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November 06, 2023

#BigTip: Keep tabs on your projects with custom column views

Gantt
Hybrid Management
Project Management
WBS & Backlog Structuring

Individual projects have lots of moving parts, each with its timeline. When you combine multiple projects, knowing the status of each one is essential. Whether you execute one project or multiple, you’ll want to keep tabs on everything.

In BigPicture, you can view and track project progress in two different ways: with the help of Jira cards on the Agile board, and the Gantt chart along with WBS (work breakdown structure). We covered Jira cards in detail in a previous article. Today, we’ll talk about column views you can customize to keep tabs on your project(s) and even entire project portfolios.

What are column views in BigPicture?

If you manage Waterfall or Hybrid projects, you’re familiar with the Gantt chart. This tool shows work items as task bars that cascade along the Gantt timeline. In BigPicture, the Gantt chart comes with the tree data structure of the entire project called the work breakdown structure.

WBS and Gantt chart timeline in BigPicture.

 

Here, the WBS view consists of various vertical columns, each providing a different piece of data on the work item (like start and end dates for individual project tasks and phases). Columns display data for your project in a clear, tabular way, with each column titled, and each row showing information for one project item only. Likewise, the column view is the collection of data columns in your WBS section. 

You might wonder where the data in those columns comes from: It’s stored in BigPicture fields and Jira fields. The data displayed in your individual columns reflects your field mapping set up in the BigPicture app. So to make sure your column views show the data you expect, you’ll want to review your settings.

Where can I find the column view?

You’ll find column views in those BigPicture modules and features that support tree data structure. These are:

  • Overview module
  • Scope module
  • Gantt module
  • WBS widget
  • Gantt gadget/dashboard item

You don’t have to be working with the Gantt chart to read data on your project. The Scope and Overview modules will also provide you with lots of helpful information. However, because they’re three different modules, their purpose is also different. So you might want to arrange your column views differently. 

Overview module

The Overview module is the command center for all your projects, programs, and all other initiatives being executed in your organization. Its role is to provide you with a high-level perspective on all the projects, programs, and portfolios you and other managers run. At this level, you won’t see individual tasks for every project in the structure of this module. But you’ll see every parent initiative (box) that’s part of the entire structure. 

For example, you’ll see an Agile project along with its Sprints or iterations. That Agile project, in turn, can be a child to a larger program that is also a parent to other projects.

And because the role of the Overview module is to show you high-level data, you can create views that roll up data on big clusters of projects as well as individual projects. For instance, you can see the overall cost of the program, or the remaining estimate on the portfolio execution. 

So in a way, the column views you create in this module are portfolio views, because they show data on more than one project or initiative.

An example column view for the collection of diverse projects and portfolios.

Scope module 

The Scope module is the WBS-like task list of your project but without the Gantt timeline. It gives you an organized overview of your entire project structure. So unlike the Overview module, here you can focus your column views to show you holistic data on one particular project.

Additionally, the app now comes with a “Detail view” panel that displays a detailed Jira issue view. Using this view, you can inspect individual issues without switching back to Jira.

For instance, you can customize your views to focus on the progress of project iterations, phases, or stages. A view consisting of columns like time tracking and progress on parent items will help you monitor the health of your project. 

If the number of columns doesn’t fit your current view, the horizontal scoll bar will appear. This way, you’ll be able to conveniently scroll along your columns, even if there’re dozens of them.

The structure of the entire project scope along with the issue details for the selected work item.

Gantt module

The Gantt module hosts a Gantt chart, WBS, and Infobar. But the column view applies only to the WBS side. This means you have less space for your columns than in Scope. Especially when you want to keep WBS and timeline open in your view at the same time

That’s why, when customizing your column views in Gantt, you might want to avoid adding too many columns. And keep them focused on more granular work items, like tasks and user stories. For example, they can help you track progress, time, and status on individual tasks.

Like in the Scope module, if you decide to add several columns, a horizontal scroll will enable you to conveniently see columns that are out of your view.

A work breakdown structure with essential data columns beside the Gantt timeline.

 

What if you want to see more data when working with Gantt WBS, Scope task list, or Overview box list? Don’t worry! You can create dozens of unique views and switch between them. (More on that in a sec.)

WBS widget

A WBS widget is a tiny (but handy) snippet of your project work structure you can add to your Jira issue view. It shows only the issue you’re viewing in Jira and its parents on the WBS list. Even though it shows only a small portion of your entire project to begin with, you can customize the columns even more to show only the data you’re interested in.

