Define features and epics, organize backlog items – Azure Boards

Table of Contents0.1 In this article1 Prerequisites2 What makes a feature or epic?3 View a backlog or portfolio backlog4 Add features and epics to your backlog5 Add details to a feature or epic6 Add child items7 Add portfolio backlog levels and boards8 Display rollup progress, counts, or totals9 Try this […]

Azure DevOps Services | Azure DevOps Server 2020 | Azure DevOps Server 2019 | TFS 2018

While many teams can work with a flat list of items, sometimes it helps to group related items into a hierarchical structure.
Perhaps you like to start with several major features or scenarios and break them down into smaller deliverables. Or, you’ve got an existing backlog and now need to organize it.

The following image shows a Features portfolio backlog that consists of a flat list of Feature work items.

Screenshot of the Features portfolio Backlog.

No matter your starting point, you can use portfolio backlogs to bring more order to your backlog.
Use your backlogs to plan your project and to:

  • Manage a portfolio of features that are supported by different development and management teams
  • Group items into a release train
  • Minimize size variability of your deliverables by breaking down a large feature into smaller backlog items

Use this article to learn how to perform these tasks:

  • Determine what is a good feature or epic
  • View a backlog or portfolio backlog
  • Add features and epics
  • Add child items

With portfolio backlogs, you can quickly add and group items into a hierarchy. You can also drill up or down within the hierarchy, reorder and reparent items, and filter hierarchical views. Portfolio backlogs are one of three classes of backlogs available to you. For an overview of the features supported on backlogs and the types of boards, see Backlogs, boards, and plans. To learn how to track progress across teams, see Visibility across teams.

The following image shows the Agile process backlog work item hierarchy. User Stories and Tasks are used to track work, Bugs track code defects, and Epics and Features are used to group work under larger scenarios.

Conceptual image, Agile work item type.

Each team can configure how they manage Bugs—at the same level as User Stories or Tasks—by configuring the Working with bugs setting. To learn more about using these work item types, see Agile process.

Prerequisites

Backlogs are automatically created when you create a project or add a team. Each team has access to their own product, portfolio, and sprint backlogs as described in About teams and Agile tools.

Note

Users with Stakeholder access for a public project have full access to backlog and board features just like users with Basic access. For details, see Stakeholder access quick reference.

What makes a feature or epic?

The epics and features that you create should reflect your business focus. As user stories or product backlog items roll up into features, and features roll up into epics—you’ll want to name your features and epics with that in mind.

Typically, a feature is a shippable software component. An epic corresponds to a collection of features that are related to one another and combine to form a larger value proposition. As you define your features and epics, consider the time required to complete them. In general, backlog items such as user stories or product backlog items, should be accomplished within a sprint. Features and epics may take one or more sprints to complete. Here are a few examples of each.

Features

  • View option enhancements
  • Shopping cart support on mobile devices
  • Text alert support for login and account changes
  • Web portal user interface improvements

Epics

  • New user experience complete
  • Performance improvements
  • Integration with communication apps
  • First phase of mobile apps complete

View a backlog or portfolio backlog

To focus on one level of a backlog at a time, choose the name of the backlog you want to view. If you don’t see all three backlog levels—
Epics, Features, and Backlog items—
you can enable them for your team.

For example, when you choose Epics, you’ll see a list of all Epics in your team’s active area paths. From there, you can drill down to see child features and backlog items.

  1. (1) Check that you’ve selected the right project, (2) choose Boards>Backlogs, and then (3) select the correct team from the team selector menu.

    Screenshot of Open Work, Backlogs, for a team.

    To select another backlog, open the selector and then choose a different team or select the View Backlog directory option. Or, enter a keyword in the search box to filter the list of team backlogs for the project.

    Choose another team

    Tip

    Choose the
    star icon to favorite a team backlog. Favorited artifacts (
    favorited icon) appear at the top of the team selector list.

  2. Check that you have selected Stories (for Agile), Issues (for Basic), Backlog items (for Scrum), or Requirements (for CMMI) as the backlog level.

    Choose product backlog level, Backlog items, Stories, or Requirements

  3. (Optional) To choose which columns should display and in what order, choose the
    actions icon and select Column options. To learn more, see Change column options.

    Screenshot showing how to Open Column Options from More commands menu.

  1. (1) Check that you’ve selected the right project, (2) choose Boards>Backlogs, and then (3) select the correct team from the team selector menu.

    Screenshot showing how to choose another team, on-premises Azure DevOps Server 2019.

    To choose another team, open the selector and select a different team or choose the
    Browse all backlogs option. Or, you can enter a keyword in the search box to filter the list of team backlogs for the project.

    Screenshot of Choose another team.

  2. Choose the portfolio backlog that you want, Features. or Epics.

    Screenshot of Choose product backlog level, Backlog items, Stories, or Requirements.

  3. (Optional) To choose which columns should display and in what order, choose the
    actions icon and select Column options. You may want to add the Iteration Path to the set of columns that appear on your backlog. To learn more, see Change column options.

    Screenshot showing how to Open Column Options from More commands menu, Azure DevOps Server 2019.

