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May 16, 2024

#BigTip: Setting your tasks for success: Project scheduling in BigPicture for Jira

Gantt
Scheduling & Roadmapping

Project scheduling is a process of organizing tasks on a timeline.

Viewing it from a low-level perspective, the project schedule determines task start and end dates. Looking at scheduled tasks from a high-level perspectScheduling mechanism: What impacts the task schedule (period)?ive, you’ll see a roadmap of elements that must be completed within specific dates throughout the project lifecycle.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the task scheduling mechanism in BigPicture’s Gantt module. You’ll master the concepts and logic behind the scheduling mechanism (auto-scheduling) and start scheduling your project tasks in no time.

Today, we’ll cover:

  1. Project scheduling inputs: Task start/end dates and period
  2. Scheduling mechanism: What impacts the task schedule (period)?

Project scheduling inputs: task start/end dates and period

Before we discuss how the scheduling mechanism works, let’s consider the project scheduling fundamental inputs (or scheduling drivers, if you will): task start date, task end date, and task period.

Start & end dates field mapping

In Jira, you schedule your issues by entering dates into the respective Jira field on the issue screen or the issue details screen.

You configure field mapping to synchronize those dates between Jira and BigPicture. The synchronization is bidirectional, so any changes in one app will be reflected in the other.

Field mapping tells BigPicture which fields it should examine when pulling data from Jira. For example, if you’ve mapped Jira’s Start Date field to BigPicture’s Start Date field, when you change the start date of your task, that date will be updated in Jira and BigPicture.

You can configure general field mapping for BigPicture and the custom one for each project. Field mapping settings remain the same for each box in which a given project lives.

So, even if you add the same project to two boxes and change the field mapping in one of the boxes, the app will also update the field mapping settings in the second box.

Only Jira/App Admins can access and edit field mapping settings (App Configuration > General > Fields).

Open the App Configuration page to access and edit general and custom field mapping settings. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, cloud)

 

In Jira, there’s a general configuration, which is often applied to all projects and boxes.

But if one project has a different field scheme (e.g., an “Owner” instead of an “Assignee”), BigPicture can create a custom field mapping that will apply to all boxes to which the project is added.

Setting start/end dates in BigPicture

You can manually add start/end dates to your tasks as you would in Jira — on the issue screen or issue task details. But there are more ways to schedule or reschedule dates for your tasks in BigPicture.

Inline editing of task dates

In BigPicture, every native Jira and BigPicture field can be represented as a column, and the start and end date fields are no exception. When you add them to your column view on the work breakdown structure (WBS) side, you can edit the start/end date values manually.

Just double-click the start or end date field on a task and enter the date (manually type it or use a date picker).

Easily change task dates on the fly using the inline editing feature in BigPicture. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, data center)

 

You can also edit start/end dates directly on the task details dialog in the Calendar, Gantt, and Resources modules.

You can schedule your task using the Task details dialog. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, Data Center)

Direct operations on a taskbar

In addition to inline editing, there are two ways to change task dates: by moving a taskbar or changing its length. You can carry out those operations in the Gantt and Resources modules, which both support task visualization in the form of taskbars.

  • If you move a taskbar along the Gantt timeline, you can change its dates (moving affects both dates, but the task period — task duration — remains the same).

  • If you stretch or shorten it, you’ll change its period and one of the dates (depending on whether you resize the taskbar from the left or right side).

Drag and drop on the calendar

The calendar module is also a great place for changing task dates.

Open the list with the tasks you have scheduled to be completed on a particular day. Then, drag the one you want to reschedule and drop it to move it to another day.

You can reschedule tasks directly on the calendar. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, data center)

Conversion to milestone

A milestone is a specific type of an issue.

When you convert a task to a milestone, its duration (period) is reduced to zero. Moreover, the milestone date is set to the end date you scheduled for the issue before converting it.

A diamond-shaped milestone in BigPicture. This item starts and ends the same day and lasts zero days.

Handling unscheduled or partly scheduled tasks

You can create tasks with one date or no dates at all. The task will appear on your task list (WBS), but you won’t see a taskbar for it. Once you define at least one date for your task, a taskbar will appear in the correct place on the Gantt timeline.

Tasks with no dates

You can schedule your task right on the timeline. A blank taskbar with a “+” (plus) sign will appear when you hover your mouse over a timeline. Move it to the desired date frame and then click to create (and schedule) a taskbar.

