Epic Templates: Goal Setting To Achieve Value

Templates and Canvases are a dime a dozen for no small reason then that there is no best practice for how to do many things. Instead of getting burdened down with a prescriptive formula, I want to discuss things to consider to keep your Epic template minimal but sufficient.

Firstly, do you truly need one? Really, pause and ask yourself why you even need to create an Epic in the first place. What is the value you will get out of creating something so large, and more importantly, is there a way to break it down to get validated learning sooner? Or is this just going to be a giant bucket that won’t generate value for another 3, 6 or even 12 months?

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If you really need one then let’s start with the end in mind. Ask yourself how is life going to be different for our customer when we’re complete? What are they going to say about the new functionality? Literally, what is the feedback they will tell their friends, what is going to get them so excited that they want to show others? How have we improved their life? Let’s call this the Goal. This is the north star of why anyone should be excited about the feature. It isn’t the how, it’s the why.

Now pause and revisit my first question. Is a clear goal good enough?

Next, how can we quantify the change in behavior? This will likely be the hardest part but it’s also the clearest way for you to definitively say you’ve achieved your Goal. Is it usage statistics, customer satisfaction, revenue goals, or something else completely? Oftentimes the Goal is more qualitative and these metrics help us put a quantitative measurement behind what success looks like. This will be the Value portion of the template.

Now pause and revisit my first question. Is a clear goal and metrics good enough?

With success metrics in place maybe you can think about what leading metrics will be helpful to track. Our two rules for good leading metrics are:

  1. A leading metric should directly influence the lagging metric
  2. A leading metric should be directly influenceable by the team

Now pause and revisit my first question. Is a clear goal with good leading and lagging metrics enough? I really hope so, because if it isn’t, I’d push back strongly to say that you’re about to start robbing your teams of innovative work and turning them into order takers. Everything above is the strategy. It’s the hill we are trying to take and why. We’ve specifically left out the tactical. Tactics are best left to the people closest to the work. You hired fantastically smart people. You’ve set the Goal. You’ve articulated the Value. You’ve quantified what success looks like and metrics to validate along the way. The last thing to do is get out of the way and let the team figure out the how.

Bonus: While more of an optional part of the Epic Template, I’d also encourage you to think about the User Journey for whatever you’re attempting to build. If you’re not familiar with this, imagine you’re building a new website for your customers to buy Widgets from. Now imagine you broke it out into areas like 

  • Widget listing page
  • Widget detail page
  • Widget modification page
  • Widget cart page
  • Widget purchase page
  • Widget order history page

In fact, that looks suspiciously like a product backlog for your new Widget platform. Now imagine each item was a Sprint in duration and you just wrapped up Sprint 4 and your team is excited to move on to the Purchase Page when all of a sudden funding is pulled! What do you have? You have an awesome website for customers to look at, modify, and be teased at the prospect of buying Widgets but no actual ability to solve their needs. Remember, they are trying to buy widgets!

So instead of building out each page in full detail think about it as a minimum set of functionality in each of the areas in order to get to solving the real problem the customer wants solved. In this case, buying the Widget.

If you’re looking for a little help getting started we created a minimal but sufficient Epic Template for you to use as a starting point that’s available for download below. It’s nothing special but gives you enough focus on thinking about the Goal, the Value with Leading and Lagging indicators, and the User Journey taking into account inputs and outputs.

Jeff Maleski

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