Can epics, features, and user stories, span multiple releases or iterations?

  • - Release: Epics can, but features shouldn't; Stories don't! :P - Iteration (sprint): Epics should, features can; Stories don't! :P Jun 3, 2022 at 6:16
  • I believe there's no canonical answer for this question. This is wildly dependant on context. What each company - and even each team within a company - understands as an iteration, a release, a story, a feature or an Epic can differ a lot. I'm surprised for the lack of downvotes / close votes yet.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Jun 3, 2022 at 10:23
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    Trying to narrow down a bit, I'd suggest to have the specific framework(s) in this context.
    – Tiago Cardoso
    Jun 3, 2022 at 10:25
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    A user story must fit within a single iteration in most agile frameworks. The rest are unanswerable without more context.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Jun 4, 2022 at 22:33

2 Answers 2


As the question stands, it's way too broad to have a single answer. Considering this is a point of recurrent debate, I'd like to share my takes on it too.

As Thomas said, the answer is context-dependent. Agile frameworks are intentionally not prescriptive so that teams can experiment pros and cons of having Stories, Features and Epics to be delivered within an iteration or a release.

... and, there's SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework).

SAFe is highly prescriptive here (and a lot of people says it's not agile, but I won't enter this debate). A prescriptive methodology helps in the case where there's only chaos. From SAFe glossary:

  • A Story is expected to fit an iteration
  • A Feature is expected to fit an increment
  • An Epic is (implicitly) allowed to span several increments

Worth to highlight the definitions of two more keywords here for consistency:

  • An iteration is ~ 2 weeks long
  • A (program) increment is ~ 8 to 12 weeks long

Regardless of how much heat SAFe has from the agile community, I believe that they are fairly on spot on some of these definitions.

A note of warning: The underlying problem one needs to be aware of is how each of these terms are used within a closed system (a company, in this case).

Some companies uses different terminologies for the same thing, so what some companies call a feature, some may call an Epic, what some call an Epic may be an initiative and so on. This becomes even more complex when we have the combo methodology + tool (Jira is allegedly one of the biggest culprits why the concept of Epic is so debatable).

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    +1. For other readers, outside of SAFe Feature is a much-abused term that could mean anything from: theme, Sprint Goal, linked user stories, or some other term that is neither an INVEST-sized user story nor an iteration-spanning epic. I personally think that within the context of many user-story frameworks a "feature" is best thought of as some functional or non-functional requirement that is then decomposed into user stories, themes, and epics as appropriate, but other than SAFe I can't think of any frameworks offhand that define a definitive time box for a Feature.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Jun 4, 2022 at 22:42

It depends on how you define "feature", "epic", and "user story".

The only one of these terms with anything close to an agreed upon definition, and even that isn't necessarily widely agreed upon or close to being a standard, is user story. The current thinking is that a story should, more often than not, represent something that is achievable in a few days of effort. If you're using iterations, they probably last more than a few days, so a story would probably not span multiple iterations unless it was started at the end of one iteration and finished in the next.

  • I know you said "even that isn't necessarily widely agreed upon," but had to put in my $0.02. I mostly agree with you, but when talking about Scrum-like frameworks Sprint Backlog items should generally be a couple of days or less, but it's allowable to have a single Product Backlog item take up a whole Sprint if that's the only item needed to meet the Sprint Goal. Outside of Scrum it's squishier, but I don't think that anything (other than perhaps the "Small" in INVEST and any iteration goals that require multiple user stories) requires that user stories be smaller than one iteration.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Jun 4, 2022 at 22:49
  • @ToddA.Jacobs The "few days of effort" comes from the XP community. I'd have to check, but I believe this is mentioned in Extreme Programming Explained 2nd edition and/or Art of Agile Development 2nd edition. It's not a hard rule, but generally accepted good thinking. Scrum is the most prescriptive, with each PBI being no longer than 1 Sprint.
    – Thomas Owens
    Jun 5, 2022 at 0:23

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