Define features and epics

Azure Boards | Azure DevOps Server 2019 | TFS 2018 | TFS 2017 | TFS 2015

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 a big picture and break it down into smaller deliverables. Or, you've got an existing backlog and now need to organize it.

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:

  • 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, 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 each backlog and the two types of boards, see Backlogs, boards, and plans. To learn how to track progress across teams, see Visibility across teams.

Prerequisites

  • You must connect to a project. If you don't have a project yet, create one.
  • You must be added to a project as a member of the Contributors or Project Administrators security group. To get added, Add users to a project or team.
  • To add or modify work items, you must be granted Stakeholder access or higher. For details, see About access levels.
  • To view or modify work items, you must have your View work items in this node and Edit work items in this node permissions set to Allow. By default, the Contributors group has this permission set. To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.

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 About access levels.

  • You must connect to a project. If you don't have a project yet, create one.
  • You must be added to a project as a member of the Contributors or Project Administrators security group. To get added, Add users to a project or team.
  • To add or modify work items, you must be granted Stakeholder access or higher. For details, see About access levels.
  • To view or modify work items, you must have your View work items in this node and Edit work items in this node permissions set to Allow. By default, the Contributors group has this permission set. To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.

What comprises 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.

A feature typically represents a shippable component of software. An epic represents a business initiative to be accomplished. Here are a few examples of each.

Features

  • Add view options to the new work hub
  • Add mobile shopping cart
  • Support text alerts
  • Refresh the web portal with new look and feel

Epics

  • Increase customer engagement
  • Improve and simplify the user experience
  • Implement new architecture to improve performance
  • Engineer the application to support future growth
  • Support integration with external services
  • Support mobile apps

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 have selected the right project, (2) choose Boards>Backlogs, and then (3) select the correct team from the team selector menu.

    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.

    Open Column Options

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

    Open Work, Backlogs, for a team

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

    Choose another team

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

    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.

    Open Column Options

  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.

    Open the Boards>Backlogs>Features

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

    Choose another team

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

    Hierarchical view of backlogs

Tip

Each team can choose the backlog levels that are active as described in Select backlog navigation levels for your team.

Add features and epics

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 the Enter key or choose Add to top.

    Add a product backlog item

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

    Here, we've added six features.

    Add a feature

    You can add epics in the same way. Simply 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.

    Add a feature

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

    Here, we've added six features.

    Features backlog

Add details to a feature or epic

Open each item (double-click, or press Enter to open the selected item) and add all the info you want to track. Enter as much detail as the team needs to understand the scope, estimate the work required, 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.

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

Field Usage
Value Area 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
Effort
Story Points
Size
Provide a relative estimate of the amount of work required to complete a Feature or Epic. Use any numeric unit of measurement your team prefers. Some options are story points, time, or other relative unit.
Business Value 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.
Time Criticality 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.

Target Date

Specify the date by which the feature should be implemented.

Add child items

With your features defined, you're able to add child items to them. From any backlog, you can add child items. You can add features to epics, and backlog items to features.

Tip

You can also add child user stories (Agile), or product backlog items (Scrum) or requirements (CMMI) from the Kanban board for Features. And, you can add child features from the Epic board. For details, see Kanban board features and epics. Also, you can quickly parent or reparent children from a backlog using the mapping pane as described in Organize your backlog, map child work items to parents.

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

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

Add a product backlog item as a child to a feature

Whenever you see the plus plus-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 the plus icon and choose from the options provided.

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

Add a child item to a backlog work item

Whenever you see the plus plus 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.

For Scrum projects, your hierarchy is as shown:

Hierarchical view of backlogs

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 customizing your process, adding new work item types, and then configuring your backlogs and boards. You can also add or modify the fields defined for a work item type (WIT) or add a custom WIT. For details, see Customize an inheritance process and Customize your backlogs or boards (Inheritance process).

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:

You can add them by defining additional work item types and then customizing your process configuration. You can also add or modify the fields defined for a work item type (WIT) or add a custom WIT. To learn more, see Customize the On-premises XML process model and Add a portfolio backlog level.

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 not only a great way to organize your project plan, but also a great way to provide visibility of project plans across enterprise teams. With portfolio backlogs, management teams can gain insight into project status across all their development teams.