Decomposition - Features

25 ap-decomposition-epics

Decomposition of higher-level requirements into Features is a key step in defining functionality for program-level planning and prioritization.

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The input for Feature Decomposition is an Epic


The output of Feature Decomposition is a set of features, each of which can be implemented

Features define the functionality and services that a system offers.

While an Epic typically defines an initiative of a large scale that spans a long period of time, Features are defined in a manner that can be easily digested by the business, prioritized at the Program level, and implemented within a single Program Increment (PI). The Scaled Agile Framework® defines a PI as:

A Program Increment (PI) is a timebox in which Agile Release Trains deliver incremental value in the form of working, tested software and systems. PIs are typically eight to twelve weeks long, and the most common pattern for a PI is four development iterations, followed by one Innovation and Planning iteration.1

Feature decomposition involves multiple stakeholders from across a program organization. A Product Manager typically works with Product Owners to define business Features that describe functionality that provides direct value to customers. However, Features may also be enablers, necessary to explore and establish the architectural foundation required to meet the business needs. Architects or Engineers typically assist by deconstructing enablers at the Epic level and by defining the enablers at the program level that are necessary to support the business Features of an Epic.

Features composing an Epic are described using a matrix of Features and benefits. The Feature can be described by a short phrase, while the benefit or benefits of each feature should succinctly describe how the Feature benefits the business. For example, a Feature to export calculated data might benefit the business by adding the ability to share or repurpose data with other groups. Each Feature must also have acceptance criteria. In the case of Features, the acceptance criteria are defined to help the business establish the expected behavior or outcomes of a Feature. From these, the business should be able to determine if the implemented Feature delivers the expected benefits.

During decomposition, Epics can be split into Features by a variety of factors, including business priority, workflow, effort, complexity, data/service needs, and more.

Common Pitfalls

Even in organizations that adopt Lean Agile best practices, there are some problems that can occur when deconstructing epics into Features:

  • Features read like user stories: Some organizations may fall into the habit of defining Features in the form or voice of user stories. Unlike stories, which focus on the value delivered to a user, Features at the program level should be defined from the perspective of the business. Business stakeholders may not be familiar with the user story construct, and those responsible for prioritizing and accepting Features must understand how it’s defined.
  • Acceptance criteria not fully articulated: It’s critically important that the acceptance criteria for Features are well defined. This ensures that the organization’s Product Managers have an adequate way of determining whether a Feature has been properly implemented and meets business needs. Acceptance criteria that are not adequately expressed may lead to the release train teams not properly understanding the requirements.
  • Features not timeboxed to a single Program Increment: Just as user stories should be constructed so that they can be implemented in a single sprint (usually two weeks) Features should be carefully constructed so that they can be implemented in a program increment (usually eight to twelve weeks). Feature success criteria should be prioritized to ensure that an initial implementation is realistic within the given timebox.


The following tools are well-suited to define and manage Features:


  • Scaled Agile Inc., SAFe® 4.0 Glossary, Licensed Usage.