Agile Tasks Breakdown
You might have seen various ways of breaking down work. In the Agile world, you will meet different terms. Some of the most commonly used terms are for example epics, themes, projects, initiatives, campaigns, user stories, deliverables, tasks, so on.
To simplify things, we will get things down to the following terminology:
Theme / Strategic Project – think of this as long-term objectives with a larger focus, that will have the biggest impact on your company’s performance.
Epic / Initiative – an initiative is a collection of tasks that have to be completed to achieve a certain goal or produce a deliverable. Think of initiatives as the building blocks of a project/theme. A project may consist of multiple initiatives.
Task / User story – this is the smallest piece of work in the chain. It could be anything that the teams are working on (new feature, content piece, design drawing, prototype, legal document, etc.)
No matter how you decide to call the different tasks, be sure to break down all the work from top to bottom and make it visible. This will help you create a transparent work environment.
Also, the focus is on breaking things down to consumable pieces. These actionable deliverables are being continuously shipped to the market without waiting for everything to be completed upfront. This way you will be able to deliver value to the customers more frequently than usual.
Stick with us and let’s see how you can apply the Agile way of structuring work.
Agile Themes/Strategic Projects
Let’s treat these as strategic business objectives in the form of items. They provide business context for decision-making and help you navigate the course of your organization. They also affect the work items you are going to load in the different value streams.
Simply said, Agile themes or projects sit on top of the work breakdown hierarchy.
To make this clearer, let’s take a look into the following example.
Your business is growing and most of your clients come from organic web traffic. Respectively, this channel has a higher business value. However, you have relatively low levels of organic traffic to your website. Therefore you want to increase the number of organic users who come to your website, but you can do this in many different ways.
So increasing organic website traffic is your Agile theme or project. Now you have to break it down and make it actionable.
So, increasing organic website traffic is your Agile theme or project. Now you have to break it down and make it actionable.
These are the building blocks of the upper mentioned projects/themes. They should be more specific and measurable, so you can see what’s their contribution to the main goal.
In the previous paragraphs, we gave an example with organic website traffic, which is the main theme/project. Now, let’s break it down to two epics/initiatives that are:
- Producing New Content
- Optimizing Current Content
See, these epics are directly related to the main theme/project goal, because they will support a potential organic traffic boost.
We are almost there. But before we finish we need to break down the Agile epics/initiatives into small enough and actionable work items.
Agile Tasks/User Stories
When you have an Agile initiative/epic you need to break it down to small requests that will go relatively fast through your workflow. In other words, this is the lowest level of your work breakdown structure. On this level, you may hear terms such as user stories (in software development), deliverables (in marketing) or tasks.
Let’s go back to the example with the organic traffic. We agreed that the Agile theme/project is increasing organic website traffic and the epics are producing new content and optimizing current content.
Let’s breakdown the epic Producing New Content. What could be the possible tasks that are actionable and small enough? For example, these could be:
- Keywords research
- Building URL structure
- Writing the Content (One task per piece)
The completion of all these small tasks will help you complete the initiative/epic. On the other hand, the completion of the initiatives will help get you one step closer to the theme/project goal.
Why You Need to Structure Work the Agile Way
This is kind of a rhetorical question. Breaking down work the Agile way will help you keep track of every project and it will bring transparency to the work process from top to bottom.
On one hand, breaking work to the smallest possible size will help your team build a clear structure of tasks and focus on finishing work much faster. On the other hand, the whole structure will provide a guiding direction to the organization.
How we do it in Kanbanize®?
In Kanbanize, we have something called the Hoshin board, which serves as the top layer. All strategic projects/themes are placed there. Then, we have the team Kanban boards (each team has its own board). Each team board has a timeline lane on top of it, where all the initiatives/epics are placed. And finally, there is the board where we put the smallest work items.
So, What Is the Bottom Line?
After all, organizations or industries use their own terms to define work. For example, in software development, you may hear the term user stories, in marketing deliverables, in other places just tasks.
However, the important thing is to bring transparency to the whole work process and be able to correspond fast to the ever-changing requirements of the market. So, no matter what terms you use for your tasks, try to break down work to consumable size, visualize dependencies and make it trackable.