Best Practices Features How-To's Tips & Tricks

Multi-Level Agile Boards or How We Support Epics

Update:Please check the updated tutorial about Agile Boards for Epics in YouTrack 7.0.  

We get quite a few questions from our customers which can be summed up as “Does YouTrack support multi-level agile boards, and do you have epics?” The short answer is “Yes.” For the long answer, please read on.

What is it all about?

Though there are no clear-cut rules in Agile for using the terms epics, user stories, features, and tasks, we understand epics as complex user stories divided into smaller and simple user stories, which are then split into particular tasks for developers. Another distinguishing feature of epics is their duration: they are usually complex, time-consuming, and in development for several sprints. Sometimes an epic may include user stories from different projects.

The question we need to answer is how we can effectively monitor both overall progress of implementing an epic, and plan and monitor particular tasks, on a daily basis. The former is more of a manager’s task while the latter should be tuned to each development team’s workflow.

What we suggest

In terms of YouTrack epics, features, tasks are an issue types.

In YouTrack Agile Board, you can see three levels of hierarchy: swimlanes, tasks, and their subtasks. However, at the third level, subtasks are displayed as a list of linked issues in the description of the parent task, in detailed view mode. That is, subtasks are not shown as separate cards on the board.

Swimlanes and tasks are associated by the parent->subtask link type. So in our case of multi-hierarchy,  epics and user stories (features) should be linked in the same way: all user stories included into an epic should be linked as subtasks to the corresponding parent epic issue. On the second level of hierarchy, all the tasks included into a user story (feature) should be also linked as subtasks to the parent user story issue.

To visually support multi-level hierarchy: epics->user stories->tasks we suggest using two boards—one for managers to monitor epics and user stories, and one for developers to view user stories and tasks. Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Add a new issue type ‘Epic’ for all projects the board will be associated with.
  2. Enable Time tracking for these projects. This way YouTrack will automatically calculate estimates and spent time in features and epics. The trick is to use the same Estimation and Spent time fields for all the projects on the board.
  3. Create a board for epics and set Swimlanes defined by issue of ‘Epic’ type. Epics will then occupy the highest level on the manager’s board.
    Epics Board Settings

    Epics Board Settings

  4. Select the appropriate Estimation field. It should be the same field we use for the Time Tracking.
  5. Your epics board will look something like this:
    Agile board with epics

    Agile board with epics

    As you see, it’s pretty easy to monitor the overall development progress with such a board. Epics are shown as swimlanes with the cards of user stories or features in development. If you enable the detailed view (click the down-arrow icon next to the view mode switches, and select ‘With description’ mode), you will see feature descriptions on cards as well as lists of these feature tasks.
    For the sprint in general, all the estimates and spent time are calculates automatically, due to enabled Time Tracking. You can see the circle charts for the sprint progress and for each column on the board.
    In addition to easy monitoring, planning is also made easy. Create new features on the board,
    or add them from the backlog (even with all their tasks and subtasks, you can just drag them to the board).

  6. Create another board for the development team. Use the same project(s), with the same Estimation field, but make swimlanes defined by issue of ‘Feature’ type. That’s it!
    Settings for development board

    Settings for development board

    The development team board will look something like this:

    Board for developers team

    Board for developers team

    You don’t see epics here, but it’s not essential for the developer team in their routine. What is essential is that all standard options for planning and monitoring team’s work as designed, while providing data for the overall monitoring.
    As long as we have Time Tracking enabled and we use the same estimations and spent time fields in all projects involved, the estimates and spent time are summed up for the features and are automatically added to the indices on the manager’s board, with epics.

YouTrack aims to provide you with all the means to practice Agile methodologies. We hope this post gave you some useful tips on how to make your daily routine more effective and easy keeping your eyes on the target and monitoring the progress.

Your comments are very welcome below.

Keep tracking with pleasure!
~ YouTrack Team

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31 Responses to Multi-Level Agile Boards or How We Support Epics

  1. Avatar

    Michael Riess says:

    March 11, 2014

    It’s good to see that this use case is something that you want to support – however, it does not work properly. If you do it like it is described here, at least on our server (5.0.6) the backlog on the features board will also show the epics, and when you drag them onto the board they will be converted into features. Last time I checked, no bugfix for this is in sight …

    • Avatar

      Vadim says:

      March 18, 2014


      Backlog always show the whole tree, including epics, features, tasks. This allows you to have more then 3 levels in you tasks structure and pull any level into board.
      Back to your issue, the only case when issue attributes are being changed is when board has defined query – we try to change dragged issue so it satisfy this query.
      But why do you want to drag Epic to features board?

  2. Avatar

    Dan Michaelson says:

    March 12, 2014

    Can you (or any readers) articulate how swimlanes should be used in general? We use them essentially for epics already. How would you describe the suggested granularity of swimlanes and tasks?

