight into failed or stalled epics—which can be a sign of potentially wasted expenditures. Leaders can then use this information to justify current investments, request new investments, and show interested parties where all of the money is going.

Questions this data answers:

  • How much does each epic cost?

  • How are we allocating our work across epics?

  • Where is your epic budget going?

  • What is our engineering capacity?

  • Which developers worked on for how long?

Engineering Satisfaction

As mentioned before, agile epics are naturally longer stories, but you never want your technologists to feel that length and duration. You want your epics to be more of an enjoyable and engaging experience, like The Dark Knight or The Batman, than a painful and drawn out one, like Batman vs Superman. (Sorry, Snyderverse folks.) And one of the best ways to do that is to understand how you are distributing the epic story load.

With the Flow Investment Profile report, tech leaders and managers can easily view the individual user story assignments and project types associated with each epic. They can then use that data to create balanced story loads, diversify story types, mitigate burnout, and increase overall developer satisfaction.

Questions this data answers:

  • How are we allocating our work across epics?

  • Are we providing a healthy variety of work?

  • Are the workloads fairly balanced?

  • What is our engineering capacity?

  • Are my engineers happy?

Conclusion

The agile software development framework, and the epics within them, have been around for decades—and they will likely continue to serve as a foundational part of the software development life cycle for years to come. We can also expect the positive results it brings to grow with the same velocity and consistency. But that doesn’t mean we’re currently squeezing all of the delightful benefits out of the methodology. Namely, we’re not thinking enough about the costs and benefits of these epics. Like investment profiles and epics, there are hundreds of other ways to improve your overall outcomes and better the engineering experience—and our Flow team can’t wait to show them to you. 

Want to learn more about Flow and its Investment Profile report?

Source: www.pluralsight.com