  1. From your web browser, open your team’s backlog. (1) Select the team from the project/team selector, choose (2) Work, (3) Backlogs, and then (4) the portfolio backlog of interest, which is Features or Epics.

    Screenshot showing how to Open the Boards, Backlogs, and Features, TFS 2018 version.

    To choose another team, open the project/team selector and select a different team or choose the Browse option.

    Screenshot showing how to Choose another team, TFS 2018 version.

  2. Choose Epics to see a list of all epics defined in your team’s active area paths.

    Epics is highlighted in the left nav pane. The Epics pane has a list of four epics, with Effort, Title, State, and Value Area columns.

Add features and epics to your backlog

Just as you can add items to your product backlog, you can add items to your features and epics backlogs.

  1. To add a feature, choose the plus-iconNew Work Item, enter a title, and then press Enter or choose Add to top.

    Screenshot of Add a product backlog item.

  2. Repeat this step to capture all your ideas as work items.

    Here, we’ve added six features.

    Screenshot showing how to add a feature, Azure DevOps Server 2019.

    You can add epics in the same way. Open the Epics backlog from the backlogs selector.

  1. To add a feature, enter a title and choose Add. If you don’t see the Add link, choose New to open the quick add panel.

    Screenshot showing how to add a feature, TFS 2018.

  2. Repeat this step until you’ve captured all your main ideas.

    Here, we’ve added six features.

    Screenshot showing the Features backlog, TFS 2018.

Add details to a feature or epic

Open each item by double-clicking, or press Enter to open a selected item. Then, add the info you want to track. Enter as much detail as possible. The team will need to understand the scope, estimate the work, develop tests, and ensure that the end product meets acceptance criteria.

Note

The images you see from your web portal may differ from the images you see in this article. These differences result from updates made to your web app, options that you or your admin have enabled, and which process was chosen when creating your project—Agile, Basic, Scrum, or CMMI. The Basic process is available with Azure DevOps Server 2019 Update 1 and later versions.

Feature work item form, Agile process, Add details to a feature


The area of customer value addressed by the epic, feature, or backlog item. Values include:

  • Architectural —technical services to implement business features that deliver solution
  • Business (Default) —services that fulfill customers or stakeholder needs that directly deliver customer value to support the business

Specify a priority that captures the relative value of an Epic, Feature, or backlog item compared to other items of the same type. The higher the number, the greater the business value. Use this field when you want to capture a priority separate from the changeable backlog stack ranking.

A subjective unit of measure that captures how the business value decreases over time. Higher values indicate that the Epic or Feature is inherently more time critical than those items with lower values.

Specify the date by which the feature should be implemented.


Add child items

With your features defined, add child items to them. You can add child items from any backlog.
And you can add features to epics and backlog items to features.

Each team member has several tools to configure their backlog view: Expand/Collapse one level, Column Options, Backlog level selector, View options, and Filter toolbar. Options set for each backlog level are distinct and persist until changed. For tips on setting these view options and how to prioritize child items of portfolio backlog items, see Configure your backlog view.

To add a work item, choose plus-icon Add, and choose from the options provided.

Here we add a product backlog item as a child to the Customer Web – Phase 1 feature.

Screenshot showing how to add a backlog item as a child to a feature.

Whenever you see the plus-icon Add icon, you can add a child item. The work item always corresponds to the hierarchy of work item types that are defined for your project.

To add a work item, choose
Add, and choose from the options provided.

Here we add a product backlog item as a child to the Customer Web – Phase 1 feature.

Screenshot showing how to add a child item to a backlog work item, TFS 2018.

Whenever you see the
Add icon, you can add a child item.
The work item(s) always corresponds to the hierarchy of work item types that are defined for your project.

For Scrum projects, your hierarchy is as shown:

From top to bottom, the hierarchy shows Epic, Feature, Product Backlog Item, and Task.

Because teams can also set bugs as tasks, bugs can be added as children of PBIs.

The work item types you’ll see depends on the process you selected to create your project.

If you want bugs to show up on your backlog and you’re not seeing them, enable them for your team.

Add portfolio backlog levels and boards

If you need more than two portfolio backlogs, you can add up to two more for a total of five backlog levels.

You can add them by either customizing your inherited process or modifying your XML definition files. You can also add or modify the fields defined for a work item type (WIT) or add a custom WIT. To learn how, see the following articles based on the process model used to update your project:

Inheritance process model:

On-premises XML process model:

Display rollup progress, counts, or totals

Product and portfolio backlogs support the display of rollup columns. You can add one or more rollup columns to display progress bars, counts of descendant work items, or totals of select numeric fields. Your settings persist for each page you customize and are only valid for your views.

Progress bars indicate the percentage of descendant items within a hierarchy that are closed or completed. Counts display the total number of descendant items. And, Totals provide a sum of numeric fields, such as Effort, Story Points, Completed Work, or Remaining Work of descendant items.
For example, progress bars are shown here for a portfolio backlog.

Example portfolio backlog with progress bars

Try this next

Portfolio backlogs are a great way to organize your project plan and provide visibility of project plans across enterprise teams. With portfolio backlogs, management teams gain insight into project status across their development teams.

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