A WBS widget for Jira issue OA-130 showing the said issue and its parent.

 

The widget offers the least space for extra columns so you may want to keep the number of columns to the bare minimum. Especially because, unlike in the Overview, Scope, and Gantt modules, you can’t save your current column view.

Gantt gadget/dashboard item

The Gantt gadget (called a dashboard item on Jira Cloud) is a tiny but useful tool. It enables you to look at your Gantt chart directly on the Jira dashboard or Confluence page. Think of it as a miniature of your project WBS and Gantt timeline. But because it’s just a mirror of the view in the Gantt module, you can’t add or remove columns on the gadget, only change their aggregation method.

The Gantt widget/dashboard item as seen on the Jira dashboard.

 

The last thing to cover is how to create and save new column views and aggregate data on them.

Creating custom column views

Each view is made of a series of individual columns. This gives you the flexibility to decide which columns you want to see and in what order.

Adding/removing a new column view

To add a new column to your column view, navigate to the end of the column view and click the cog icon. From the drop-down menu, choose the field value you want to track (you can scroll for it or type the name in a search bar). For example, “Time tracking.” 

If there’s a column on the list you no longer need in your view, click the trash icon to remove it.

The list of values for your new column includes BigPicture and native Jira fields.

 

A new column will appear. If you want to change the order of your columns, use the drag-and-drop feature.

Aggregating data on columns

Because the columns represent different data fields, you can aggregate them. But not every column has the same aggregation method available — if at all. 

For example, an “Assignee” is a non-numeric value, so you can’t aggregate it. But you can display it by icon, name, or both. On the other hand, “Time tracking” is a numeric data type that you can aggregate in ascending or descending order (minimum and maximum). You can also sum up individual values with or without the parent item.

To access and change the aggregation method, click the wrench icon that appears when you mouse over the column. (Please note that Icon, Key, and Summary columns have no aggregation or display options.)

You can aggregate numeric data on children and/or parent work items depending on the data type.

 

What if your organization has a robust project portfolio and the sheer amount of boxes available in the Overview module is overwhelming? In that type of situation, data aggregation might be tricky. 

You can fix it with custom Jira filters that will limit the scope of your view to only selected projects or boxes. The app will aggregate the data on the columns according to the visible (filtered) work items. You can do the same for a large project while in the Scope and Gantt modules.

Creating a new column view

When you add or move a column, the app doesn’t automatically save those changes. To keep your custom column view, you’ll need to name and save it. When you do, you create a brand new custom view you can later switch to on the fly. 

First, click on the Current View option in the app’s upper menu and select “Manage Column Views” from the list.

The manage view option enables you to access the page where you can customize and save your column views.

 

On the next page, click the Add new Column View button, then name it and set its visibility mode (private or public). Confirm with the Create button.

On the final page, you drag and drop the fields from the list on the right to the workspace in the middle. Here, you can decide which columns you want to have in your view, set their aggregation method, pin them in place, or swap their order.

Additionally, if you select any task from your project in the “Preview” at the very bottom, you’ll have a snapshot of your new column view. When you’re done, don’t forget to save your work!

Drag and drop the columns representing the data you want to track. And then, aggregate them and arrange their order.

Switching between column views

Your new column view is saved and ready. 

Go back to the Overview/Scope/Gantt module. Click the Current View again and select the view you’ve just created. (You can also star it to keep it in your list of favorites.)

Click on your new column view on the list to switch to it.

Altering the current column view

What if you want to change your current view again at some point? In that case, you can either go back to the view editor or change your active view and then hit the floppy disk button that will appear next to the Current View button. (You’ll also see the “Modified” warning text next to the Current View drop-down menu.)

You can change any current view. But if you want to keep those changes, you’ll need to save them.

Sign up to try BigPicture for free

BigPicture helps you plan, build, and manage complex projects and portfolios. If you work with tree data structures when managing Classic or Hybrid projects, you can easily customize your column view to immediately see the data you want. The aggregation methods will additionally summarize or arrange the data. So that you can track the overall costs, time, progress, and many other values for individual projects and robust portfolios.

Sign up for a 30-day free trial and discover how BigPicture can help you build and execute projects more easily — no matter how big, complex, or unique they are. We also encourage you to join our live demo webinar. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see for yourself why more than 20,000 PPMs and their teams trust our software to build their amazing products.