Skip main navigation

Agile Project Management Structure

Agile project management tools help you structure a project at different degrees of detail, from the largest objectives down to the minute elements. Agile teams use epics, stories, themes and initiatives to manage projects, plan the work that needs to be completed and determine timelines and resources required.

Agile project management tools help you structure a project at different degrees of detail, from the largest objectives down to the minute elements. Agile teams use epics, stories, themes and initiatives to manage projects, plan the work that needs to be completed and determine timelines and resources required.

Stories, Epics, Initiatives and Themes

Let’s look at how stories, epics, initiatives, and themes help structure a project. Each of these tools shows a different degree of detail. Picture a car. From a distance, you can see the shape and colour that evoke sportiness or speed. These are like themes – the large focus areas that span the organisation. You get closer, and you can see the doors, engine, and interior. These are like initiatives – collections of epics that drive toward a common goal. The epics are large bodies of work composed of even smaller elements called stories. In the car analogy, an epic is like the seat we see inside the car. That seat is made up of fabric and thread, padding and the seatbelt. The stories are short requirements or requests written from the perspective of an end-user. Stories are also called ‘user stories’. An example could be that the seat fabric feels luxurious to the touch.

Graphic shows a flow chart style diagram with ‘initiative’ across the top, below this is ‘epic 1’, ‘epic 2’, and ‘epic 3’, these are each further subdivided into tasks and then colour-coded by dots. Click to enlarge

Themes

Themes are organisational aspirations that lead to goal-setting. Themes link epics and initiatives to high-level objectives and key results that companies set. For example, a theme for an e-learning company could be putting students first. This theme may link to an organisational objective of having 80% of student feedback on courses in a year being of a positive nature.

Initiatives

Initiatives are collections of epics. An initiative can incorporate epics from multiple teams to achieve a much broader, bigger goal than any of the epics themselves. They may be related to more than one theme and are completed within a period of three to twelve months. For example, an initiative in our e-learning scenario could be improving the student’s engagement experience with courses, which would be achieved through multiple epics.

Epics

Epics are large pieces of work that cannot be completed in one iteration or sprint. Epics are completed within a period of one to three months. An example of an epic within our e-learning initiative is to produce ten videos per course.

Stories

Stories are interdependent and are written from the perspective of the user of the product being developed. The work or requirement encompassed in a story can be completed within a one- to two-week sprint. An example of a user story within our previous e-learning epic could be students watch one two-minute video per course module.

Structure for communication

Organising work into stories and epics also helps you and your team communicate effectively within the organisation. For example, you may find that you would describe epics when reporting on the progress of the e-learning project to the Head of Student Engagement, but most of your conversations with team members about the day-to-day tasks will be about stories. The stories tell the arc of the work completed, whereas the epic shares a high-level view of the unifying objective.

Initiatives have a structural design. They house epics, and the completion of those epics will lead to the completion of the initiative.

The structure laid out here is adaptable to the needs of your team or organisation. The key to keep in mind is that it is possible to embrace structure while working in an Agile way.

Over to you

Does this structure help you think about your own projects? Do you think it would be possible or beneficial to use these tools in your setting?
This article is from the free online

Introduction to Agile Project Management

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education