An Intro To Epic Champions

Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” It is based upon this philosophy of embracing collaboration from start-to-finish that my team, as well as numerous others at Hootsuite, have adapted an additional role in our Agile methodology.

To provide some background for those unfamiliar with Agile, an Epic is a large unit of work which, when completed, will provide a lot of value to the customer. Epics are then broken down into stories and tickets/tasks which developers will commit to and complete.

Every developer is encouraged to work on whichever task is highest in priority allowing work to be fluid and ensure each developer is well-rounded. However, each sprint, there can be numerous Epics being worked on, as well as numerous more being planned in the backlog, which often makes it difficult for product owners to maintain an accurate idea of the current progress of each based on small, fragmented updates from each developer at scrum. Further, the process of conceiving a new feature often gets muddled as it is passed around between design and growth and management before finally arriving at the engineers. The solution to all these problems and more? The Epic Champion.

What is an Epic Champion?

An Epic Champion is the owner of the implementation of an Epic. They volunteer at the time that the Product Owner creates the Epic and are fully engaged from then onwards in meetings with design, marketing, and any other stakeholders. The Epic Champion can be any developer on the team who wants to take a larger role in managing communication, direction, and coordination. In day-to-day activity, they are not limited to working on their Epic’s tickets. One objective of this role is to be the primary point of contact to ensure the task is completed efficiently and accurately. Another responsibility is that they are the final decision maker. Since the Epic Champion is the most invested in the feature, they get to have the final say, but must seek guidance using the Advice Process, which requires discussing with each stakeholder who will be affected by this decision prior to deciding.

Why you want one:

Efficiency: Epic Champions have a unique position since they have a technical background and also have a role in communication; in turn, this allows them to become knowledgeable in stakeholders’ position in the Epic and communicate any technical challenges which could arise during the planning phase. For example, if the product designers have a particular vision for the product, the Epic Champion could propose a very similar solution which could reuse pre-existing resources to drastically decrease development time. This compromise would also save the designer time since they won’t spend additional resources drafting the inefficient design which likely would be changed based on the technical implementation.

Quality: Since Epic Champions are involved from the very early planning stages with designers and architects they are able to ensure that the feature being developed is in-sync with the rest of the business’s vision. This is likely a result of the Product Owner being focused on many Epics, while the Champion is honed in on just one. As result, additional attention can be given to details so the feature is not manipulated which can occur with only a single Product Owner due to how a message is distorted in the game Telephone. Further, if any decisions to change or update the design is decided upon after development has begun, the Epic Champion will be aware and able to accurately implement this change. This direct communication channel between product and development ensures a higher quality of work in the end product.

Engagement: It is easier to get motivated about a task when you know why that task needs to be completed and Epic Champions learn exactly that through their interaction with the rest of the business. In addition, since the Champion has a sense of ownership for the feature, they will feel accountable for delivering in a timely matter and dedicate additional effort to ensure this happens. This extra engagement and accountability assists Managers and Product Owners too since the developers are more dedicated to the delivery timeline.

Job Satisfaction: While the Epic Champion can be any developer, generally Junior and Intermediate developers take on this role. This leads to a unique situation as Senior developers are now less engaged in allocating tasks and attending meetings since each Champion of their respective Epic have filled those roles. In turn, the Junior and Intermediate developers will be engaged on their tasks as previously mentioned, while Senior developers will be more available for consultation and advanced tasks which is what their primary role should be. Enabling each position to meet their job’s role more accurately will increase job satisfaction and is a solution where everyone benefits. Additionally, while juniors and intermediates are learning how to champion a task, they are learning technical and collaborative skills which open to door to numerous possible career progressions as either a technical lead or management position.

Why you might not want one:

Dependent on Communication: Since the Epic Champion is required to frequently ask for advice, it is a necessity that everyone in the team and company is comfortable with constant communication. The role becomes much less effective if anybody is unable to share their opinion to allow the Champion to make the most informed decision possible.

Added Responsibility: Some members may not be comfortable with taking on the additional accountability that comes with being an Epic Champion. Moreover, some Junior or Intermediate developers may not want to be the final decision maker as it could cause conflict as others may disagree with their decision.

Office Politics: As the final decision maker, the Epic Champion will have to cope with and carefully handle differences in opinions between their teammates. This may pose a challenge as the Champion will need to be politically savvy to ensure everyone feels that their opinion has been heard and considered, regardless of the result.

My Experience:

At Hootsuite, all Epic Champions are volunteers which ensures that they want to take on the additional responsibility and are not forced out of their comfort zone against their will. Upon learning this role is open to everyone including very junior developers, I jumped at the soonest opportunity that arose.

As a co-op, this was the greatest decision I could have made. Being thrown into a new team surrounded by unfamiliar code and systems is challenging, but while acting as Epic Champion, I was able to fully indulge myself into the task and gain a holistic view of the inner workings of Hootsuite. I was amazed with how much I learned about Hootsuite’s product through interacting with other teams while meeting to discuss the Epic.

Further, I also noticed an improvement in my personal development productivity while holding this role. I was more involved in every ticket which my team was working on related to this Epic allowing me to quickly choose any ticket and begin working without any catch-up or uncertainty. This vastly improved my capability to complete small, yet necessary, tasks.

Conclusion:

All-in-all, adding the role of Epic Champion into the standard Agile framework can have an enormous, positive impact on individuals and teams. Nevertheless, there are a few possible drawbacks which make this role only suitable for certain organization which have open communication channels and trust in one-another. In the correct situation however, introducing Epic Champions can vastly improve the efficiency of employees while creating a better quality product while also enabling the different levels of developers to better fulfill their job role. The Epic Champion may be the change you need to bring your Agile team to the next level.

 

About the Author

 

Quinn Toyoda is a Software Developer Co-op on the Billing team at Hootsuite. Quinn studies Computer Science at the University of Waterloo. Connect with him on LinkedIn.