JIRA: what is it and how agile teams use it?

Project management is a journey rarely traveled on calm seas. With the complexity of the modern world and the multitude of business landscapes we need to navigate, it’s much harder to keep track of the different moving parts that come with any given task (likely because you are juggling different tasks in the first place). As issues arise between different projects, you’ll need to be agile enough to address these different situations while ensuring progress moves smoothly. 

These situations can almost make you feel like you’re on a sinking ship. Without the proper guidance to see what’s wrong, you could quickly find yourself underwater. But a captain doesn’t steer the ship alone, and the best crews have an agile first mate to help them identify the best way forward. To pinpoint the issues that arise in your own project “ship” as well as manage the rest of the tasks to keep it afloat, you’ll need a reliable companion to help you keep track of things. Luckily for you, this first mate is virtual, and its name is JIRA.

JIRA: An Overview

Before you go on thinking that we just made up some sort of science fiction concept to prove our point, JIRA is definitely very real and utilized by different companies across a variety of industries. JIRA is a piece of proprietary software that was developed by Atlassian, a software company based in Australia, that was initially conceptualized as an efficient bug tracker and issue logger for other developers. Since its inception, it has evolved into being one of the most versatile and agile work management software available in the market. JIRA goes beyond focusing on software development and has begun influencing the workflows and processes found in finance, HR, operations, and even marketing. 

Atlassian itself is a powerhouse for software focused on bettering the different processes and tasks that are much more integrated into virtual spaces. As such, they’ve expanded their product list beyond JIRA to include other software products that synchronize well with other platforms often found in today’s remote working environment. 

But JIRA remains Atlassian’s powerhouse and flagship software, envisioned today to not only track issues along development but to assist you in planning for the process itself as well as monitor its release in real-time with options to automate specific workflows for better efficiencies. 

Different JIRA Packages

JIRA itself is free to use for a limited amount of collaborative users utilizing the same account, maxing itself out at around 10 users. Today, JIRA has been developed into four separate software programs that focus on different aspects of project work management.

JIRA Software (Core)

The first and naturally most prevalent JIRA software is its core product line, eponymously titled JIRA Software. This foundational JIRA version is the most versatile out of the current iteration of JIRA, usable by managers, project leads, designers, and even product owners. Included in the JIRA suite are the standard bug tracking and issues reporting functions that agile teams can utilize, as well as different task management tools that can help you better manage your software development, product roadmap, and more. 

JIRA Work Management

Included with the JIRA core software (and other JIRA modules) is the second JIRA program known as JIRA Work Management. This software module focuses on the different non-technical processes that more general operational users will find useful, such as abstract task management and workflow approvals. Being the lesser technical of the first two JIRA modules, JIRA Work Management is often used by business analysts, legal experts, HR managers, and even marketing directors. 

Work management encompasses a large chunk of the administrative aspects of a particular business, ranging from document tracking, marketing campaign project overviews, budget approvals, and more. 

JIRA Service Management

Moving further from general work management is the JIRA Service Management module which is a specialty software that can better develop service management within organizations. Expect different stakeholder management leads to be utilizing this JIRA version, ranging from DevOps, IT, Customer Support, Services, and more. 

JIRA Service management’s main objective is to allow for more efficient services to be executed throughout your organization, giving your customers an easier way to reach your company and your support agents a more effective method of addressing their needs. 

JIRA Align

Likely the most enterprise-specific JIRA module, the JIRA Align system is tasked with connecting the different dimensions of any given business-level strategy, such as product, portfolio, program, and more, into one software system for better alignment organizationally. 

JIRA Align is an advanced software module to be utilized for a specific company, which is essentially scoped out to execute organizational-wide agile transformations and scale up these agile processes as the company evolves. JIRA Align also takes into account the specific situational contexts in which the tool is used, incorporating learnings from successful iterations of the process as seen in their usage of the Spotify Model, which Atlassian describes as a “people-driven, autonomous framework for scaling agile while emphasizing the importance of culture and network”.

Diving into the JIRA Software

Using JIRA can be a bit of a learning curve if you decide to begin using it without any prior context on its functionality and usage. Used properly, JIRA can help managers identify and contextualize the bigger picture toward the individual aspects of any particular task. Not only that, but the roadmap that acts as JIRA’s main output can help users find a flexible solution that gives them a view of their project's various salient touchpoints, such as team progress, dependency tracking, iteration history and management, as well as collaborative sharing between internal and external stakeholders. 

