Hey there and welcome to another article on the Nave blog where we talk all things Agile project management. My name is Sonya Siderova, I’m the founder and CEO of Nave, and today, I’d like to share with you my insights on the best and the worst Jira features as well as some tips on how to get the most out of this tool.

What Is Jira?

Probably needless to say (still, let’s stick to a proper introduction), Jira is a software application used for project management and issue tracking.

The tool, developed by the Australian software company Atlassian, has become widely used by agile development teams to manage their work. Still, is Jira really the most optimal Agile project management tool?

Sure enough, Atlassian promotes Agile project management by including both Scrum and Kanban boards into Jira projects. However, they are neither the creators of this approach nor did they build Jira specifically around it.

The fact is, there are no native features to support some of the basic agile practices. The good news? Jira allows for full-scale customizations.

With more than 5,000 apps available on the Atlassian Marketplace, you have the flexibility to implement literally any project management method in Jira.

Jira Use Cases

Jira is flexible enough to help different types of teams manage their work. What was originally a bug and issue tracker has now evolved into a tool used to test and deploy software products, provide customer support, and manage non-IT projects.

  • Jira for agile teams. Jira works great for teams who practice Agile methodologies. It makes it easy for team members to visualize workflows and track their progress in real-time.
  • Jira for software development teams. Jira is a popular choice among engineering teams as it can be used for every stage of the software development journey.
  • Jira for test case management. Jira enables QA teams to test software effectively and iteratively. Some of the most popular features for this use case are customized screens and workflows that automate the testing process.
  • Jira for project management teams. As an all-rounder tool, Jira can be set up to fit any project type. Marketing, sales, and legal teams can use Jira just as effectively as software teams.

Pros and Cons of Using Jira

Even though Jira is one of the most popular project management tools in the market, it comes with its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s break them down.

Jira Pros

  • Integration. Probably the biggest pro of using Jira is that it allows easy integration with other 3rd party applications.
  • Visualization. Jira is a great tool for visualizing your work items. It is especially effective when your work is moving through multiple teams.
  • Customization. Jira is extremely customizable. You’ll be able to tailor a Jira workflow to every process you support.

Jira Cons

  • Long learning curve. Jira is not immediately intuitive to a new user. It usually requires a lot of learning and that comes with additional cost and time investment.
  • Lack of standardization. Jira provides a lot of bells and whistles. If you don’t have an established approach to organizing your work, the more you grow, the harder it will become to maintain your system.
  • Reporting. Even though Jira provides a set of predefined reports, they are not enough to manage your workflows effectively and make the most of your improvement efforts. More on this in just a moment so bear with me here!

The 3 Best Features of Jira

Let’s explore some of the best Jira features you can leverage to facilitate teamwork and get your work done in the most efficient manner.

Work in Progress Limits

The ability to set up WIP limits on your columns in Jira by far is one of the most powerful Jira features.

Why? Adopting this practice will enable your team to immediately switch their focus from starting new work to finishing outstanding work (and ultimately getting more things done!).

Work In Progress (WIP) limits are just that, limits on the number of issues that can be “In Progress” at any one time. A WIP limit should be applied to each work in progress state in your workflow.

Moving cards backward on your Kanban board - knowledge discovery process

Once the WIP limit has been reached, no new work items should enter that state until one of the outstanding items is completed.

WIP limits keep your work from getting stuck before completion. It’s a common pitfall for a busy team. When outstanding tasks must be cleared out first, the whole team is able to focus on resolving the issues in your workflow first.

Make sure you take advantage of this Jira feature right away! Not sure how to set WIP limits on your columns when you’re just getting started? Here’s a handy guide

Flagging an Issue

Even though Jira flags haven’t been developed specifically to indicate issues as blocked, that’s how this feature is most commonly used.

Visualizing and emphasizing your blocked work should be an essential part of your agile practices. This is because managing blockers effectively helps you improve service delivery by avoiding the same impediments from recurring.

Remember, a blocked work item is still an in-progress work item, a commitment, a piece of value your customers are waiting for. So make sure to use a Jira flag to mark the card you’re unable to continue working on and treat blocked work the same way you treat the rest of your work. This way, you will encourage an early and swift resolution of blockers standing in the way of oncoming work.

Now, you might be wondering, okay, Sonya why can’t we just create a blocked column instead?

I understand where this is coming from. Actually, I’ve been there before! If you’re eager to learn from my experience, here are the three mistakes I made by introducing a dedicated blocked column (+ what I learned from them!)

Automation

The automation engine in Jira can be especially useful when it comes to enforcing explicit process policies.

What do I mean by that? Think about what you should do when a high-priority item enters the workflow or how you should deal with any bugs popping up as the work moves forward.

In Agile project management, we set rules that the team follows to move the work towards completion. We call these explicit policies. These policies dictate what should happen in different scenarios in order to ensure that the tasks move smoothly through the process.

There are two main goals that come with this concept. Firstly, we give teams the autonomy to handle different situations on their own (especially emergencies). And secondly, the policies are specifically designed to optimize our delivery workflow for predictability.

Use automation to configure the way your Jira system should behave in certain scenarios following your process policies.

For example, say you have an explicit policy that requires team members to escalate issues with a due date in less than five days. You can set an automation rule that searches for issues that match this criterion and sends a Slack message to your team requesting a follow-up.

Want to take this concept a step further? Here’s how to set and manage your explicit process policies

The 3 Worst Jira Features

Now that we’ve gone through some of the best features Jira has to offer, let’s take a look at the features that are… not so great.

Time Tracking Jira Feature

The time tracking feature in Jira lets your team record the time they spend working on an issue.

