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5 Jira Tips To Improve Transparency and Predictability

Atlassian’s Jira is the most pervasive tracking and software management tool for Agile teams. However, the flexibility it allows can be both a blessing and a curse. In a previous blog post, we discussed 6 Challenges To Predictable Software Delivery in Agile. Number six was “Overly Customized Tools”. As developers of the Hakkiri platform which integrates with Jira, we see no end of different Jira configurations. We’ve even helped some organizations through game-changing refactorings of their Jira setup. In doing so, we share some of our tips to ensuring Jira is enhancing, rather than hindering, your team’s productivity:

Tip #1: One Jira Project == One Team == One Board

Jira's nomenclature of a ‘project’ can, from the get-go, lead organizations astray. Commonly a project is created for each... well, project -- or product, or code repository. We recommend against this. Taking this route can lead to a spiderweb of Jira projects that need to be found and joined in order to determine the full body of work. This can limit the transparency that can be gained with Jira.

Our approach is equating a Jira Project to an Agile Team. In our observation of how Jira is evolving, this also aligns most closely with what Atlassian is doing with their own product extensions, such as Jira Roadmaps.

In addition to equating one Jira Project to one Agile Team, we also extend this to the Scrum or Kanban board you create. The JQL for the board should be plain and simple, looking like this:

project = KEY ORDER BY Rank ASC

Note that this query results in ALL the issues in ONE project showing up on the board. If you are filtering down within the project, you need to be very careful you don’t lose visibility into where other tickets could have gone.

Tip #2: Define Minimal Workflow States

Have you ever met a developer on an Agile team that loves the number of states they need to move their tickets through? Or a product owner who raves about all the required fields that get in their face when just trying to clean things up? Maybe their boss or administrator thought it was useful, but the people doing the work surely don’t enjoy the speed bumps. For organizations that may have gone overboard with their workflows in the pursuit of being Agile, we say this - Using Jira does not make you Agile, it simply facilitates your Agile process. Agile was born from simplicity - post-it notes on a wall, we encourage organizations to keep that spirit when they move from post-its on a wall to tickets in a database.

For example, let’s say your Scrum teams are doing two-week sprints. As a matter of practice, user stories are broken down so teams can accomplish a number of them throughout the timebox. Based on that, let’s say each ticket takes anywhere from 1-4 days to complete. How many states does your workflow have? We’ve literally seen some that exceed 20 states. So for those 1-day user stories, you’re making a transition every hour or less? It is hard to imagine these are adding much value.

Check out what we recommend as a robust and simple workflow on the Atlassian Marketplace.

Tip #3: Share Configuration Schemes Across Projects

Jira administration can be a large burden on an organization. One area where the complexity of a configuration can explode is with the different schemes that are set-up behind the scenes. Atlassian has made this more challenging for administrators in recent years as they’ve moved to make it easier for each project to have its own configuration. For example, when you set-up a Classic Project in Jira, if you’re not careful, by default it will create a whole new set of configuration schemes for each project. This is an administrative nightmare that you won’t realize until you need to add a new field for a Salesforce integration or the like. It can take days to reduce all these newly created schemes back onto a common one. Similarly, Jira Cloud has introduced Next-Gen Projects. Again, the spirit here is to improve the usability for the team to customize their configurations. While it is a great idea in theory, your organization will accumulate a lot of debt and added burden in other areas for tracking and reporting.

The idea behind these changes Atlassian has made is to give teams more flexibility to customize workflows to their own liking. We caution against this as it comes with a high administrative cost and can impact transparency, which directly damages predictability.

Tip #4: Simplify Over Automating

We have a general principle around automation in Jira. If you’re needing to automate something, you may have already made your set-up too complicated. Before automating transitions in a workflow, take a step back to see if you can simplify something first. There is a large hidden cost to automation - higher administrative burden, the need to add resources to support them, unexpected behaviors, and the potential overall slowdown of your Jira instance. We’re not saying all automation is bad, but it should be a point to check yourself and ask hard questions about what is really needed.

Tip #5: Let Customizations Emerge

One of the 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto is, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” We think this also applies to your Jira configuration. Avoid the tendency to do large up-front workflow designs before anyone begins even using the tool. Keep it simple and as new needs emerge, experiment on a small scale and let successful ones become part of your global shared configuration - only after they are proven to have value.

Hakkiri Brings Transparency and Predictability To Your Jira Instance

Hakkiri empowers software organizations with our Continuous Clarity Engine™ to deliver products with speed and predictability. Our platform has a robust integration with Jira that connects in minutes no matter what your set-up looks like. It supports Cloud and Server, Classic and Next-Gen projects. While we support all types of set-ups, we have some experience with what leads to maximum transparency and predictability. If you’re feeling like you hate Jira or that the tool is in your way, we are happy to discuss how our services can help you get to a better spot.

Robert Orefice

Written by Robert Orefice

Robert Orefice is the Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder of Hakkiri. He has previously served in senior leadership roles across Technology, Product and Portfolio/Program Management at Eze Software Group, WebMD and Aetion. In each of these roles he has directed Agile transformations with an emphasis on blending the right mix of tools and processes to drive a great team culture, while also giving the necessary visibility to executive stakeholders. Previous to his work in the software industry, Robert spent over 12 years as a microprocessor design engineer and methodology lead at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The process discipline, iterative engineering workflows, and demanding quality requirements from the semiconductor industry have enabled him to bring a unique perspective into Agile software development.