Users of agile sometimes create their “own version” of Agile terminology to suit an audience or an organization. Sometimes, this is done on purpose to reflect long held business terms. Other times, it’s because they simply didn’t know any better when starting out. While this helps puts terms in the context of a given environment, it can sometimes be confusing. This confusion can range from the understanding of simple Agile terms, such as feature or user story, to more complex terms, such as continuous integration. The reality is, the terms don’t matter. They are only words, after all. What really matters is the meaning behind the words, and to uncover this, we first need to take a road trip.

Let’s start with a User Story versus a Feature versus an Epic. Regardless of the story type or what it’s called, every story should be born from a roadmap.  The roadmap shows us where we started and where we’re going. It serves as a travel guide for the organization. Everything the team does should tie back to something on the roadmap. If you can’t tie it back to the roadmap, then you probably shouldn’t be working on it. Each stop on our trip is the no different than a Deliverable or Release. It’s incremental progress towards our destination.

Now each deliverable is made up of one or more Epics. Epics are very high-level stories that are too large to estimate, so they sit on top of our pyramid. Each Epic is broken down into several Feature stories. Features generally represent functionality or something similar and are still too large to estimate. Below the Features are Stories and these are what most people are familiar with. Each Feature is broken down into numerous Stories.  These Stories are small enough that they can be estimated. They are also written in a specific format, but that is a whole other topic for another blog. Stories can also be broken down even further into Tasks or Sub-Tasks. These are optional and estimating them is optional as well.

We now have a pyramid with our story types, each level supporting and connecting directly to the one above. So, how do we understand the terms used if they are different from what we are used to? Remember, the terms are irrelevant. What’s important is understanding the story levels, how they relate to each other, and how they support the roadmap.

We’ve established that exact term doesn’t matter, but the reality is that since different people use a wide variety of terms for the same thing, it’s important to understand how they define each term. This is where we would recommend building a pyramid similar to the one above. Take a page from a flip chart, build your pyramid, and hang it in a very public place. We think you’ll find it very useful and others will as well, and it can be used as a reference point that everyone can draw from.