When I first started running projects utilizing an Agile methodology, the projects were fairly simple and straightforward. Many of them used Agile to prove that this methodology could work. These projects were relatively easy to manage without sophisticated tools, and Agile-specific oversight did not require vast tracking. Team member’s communication was mostly verbal, as the projects’ size and scope were small and self-contained.
Then reality set in, and I ran a large and complex project, which required teams in different time zones, lots of business input and interactions, and an aggressive delivery schedule. Just as significantly, no tools that supported the Agile methodology right out of the box existed. Fortunately, the project was completed on time.
However, the two things I remember most were that my MS Project plan looked like the Watson and Crick DNA Double Helix Discovery Document (you will have an incredible headache trying to follow along). Additionally, my Requirements Document/Bug Tracking Excel file had many refer backs and sheets to the point where Excel could not efficiently handle the intricacies.
Over time, I got better at using the tools I selected to manage Waterfall-based projects – Project and Excel and learned to adapt them for Agile. But it was clumsy, and the qualities inherent with an Agile project were not built-in. I chugged along with this software in my toolset, all the while hoping to find a solution that had Agile project management built into its core. I reviewed several tools over the years, and many provided some assistance, but the Holy Grail was still out there.
Then, viola, I heard about JIRA. The first thing I remember thinking when I listened to the name JIRA was – “what a silly name.” I later came to know that Jira is a Japanese nickname for Godzilla, and I was intrigued. Godzilla was a favorite monster when I was a young child. (For those who remember the tracking tool Bugzilla, I believe they come from the same place). Long story short, JIRA has grown from small error tracking software to a suite of integrated tools that support the entire project life cycle of an Agile-based development effort. I will spare sharing the toolset’s growing pains but want to share how JIRA can help organizations manage even the most complex of Agile projects.
JIRA contains several different toolsets integrated by Atlassian, the developer of the software. The company has roots in Australia and provides a significant level of support to customers – from answering configuration questions to working with power users who want to stretch the toolset’s capabilities. The tool runs either in the Cloud (for forward-thinking organizations) or locally on a server inside the firewall. The two primary components of JIRA are JIRA Core and JIRA Software.
Atlassian describes Core as the suite’s workflow center that tracks all of the project’s workflows from a business perspective. The features include:
- Business Project Templates: Predefined workflows that help manage tasks and are customizable to fit company standards and project requirements.
- Issue Details: The comments, important dates, and any attachments are captured and managed centrally.
- Notifications: To manage and automatically inform the task owners and critical team members of upcoming delivery dates, statuses, assignments, and any feedback needed. It is a fantastic time-saver and productivity enhancer.
- Search Capability: A search function can scan the entire project for any number of predetermined or customized items (e.g. Please identify and communicate all tasks that are due this week and also include any task that is in arrears).
- Dashboards: The ability to configure out-of-the-box, custom reports and dashboards to help stakeholders determine project status, acceleration rates, and possible risk areas. These are amazingly easy to develop, even complex one-off reports.
JIRA Software is the Agile-based portion of the software suite that takes Core and tailors it for use by Agile teams. While this article focuses on the project management portion of JIRA, their Software component has been developed to automatically track and measure relevant information about the project. Thereby, it automatically provides the requisite data a Project Manager (PM) needs to collect, analyze and utilize older PM software suites.
JIRA Software supports any Agile development and project management. Examples of functionality that I’ve found to be advantageous include:
- Ability to plan project work, eliminate backlogs, and plan for upcoming sprints.
- Ability to create, capture and manage Scrum Boards.
- Resource and Time estimators determine risk and match resources with tasks based on desired criteria.
- Reporting with charts and dashboards, including burndown and velocity determinations.
JIRA allows the Project Manager (PM) to manage projects rather than spending excessive time collecting mundane data then formatting and reporting on that data. This work is all done for you, and it meets Agile requirements. The PM is free to analyze the data and determine where the backlogs are, where the risks are, and collaborate with the team to deliver the project as effectively and timely as possible.
There are lots of competitors to JIRA these days. But I always remember what I learned early on when IBM ruled the Information Technology world, “No one ever lost out by choosing IBM.” I feel the same way about JIRA. There are many other choices, but you cannot go wrong with JIRA as your toolset of choice when running an Agile-based shop.
In closing, Atlassian provides an incredible amount of material about JIRA on its website. There are informative and easy-to-understand tutorials lots of folks are using to learn the basics of managing projects with JIRA. They are free and, as noted, located on the Atlassian website, which allows for easy downloads of the software so you can see for yourself what JIRA is all about. I think you will soon agree – it’s the best!