A blank taskbar allows you to schedule your tasks on the Gantt timeline.

 

Even though tasks with no dates appear on your WBS, the task scheduling mechanism doesn’t apply to them. (It’s tough to schedule something when the start and finish dates are unknown 🙂.)

When you assign dates, scheduling rules can kick in to accommodate those dates to the project requirements defined by your dependencies, task period alignment, or the relationship with parent tasks.

Tasks with one date

Tasks with a single date, like the end or start date, will also appear on your WBS. You’ll also see them on the Gantt timeline. The unscheduled side of the taskbar will be semi-transparent to indicate that the date is missing.

Task A1 has no start date. That’s why the left side of the taskbar is semi-transparent.

 

Partially scheduled tasks are subject to the scheduling mechanism. It means that you can change their mode or add dependency links to the scheduled side.

(You can draw links between unscheduled task sides, too, but they won’t influence your schedule — unless you add missing dates to the connected tasks.)

Scheduling tasks with one date or no dates

If your project includes hundreds or thousands of tasks, finding the ones with missing date(s) on the task list can be a chore. To find and schedule them quickly, go to the Resources module and open the Unscheduled tasks panel.

The Unscheduled tasks panel in the Resources module. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, cloud)

 

Then, drag and drop the task from the panel onto the resources grid to schedule and (re)assign them in one go.

Alternatively, you can group your tasks by the start and end date to locate the ones with no dates.

Task period in project scheduling

A task period is a timeframe or duration during which a certain task is expected to be completed. It’s a sum of working and non-working days. (BigPicture has special fields/columns for such days, which we’ll cover in a minute.)

There are two factors that determine it:

  1. Start date.
  2. Number of working days allocated for task completion.

What about the end date?

The end date is the natural result of these two factors. In other words, if the task takes x working days, the end date = the start date + the number of working days + any days off (e.g., weekends or absences).

For instance, if your task starts on Thursday and ends on Monday, its period will be five (calendar) days.

In this example, the period for the selected task is 16 days, out of which 4 are non-working days. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, data center)

Working with task period columns

BigPicture has two native fields you can add to your WBS column view: Duration Working Days and Duration Calendar Days. The Calendar Days column displays the total number of days the task takes, including non-working days.

You can inline edit the values in the Duration Working Days column, which gives the same results as the taskbar resize operation. When you edit the duration value in the Working Days column, the app will automatically calculate and update the task’s end date.

The “Duration” columns display the number of days needed for completion based on the task start and end dates. You can inline edit the Working Days to change the task period. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, data center)

 

If you want to clear both dates for your task quickly, delete the duration or set it to zero.

You can also use the app to determine your start or end date. If your task has only one date, enter its duration (working or calendar days).

  • If only the start date is present, the app will calculate and fill in the end date.

  • If only the end date is present, the app will calculate and fill in the start date.

Scheduling mechanism: What impacts the task schedule (period)?

The scheduling mechanism in BigPicture automatically (re)calculates the task period. And, as a result, task start/end dates. That rule applies to Jira issues and basic tasks.

The mechanism is subject to various constraints resulting from the scheduling settings. This means that sometimes, you won’t be able to reschedule a task (like moving it somewhere else) because the app will guard its schedule based on those constraints.

Let’s explore them in more detail.

Will your task be scheduled? Task scheduling criteria

There are five core criteria that tell you that the scheduling mechanism (automation) won’t work for your tasks:

  1. Task has no start and end dates (no dates means no task schedule)
  2. Task is closed (it has the status “Done”)
  3. Link between two tasks forms a circular dependency (making tasks mutually dependent)
  4. Task belongs to an archived or closed box
  5. Task is in a “locked” or “manual” period mode

(Unless, for example, you change the task status from “Done” to “In progress” or fix the circular dependency between the tasks. Then, auto-scheduling will work.)

In other cases, there are several factors that will impact your project schedule.

Task scheduling modes

With a scheduling mode, you determine whether to schedule a task manually or automatically. Modes let you decide how much control you want over task scheduling in your project.

Scheduling mode depends on the task structure — specifically the relationship between the parents and their children.

A tree-like graph representing a simplified project structure. The top elements are the parents to the lower elements – children. E.g., A Project is a parent to Epic A and Epic B, just like Epic A is a parent to Story A and Story B.

