Define features and epics

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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 topic to learn how to:

  • View a backlog or portfolio backlog
  • Add features and epics
  • Add child items


To understand the features supported on each backlog and board, and how each display hierarchical items, see Backlogs, boards, and plans. To learn how to track progress across teams, see Visibility across teams.

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.


  • You must be a member of the Contributors group or be granted Stakeholder access to add, modify, or remove work items
  • Or, you must have your View work items in this node, and your Edit work items in this node permissions set to Allow.

To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.

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.


Choose Previous navigation when you see a top-level blue bar. Choose New navigation if you see a vertical sidebar or if you enabled the New Navigation preview feature. The vertical sidebar, along with other navigational features, is enabled when the New Navigation preview feature has been enabled for the signed-in user or the VSTS organization. To learn how to use the web portal effectively, see Navigation Basics.

For on-premises TFS users, choose Previous Navigation for guidance.

  1. (1) Check that you have selected the right project, (2) choose Work>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 sprints 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

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.


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.

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.

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.


The images you see from your web portal may differ from the images you see in this topic. 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, 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
Story Points
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 the 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.

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.


You can also add child user stories from the Kanban board for Features. For details, see

New navigation isn't supported on TFS at this time. Choose Previous navigation for guidance.

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.

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.