JIRA’s usage can also be enriched by understanding some of the key terms that go into the software itself, which are Issues, Projects, Workflows, and Boards. 

Issues are what made JIRA what it is today in that it represents a single “work item” that you and/or your team will be tracking from creation up until its fulfillment. Contrary to what you might initially think issues to be (such as customer support tickets and the like), issues can also be understood as the general tasks that need to be addressed in relation to the project or initiative being tackled. Based on Atlassian’s product page, these can range from “feature[s] being developed by a software team, a to-do item for a marketing team, or a contract that needs to be written by a legal team.”

A combination of different issues that share a common relationship (such as an overarching goal or issue type) is known as a project. These projects allow you to organize the different issues you’re managing into visually efficient workflows so that you can easily identify their overall status. Boards are another term that denotes the visual dashboards generated by JIRA to better get a sense of a workflow that is attached to any given project (not to be confused with Klaxoon Board, with which JIRA also integrates). 

Lastly, workflows are what sets this JIRA version apart from its original iteration. These workflows “represent the sequential path an issue takes from creation to completion”. Having properly defined workflows can better standardize how each team member should fulfill a particular issue as well as allow you to see where potential errors and inefficiencies sprout from. 

Creating and Managing Issues with JIRA

Issues remain at the heart of JIRA despite its evolution throughout its two decades of existence, with its additional components expanding the functionality and scope of what these issues can represent. 

Define Your Project

The first thing you’ll want to do as an owner of a JIRA workflow is to establish what the project is in the first place. This will influence the type of issues you will be handling as well as how you choose to approach each one with an agile mindset. There are generally two types of projects you’ll be managing: Team-managed and Company-managed. 

Team-managed projects are reserved for autonomously working teams that require a specific working process unique to the group. These types of processes are usually limited and contained, which will require additional workflow definition down the line. 

Company-managed projects are utilized for teams that follow a set standard workflow that is often assigned from the top, which is then managed by JIRA owners. This cuts down on workflow development as it will likely have already been established, though it does limit the amount of control your team has on tackling specific issues. 

Organize Your Boards

The next thing you’ll want to do is to decide how you choose to organize your project (and other projects running simultaneously) on your team’s dashboard. There are different templates you can choose from, but JIRA offers three main options to start with.

The first template you can utilize is the Sprint template, which is an agile methodology best suited for teams that work off an established set of tasks known as “sprint backlogs”. This template emphasizes the kind of work that is done in regular intervals with an almost standardized time from the start to the end of a particular development task. 

The second template you can use is the Kanban template, another agile methodology that emphasizes the visual organization of tasks under specific headings to better understand their status at a quick glance. Compared to Sprint, Kanban is best suited for teams looking to better manage in-progress work, identify time needed for work yet to be done, as well as review finished tasks for better execution excellence moving forward. 

Lastly, you can opt for JIRA’s original bug tracking to utilize a simpler task-based list that clearly illustrates the kind of issues you and your team need to tackle. The kind of template you will be using will be highly dependent on your team’s specific context and the nature of the task you’re looking to complete.

Create Your First Issue

You can now create your first issue on JIRA, which is essentially a task that needs to be monitored from start to finish. Simply describe the type of tasks that need to be done and assign the appropriate workflow tag of your choosing. These tags are defined by you as the JIRA owner and can follow simple statuses such as “In Progress” and “Under Review”. Key tags to include here are “Open” and “Closed” to illustrate whether a task has just been opened or has just recently been completed. 

Each new issue will be added to your project’s backlog, which can then be visually inputted into a larger roadmap that acts as a simplified Gantt chart to better understand the timelines between different tasks (as well as how they contribute to the project as a whole). 

With JIRA, you can also begin automating issues to take on a specific action once they meet certain criteria. The type of automation here is incredibly flexible and can range from the auto-assignment of a certain task to auto-completion, and more. 

Using JIRA Across Platforms

The scope and breadth of JIRA can be daunting for a lot of people to take in, especially if you’re navigating the waters of project management for the first time. It can also be specifically tricky to start using this software while currently using another one entirely. 

It’s good, then, to note that JIRA is easily integrated with a variety of collaboration platforms, such as Klaxoon, in order to join the information and processes you’ve already set up with JIRA’s suite of functionalities. 

JIRA’s full list of functionalities is also too wide to be fully taken into any single article, and as such, one of the best ways to learn is to begin utilizing it for yourself in smaller tasks. So give the software program a spin and see how it can help you bring some order to your ship as you cruise towards your final destination.

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