Here is the thing. Unless you track billable time, this feature is useless. Time tracking does not lead to improvements in your delivery performance. This is due to one simple reason – time spent at a desk doesn’t necessarily translate into productive time.

Productivity metrics should focus on achievements and outcomes rather than clocked hours.

Instead of tracking time, measure the basic flow metrics – cycle time, throughput, and work in progress, and optimize the predictability of your delivery process.

Nave plugin for Jira

Agile businesses across the globe are using the Nave Plugin for Jira to analyze their workflows and improve their performance. See a dashboard with your data now (Nave comes with a 14-day free trial, no CC required)

By focusing on your main flow metrics, you’ll be able to keep delivery times down, improve your customer satisfaction, and sustain high levels of employee engagement and motivation.

Issues Estimation Jira Feature

Here’s the description provided by Jira regarding the issues estimation feature: “Estimating stories in your backlog helps you predict how long it would take you to deliver certain portions of the backlog. Note that this discussion refers to the best practices we’ve implemented as the main path in Jira Software.”.

Estimating issues using relative complexity measurement won’t help you predict how long it will take to deliver your work, and here is why.

Making delivery commitments based on judgment or gut feeling is not reliable. To be able to deliver on time, you need an approach based on facts, rather than intuition.

Predictions based on effort, made either by counting hours (or story points), can land you in hot water, not only because they are subjective but also because they don’t take into account the time your work spends waiting in our delivery workflow.

And the waiting time in your workflow would usually represent between 60% and 95% of your delivery times!

issues estimation Jira feature

So, instead of estimating your work, use your past performance data to forecast when you’ll be done. This approach takes into account all the waiting time in your workflow and is faster, cheaper and much more reliable than estimating!

Performance Reporting Jira Features

Even though Jira provides a set of reports for agile teams like sprint velocity and burndown charts, some of the most pressing questions remain unanswered.

  • How to determine the amount of work you can commit to in the next release? Jira doesn’t provide a data-driven approach to deal with this question.
  • What is slowing you down? Where is the bottleneck in the system that’s preventing you from hitting your targets? There is no report that clearly states which part of the process set you off track.
  • Where are the opportunities for improvement? How do you inspect and adapt? You can certainly talk about what went well and what went wrong in the past 2 weeks but what’s the data-driven approach that will help you make an objective decision?

The Kanban method gives a straightforward answer to these questions. More and more Scrum teams realize the benefits of adopting Kanban to manage their work more effectively. And the benefits are countless.

Adopting practices from both worlds is a very effective strategy, one that will provide your business with a strong competitive edge.

You can leverage Kanban analytics to streamline your Scrum events and here is how to do it

Top Jira Alternatives

Now, if at this point Jira doesn’t seem to be the best choice for your business context, here are some of the best alternatives you can consider.

Asana

Like Jira, Asana helps teams organize, track, and manage their work. The main difference is that Asana is suitable for projects beyond IT where teams across departments need to collaborate.

Asana has incredible features like brainstorming, calendar management, discussion boards and real-time editing.

If you’re looking for a versatile project management tool that’s flexible enough to work across your teams, Asana is a better bet than Jira.

Trello

Trello is one of the most popular project management tools on the market. It’s also one of the easiest to learn.

Your projects use a three-part hierarchy: boards, lists and cards. You can create and organize these elements however you want, based on the agile methodology you’ve adopted. In Trello’s own words, “a board is a list of lists, filled with cards, used by you and your team.”

Trello excels as a lightweight visual work management platform. Plus, there are thousands of Power-Ups in the Trello marketplace that will enable you to shape your workflow however you want.

Want to learn how to set up Trello the “agile” way? We’ve got you covered

Azure DevOps

Azure DevOps is a popular tool developers use to track and manage their projects. It’s also suitable for other cross-functional teams collaborating on a piece of software.

What’s neat about Azure DevOps is the fact teams can view a project from start to finish, as well as all the connections associated with different stages and work items. Using Azure DevOps, teams can track and view every step in the project, from ideation to deployment.

It also comes with a handful of very useful native agile features, for example splitting your columns into Doing and Done which is a must-have when it comes to implementing a Kanban pull system.

If you are looking for a tool to help you manage the entire lifecycle of a software application development and improve your business agility, Azure DevOps will be your best option.

Here is your action item: Regardless of whether you use Jira (or any other tool) to manage your projects, stay on schedule, and deliver on your commitments, you need to make the most of your data. So, if you haven’t tried Nave yet, now is the time

Nave will connect to your project management tool and it will build the analytical charts you need to make reliable delivery commitments and hit your targets consistently (all while managing happy, engaged, and motivated teams!).

You know what they say, the best time to get started was yesterday, the next best time is today! Nave comes with a 14-day free trial, no CC required. Go ahead and explore a dashboard with your data now

Okay, we’ve covered a lot. We talked about the best and the worst Jira features when it comes to Agile project management. But hear me out on this one.

At the end of the day, you can start an agile process with a whiteboard and a pack of sticky notes.

Jira and similar tools are simply there to take that process to the next level.

But first and foremost, you need the right strategy in place. Then, you can tweak Jira (and pretty much any other project management tool) to support that strategy.

I’m not saying that it will be straightforward. What I’m saying is there is no perfect tool out there. So, start with the strategy and pick the tool that will help you implement it easily.

Alright my friend, I hope you enjoyed this article. If you know someone who is struggling with making Jira work for their use case or is considering adopting it, share this blog post with them. I believe they’ll find it valuable.

I wish you a productive day ahead and I’ll see you next week at the same time, same place. Bye for now!

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