  3. Valerie Andrianova

    Valerie Andrianova says:

    March 13, 2014

    Hi Dan,
    Yes, you are absolutely right, swimlanes are essentially to be used as any kind of general parent issue, that has subtasks. You can use them for your features, user stories or epics. Any kind of parent issue would work.
    However, there are a number of alternative ways of using Agile board, so we made the choice of what issue attribute and its value would represent the swimlane up to you.

  4. Avatar

    Sukhy Singh says:

    March 26, 2014

    How do I reuse a ‘feature’ card from the managers board, as a swimlane on the developers board?

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      March 26, 2014

      Hi Sukhy,
      Simply configure developers board to use features as swimlanes. You may also need to add this feature to a specific sprint (fix version). You can add two different sprints to a feature, one for managers board and another one for developers board. Does it make sense?

      • Avatar

        Sukhy Singh says:

        March 26, 2014

        It does.

        So I’ve created a developers board, with swimlanes as features, and cards as tasks. I’ve also got a managers board.

        I wanted to use the feature objects from the developers board as the cards in the managers board, i.e. to create the three levels of hierarchy link. But when I did so, it disappeared from the developers board… help!

        • Valerie Andrianova

          Valerie Andrianova says:

          March 26, 2014

          Have you used Epics as swimlanes on the managers board? Are your features subtasks of your epics? Are your tasks (on the developer board) subtasks of the same features (from the managers board)? Please make sure that you have added two sprints to your features: one from the managers boards and another one from the developer board (if you used different sprints).

          • Avatar

            Sukhy Singh says:

            March 27, 2014

            Ah! I had all the above but was missing the two sprint link. I’ve added that now and its working, thanks!

            Next onto mastering the YouTrack Workflow 🙂

  5. Avatar

    Rhona says:

    April 9, 2014

    I like this idea, and I was able to configure both boards successfully. What I haven’t been able to figure out is the link between the two boards as far as the State of each task. Since the work will be done by developers, the tasks on the developer board will be moving between states, but unless they also update the state of the swimlane (feature) task, we will not be able to see the progress on the Epics board.

    I’m interested to know how this is working for others?


  6. Avatar

    Mafo says:

    May 6, 2014

    What do I do wrong if I have the epics as orphans in my developer board? (youtrack 5.1)

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      May 14, 2014

      Please use the following query on your Board settings: -Epic. It will exclude epics from your Developers board. This is a workaround for now, here is the feature request to solve the issue.

  7. Avatar

    Jon says:

    May 15, 2014

    Release 5.2 of YouTrack says, “We’ve made Epic a default issue type so you could practice better Agile right out of the box.” then refers to this blog entry.

    We are running 5.2 in the Cloud and do not see a Type of Epic available. Is there some setting in 5.2 that exposes the Epic Type?

  8. Valerie Andrianova

    Valerie Andrianova says:

    May 16, 2014

    Hi Jon,
    We apologize for misleading you, we did add an Epic type in 5.2 for new installations, means if you start using YouTrack from the v.5.2, you’ll get the Epic type by default. However, since you already have you projects setup and YouTrack shares the ‘Types’ bundle for all the projects by default, we cannot just add a new type to your existing projects (since we’re not sure you really want it). Here is what you do: simply add an Epic to the Types bundle, if you want to use it for all the projects, or copy the Types bundle and edit the copy to use it for a specific project.

  9. Avatar

    Jon says:

    May 17, 2014

    Thanks for the clarification, Valerie. Does Epic become a default Type for swimlanes like Feature or have any other special behavior?

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      May 20, 2014

      You are welcome. Nope, not any specific behavior.

  10. Avatar

    Luc says:

    November 25, 2014

    Running 5.2.5.

    I’ve got swim lanes working using features and epics as described above to create a ‘management’ board and a ‘team’ board.

    My problem is with the way that the burn down charts now work. According to the boards I have 4w2d in ‘To do’, 3w ‘In Progress’, etc. It all adds up to 11w.

    Then at the top of the board I have a different time amount of 25w2d – I’m assuming its a total of the time for all the tasks PLUS all the times for the automatically calculated Features. Effectively all my times are doubled, making the burn-down chart not an accurate reflection of the work required in this sprint.

    How do I get the burn-down chart to only reference the tasks that I have allocated to the current sprint?

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      November 27, 2014

      Luc, your issue looks like a bug, which we couldn’t reproduce on our test instance running on YouTrack 6.0. We might need more details about your configuration etc. Please contact our support at describing your problem.

      • Avatar

        David says:

        April 13, 2015


        I’m running YouTrack 6.0 build 12636 and I have run into the same issue.

        The epics board takes into account the sum of the feature estimations as well as the sum of the task estimations, which it shouldn’t. This results in a total estimation that is twice as big. It should either take the sum of all feature estimations or the sum of all task estimations, but not both. It is very easy to reproduce, assuming that we have a new project:

        1. create issue 1 with type epic
        2. create issue 2 with type feature
        3. create issue 3 with type task
        4. estimate issue 3 on 1 day
        5. make issue 1 parent of issue 2
        6. make issue 2 parent of issue 3
        7. create the epic agile board (no sprint required)

        The total estimation in the epics board is 2 days, but it should be 1 day. The feature estimation is 1 day because the task estimation is 1 day, which is logical, but the two shouldn’t be added up.

