When to use initiatives vs. epics

If you need a way to link work to a high-level strategic effort but also need a way to group work together for reporting, understanding the difference between initiatives and epics will help.

Note: Depending on your workspace type, this article may refer to Aha! record types differently than your team does. 

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How to think about initiatives

Think of initiatives as the large strategic efforts — or themes — that will help you achieve your goals. While initiatives can be independent entities, you should link them to goals when they drive the team to achieve that objective. Initiatives are often achievable within 3-12 months but some may take longer. You can create them at any level in your hierarchy and roll them up from the workspace to company level. 

Releases, epics, and features can be directly linked to the initiative they impact. Linking the work to initiatives ensures that your team is delivering what matters.

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For example, an "Expand into China" initiative at the workspace level may take 12 months, but it is rolled up to a "Expand internationally" initiative at the parent line level  — which may take multiple years to fulfill.

How to think about epics

Epics provide an additional level of hierarchy between initiatives and features. Think of them as parents to your features. They help you to plan, organize, and manage work by associating multiple features that provide value as a group.

Like features, epics should be linked to goals and initiatives to indicate strategic importance and must contain one or more features. While an epic resides within the release it will be completed, the features that belong to the epic can span multiple releases.

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Below is an example of an epic and where it fits in relation to initiatives and features:

  • Initiative: Tracking enhancements
  • Epic: GPS Tracking
    • Features:
      • Integrate with Google Maps
      • Integrate with Apple Maps
      • Real-time connection with traffic database
      • Suggest alternative routes
      • Live crash reports

Which one should you use?

Use initiatives if: 

  • You would like to link releases, epics, and features to different high-level themes that you plan to work on for six months or longer.
  • You are looking for a way to determine the key strategic workstreams that will help you realize your goals.
  • You want to define the high-level programs to invest in, then group releases and features under them. 

Use epics if:

  • Your team is agile and you are looking for epics to group your stories.
  • Your team builds large features that can take several releases to complete, and you want a way to track them on a roadmap.
  • Your team currently uses initiatives in Aha! to group features, but you would rather keep initiatives for more strategic themes.

Questions

Should you map initiatives to epics in your integration?

It depends on the level of record hierarchy needed. You can map epics to initiatives, epics, or features depending on your Aha! reporting needs. 

What should you do if you have a feature spanning multiple releases?

If possible, break the feature down into smaller features that roll up to an epic. Try to capture features and their related stories or requirements as bite-sized chunks (instead of long requirement docs). The key is to capture what is essential and what the new capability should enable. Features are not the place to detail every last bit of minutiae or explain how engineering should build each feature.

What should I do when I am partially shipping features between releases or sprints?

If possible, break the feature down into smaller features that roll up to an epic. You can also convert features to other record types when needed.

How do I build a roadmap showing related work that spans multiple workspaces?

For an initiative, link all associated features to a parent-line-level initiative. Next, report on the initiative and included all associated features and workspaces.

For epics, create an epic in one of your workspaces. Next, add any existing features across other workspaces to the epics. Report on features with associated epics and workspaces.

For guidance on either scenario, explore the step-by-step instructions for list and pivot reports.


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