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Agile Epics in GitHub with ZenHub Epics

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GitHub-based project management solution ZenHub has recently introduced “Epics”, a new tool that provides a complete re-work of GitHub issues and issue management that aims to make it possible to fully manage product roadmaps inside of GitHub.

 In Agile jargon, epics are larger user stories whose implementation spans across several iterations and that require therefore to be progressively disaggregated into workable, smaller user stories. Developers using GitHub previously had no easy way to create epics inside of GitHub, or had to resort to using third-party tools outside of GitHub, such as JIRA. ZenHub claims that Epics will make it possible to plan product backlog entirely inside GitHub.

ZenHub Epics help disaggregating larger user stories by allowing developers to split them into several sub-tasks and later track their completion toward the overall goal. Existing GitHub issues can be added to an epic, or entirely new issues can be created inside of it. Additionally, an issue can at any time be converted into an epic to handle its becoming too complex over time.

Beyond having their own detail view, ZenHub Epics are also integrated within ZenHub “Boards” tab, which allows developers using GitHub to organize issues in a Kanban grid. Boards group issues according to user-defined criteria and provide a quick overview of the project state in its different areas. Epics are displayed alongside a user's other GitHub issues and a filtering tool is available to filter all issues belonging to a specific epic.

InfoQ has spoken with ZenHub co-founder Matt Butler to learn more about Epics.

What are the advantages of using ZenHub Epics for developers?

Epics provide a crucial extra layer of hierarchy to GitHub issues. Developers can pair ZenHub Epics with their Task Boards to easily visualize the path toward their next release goal. By planning development tasks using epics, software engineers can meet release deadlines more accurately, and ultimately reduce technical debt. Most importantly, because Epics are displayed natively in GitHub’s interface (and use existing GitHub data), developers can stay inside the environment they know and love.

What are the advantages of using ZenHub Epics for managers?

ZenHub Epics enable managers to plan and share product backlogs inside GitHub – where their development team already works and lives every day. For the first time, it’s possibly to truly host all sprint planning inside GitHub rather than a third-party tool, which are notoriously high-overhead, with bloated features and prohibitive permissions structures. And because ZenHub utilizes existing GitHub data, they can be sure the information is always accurate and up-to-date. ZenHub and ZenHub Epics create a “single source of truth” for everyone on the team, from managers to developers, to exec members.

How does ZenHub Epics compare to JIRA support for Agile epics

JIRA has proven to be abundantly popular with non-technical project managers, while ZenHub is built specifically for agile development teams and technical management.

Firstly, ZenHub Epics are low-overhead, with simple permissions structures, high flexibility, and near-zero setup time. They’re built specifically for agile dev teams who need tools that do what they need, then “get out of the way”.

The crucial difference is that all of ZenHub’s features display natively inside GitHub, and it’s the only tool that offers this. Why does this matter?

  • Centralizing in a single tool eliminates “informational silos” and enables teams to consolidate their tool sets.

  • “Context switching” is expensive, particularly for developers. ZenHub eliminates wasted time spent “context switching” from tool to tool. Project managers thus spend less time reminding developers to update tasks, and developers are inherently more engaged in the project management process because it’s hosted in their environment – not a clunky management platform.

ZenHub is a Trello-like, drag-and-drop project management solution built on top of GitHub and fully integrated with it. It is free to use for open source projects and paid otherwise. ZenHub 2.0, announced a few months ago, introduced worthy features such as multi-repository support, so projects can span across multiple repository, burndown charts, time estimation, and support for GitHub on-premise enterprise service.

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