Thursday, January 22, 2009

User Stories, Themes and Epics

In a coming (much longer) post about story formulation, I refer to the terms “Epic” and “Theme” and I just wanted to clarify what that means to me.
I figured I might as well make it a separate post since it’s somewhat a topic of its own.

  • A “User Story” is a backlog item. nothing strange there, its everything you think it is. Its format is “As a I want to so that .”.
  • A Theme (to me at least) is a large User Story.
  • An Epic (to me at least) is a VERY large User Story.

For example, if you’re building “user administration features” your typical User Story, once it enters a sprint, might be something like “As an Administrator I want to be able to add users so that I can give a person an account to login with.”. That could be the “normal” size of a story that is far up in the product backlog, i.e. close to development. It’s pretty small.

Earlier in the process (further down in the backlog) it could be represented as “As an Administrator I want to be able to administer users of the system so that I can determine who has what access to the system.”. Notice the difference. This is a Theme. It’s much bigger and much less detailed than the story above. But it’s still not massive, and with some discussion it’s possible to figure out roughly what reasonably is hiding behind that formulation.

Earlier still (even further down in the backlog), the formulation could have been something like “As a System Owner I want various administration features so that I can control the behavior of the system.”. This story could be considered an Epic because it is so large and so generic and loosely formulated that it can cover a huge amount of different things.


  1. Helped. Thanx for the clarification ;)

  2. Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!

  3. Well, Theme is definitely bigger than Epic, please revise your post and Google for this topic a bit before confusing people!

  4. replying to Ayron's troll, to me Epic are indeed larger than Themes, and to add more precisions from what I understood from a recent certified PO training, Themes are regrouping user strories related to a specific "thematic". A release can then focus on one or two themes for exemple. So Themes are bigger than user stories but not necessarily a macro user story.

  5. was researching a lot on this particular question since heard different thoughts from certified trainers and even manifesto signers. My most current thinking in terms of hierarchy or what is bigger is theme is definitely bigger. But the question seems to be wrong. Theme is like a focus area, group of user stories (even very small stories) for example related to search by keyword. Epic is a large user story, large in terms it should not go into sprint since the Role and/or Goal and Reason (benefit) in 'I as a role could goal so that reason' are not enough specific. Break down of Epic may result in bigger user stories than break down of themes, but usually is not. That's why Theme is not always bigger, but usually is.
    example of Theme of Epics:
    We want filtering in our app.
    example of Theme of Stories:
    'We want our guest to have filtering capabilities on the listing screens so they could find the product fast. '

    That's a Theme, since we have a lot of differrent listing screens, but breaking down this to Stories will result in INVEST stories, not Epics:
    'I, as a Guest, want to use filtering by keyword on List Screen X so I could simply find the product'
    'I, as a Guest, want to use filtering by keyword on List Screen Y so I could simply find the product'
    We specified the Role, goal and benefit pretty much.

  6. Themes are definitely bigger than epics.


    Theme: Manage E-mail
    Epics: Compose E-mail/Read E-mail/Delete E-mail
    User Stories: Create and send e-mail/Open e-mail/Delete e-mail/Send HTML e-mail/Open attachments

  7. Check for reference

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