        The features board on the other hand takes into account the sum of the epic estimations, again doubling the estimation. This can, however, be fixed by using -Epic as query in your board settings, as you mentioned already.

        • Valerie Andrianova

          Valerie Andrianova says:

          April 13, 2015

          Hi David,
          Thanks for the details. Now I understand your use case better. I’ve created a bug based on your comment: please watch and add your comments. We’ll do our best to fix it in 6.5 (planned for the end of Spring). Thanks!

  11. Avatar

    Ivan I. says:

    December 1, 2014

    I created the 2 boards and I’ve been using them for the last month: 1 Sprint for developers: “Sprint-November” and 1 sprint for managers and epics: “Sprint-BigOne”.
    The features and tasks that are about Epics have the 2 sprints in their ‘Fix Versions’.
    But now when the sprint for the developers have expired and I created a new sprint (I checked “Move all unresolved issues from sprint ‘Sprint-November’ to new sprint.”) all issues that were visible in the managers agile board disappeared. I was expecting it would replace only the “Sprint-November” and leave the “Sprint-BigOne” untouched. But it replaced the entire “Fix Versions” with the new Sprint.
    Am I doing something wrong or am I supposed to fix the ‘Fix Versions’ manually ?

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      December 3, 2014

      Hello Ivan,
      This is correct, “Move all unresolved issues from sprint ‘Sprint-November’ to new sprint.” checkbox actually moves all the unresolved tasks to the new sprint. If you want to keep several sprints (fix versions), please add the new sprint to the tasks manually or via the command. In the case, all the previous sprints will be kept.

  12. Avatar

    Jerry says:

    April 16, 2015

    In my board that has features as swimlanes, the Epics show up as orphins. This is probably not right, so is this a bug or am I overseeing something?

  13. Valerie Andrianova

    Valerie Andrianova says:

    April 16, 2015

    Hi Jerry,
    Yes, this is an issue, you are correct. Here is the corresponding request: We’ll do our best to include it into 6.5 due to this Spring.

  14. Avatar

    Richard Clark says:

    November 4, 2015

    We are having the same issue which Rhona posted.
    The state of the features on the epic board are not automatically updated when the state of one of its subtasks is changed.
    This leaves the epic board to always have the same states unless manually changed.
    Is this something which can be done dynamically?

    Also, this article states for the epic board:

    “For the sprint in general, all the estimates and spent time are calculates automatically, due to enabled Time Tracking”

    This is happening for the features board (Task Estimations calculated automatically against the features), however, the epic board does not display this calculated value against features, therefore the epic does not calculate a value.
    Strangely though, next to the epic boards title, the overall estimate is displayed correctly.
    Could this be due to some missing configuration?

  15. Valerie Andrianova

    Valerie Andrianova says:

    November 6, 2015

    Hello Richard,
    1. You can use a custom workflow to set the rules to close a feature when all the sub-tasks are closed. The rule you need is described here:
    2. Your epics should accumulate features estimation and spent time if:
    * Feature are sub tasks of an epic.
    * You use the same fields for Estimation and Spent time for your features and epics and these fields are set in the Time Tracking settings for the project.

    • Avatar

      Richard Clark says:

      November 26, 2015

      Hi Valerie,

      While 1. sounds like a partial solution (still unable to update other statuses on parent task, such as “In Progress”, “Fixed”), the workflow you have linked to is infact missing the rule which resolves the parent task (only open present), it looks as if this has been a long outstanding issue:

      Are there any plans to address this, and also to add more workflows to support this articles suggested functionality?

      I have successfully accumulated the feature estimation on the epics board now. Previously, I had Features & Tasks from different Projects as part of the Epic, and the estimations did not accumulate.

  16. Avatar

    John says:

    August 9, 2016

    While the swim lanes will show all sub tasks for an epic, is there a way to show other linked issues? For example, if I associate an issue to an epic using the “is related to” link, can I get that related issue to show up on the swimlane for that epic?

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      August 9, 2016

      Hi John,
      Unfortunately, it’s not possible. Cards are sub-tasks when you have issues-based swimlanes (for example field=type, value=epic). If you choose values-based swimlanes, you’ll get all the issues matching the chosen value under the swimlane. For example, from field=assignee value= Valerie, Anna, etc. Hope it might help.

  17. Avatar

    melanie says:

    November 18, 2016

    I am trying to create some release notes where I want to exclude an epic as it was not released. How do I search my issues and say exclude epic io-631?

    I tried Epic: io-631 just to list all this issues in that epic but that didn’t work.

    • Valerie Andrianova

      Valerie Andrianova says:

      November 21, 2016

      Hello Melanie,
      Please try #Epic -io-631 search request to get all the epics, excluding io-631.


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