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Whether you are a program manager, product owner or a team member, it’s critical to establish a common understanding of terms and definitions related to work items as they mature through the agile development process.

We commonly refer to work items as assets or deliverables within the product development life cycle. Correctly identifying assets at different stages of the lifecycle helps to define the level of fidelity as concepts move from initial ideas to “shovel ready work” that can be handed off to the delivery team and development. The team will utilize various tools during elaboration in each stage to mature ideas into assets. The following hierarchy can be used to establish a common understanding of terms and definitions for work items in your organization.


  • Theme – Related strategic initiatives
    A group of related strategic initiatives or ideas to help meet business objectives. A theme may span multiple products and/or releases.

Example: Increase Product Sales

  • Initiative – Related features
    A group of related features that add value to the customer and help meet the business objectives. An initiative may span multiple releases.

Example: Increase Product Sales by $5M by improving product X checkout process

  • Epic – Related stories that represent a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
    A group of related stories (and features) that make up a minimum viable product (MVP). An epic must be completable within a release.

Example: Make it easier to pay with a credit card by adding mobile card scanning within checkout

  • Story – User need, benefit and means to validate (acceptance criteria).
    A need and benefit from the user’s perspective. Use the industry standard INVEST acronym, which stands for Independent, Negotiable, Valuable, Estimable, Small and Testable. A story should be completable within a sprint.

Example: As a <role>, I want to <feature>, so I can <benefit>
Example: 1-n Acceptance Criteria

This asset hierarchy can be extremely valuable in promoting effective collaboration and efficiency within your Agile operations. See how this fits into the overall process of “How Work Happens” in your organization.

Agile Techniques Series

We have worked with many large organizations to help implement Agile development and business demand processes at the team and enterprise level. Our Scaled Agilist experts have created a series of thoughts to help companies identify practical ways to address Agile business transformation in their own organizations. If you would like to discuss these techniques in more detail, please contact us. Enjoy!

Read our other articles in this Series: How work happensTop-down estimation; and Quantify effort across teams.

Certified Scaled Agilists:

Mike Simon

Mike Simon 
Principal Consultant

Derek Riddle

Derek Riddle 
Creative Services Director

Bryan Galloway

Bryan Galloway 
Business Analyst

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