 

Scheduling modes decide how parents affect their children and how children affect their parents.

So parents and children can mutually influence their period (duration) in four ways, depending on the scheduling mode: auto bottom-up, auto top-down, manual, and locked.

Auto bottom-up mode

The bottom-up period mode means that the bottom WBS elements (children) determine the period of the upper elements (parents). For this mode to work, the parent element must have children.

When you set the parent task to the auto bottom-up mode and move its children, the parent task will expand or shorten to adjust to its children’s period.

In our example, we first changed the children’s periods by stretching the taskbars. As their periods expanded, so did the parents’ periods.

We also moved the parent, and all the children followed (moving changes the dates but not the period). Then, we tried to expand the parent, but the app prevented it.

The “auto” in the mode name means that the app automatically (re)schedules the dependent elements according to the dependency relationship.

Auto top-down mode

The top-down mode means the parent determines the duration boundaries for its children.

If the parent is set to a certain number of days, children can’t move beyond the period of their parent. You can’t stretch children beyond the parent’s start date, either.

But you can stretch them beyond the end date. If you have the “Period warning” enabled, the app will show you which children are beyond their parents’ periods in the top-down mode.

In our example, we first moved the parent, and the children followed. Then, we tried moving children beyond the parent’s start and end dates, but the app prevented this action.

Finally, we stretched one child from the left side — the app prevented the task from going beyond the parent’s start date.

Instead, the child’s taskbar grew on the right side and exceeded the parent’s period (the end date). When we stretched the second child’s taskbar on the right side, the app allowed it to go beyond the parent’s period (the end date).

The period warning colored the discrepancy between the parent’s period and the period of its children.

Locked mode

Task mode set to “Locked” means you cannot change its period (be it a parent or a child) — you won’t be able to move, stretch, or edit dates and period for it.

If a parent is in the locked mode, the period boundaries are also locked for the children (like in the top-down mode).

Auto-scheduling will not work for locked tasks, even if such a task is connected with a strong dependency.

Manual mode

The manual mode is the most flexible one.

Just like in the locked mode, no auto-scheduling rules apply to the task period in this mode (including dependencies). It means you can move and stretch a “manual” parent or child as you please (the app will ignore the active task structure).

When two tasks depend on each other, it means that one must start or finish first to allow another task to start or finish.

There are four types of task dependencies, so-called Strong dependencies in BigPicture, that impact the task schedule: End to Start, Start to End, End to End, and Start to Start.

(You can also create Soft dependencies between tasks. But we won’t cover them in this article since they don’t impact the schedule — they only indicate that there’s some relationship between the two items.)

The four dependency types that have a scheduling impact in BigPicture.

 

Say you have Task B that cannot start until Task A finishes (End to Start dependency). In a real-life scenario, that would be a QA team waiting for the development team to finish some app feature.

In this example, Task A is the source task, and Task B is the target task. A target task’s start date cannot be earlier than the source task’s end date. In other words, the source task determines the target tasks’ period.

Let’s take a closer look at how dependencies control the task period.

Strong dependencies vs. task period

A simple project structure for mobile app feature testing and development. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, cloud)

 

This mini project has epic for building a “Mobile app feature.” It has two tasks (children): Development and Testing. We connected both tasks with an End to Start dependency link. All items are in the auto bottom-up mode).

Based on its position on a timeline and start date on WBS, Testing starts soon after the Development has finished.

When we tried moving Testing to an earlier date (so that it would start before the Development had finished), the taskbar returned to its initial position. Precisely, the dependency prevented the change of the target task dates.

Then, we moved Testing ahead of Development. This project scheduling operation was allowed this time because the start date of the target task was still later than the end date of the source task. (A parent taskbar set to the auto bottom-up mode has stretched to match the period of its children.)

Finally, we moved Development ahead of Testing. The app has auto-rescheduled Testing accordingly to ensure it doesn’t start earlier than the source task allows.

ASAP mode and Lag time

The rules governing the four dependency types are not the only dependency rules that can affect the period.

In the previous example, we rescheduled the Testing a few days ahead of Development by moving a taskbar on a Gantt chart. But you can define two additional factors to tell the scheduling mechanism how you want it to auto-reschedule your tasks.

ASAP mode

What if you wanted the testing to start immediately after development? In such a case, you can enable an ASAP mode that will cause the target task to act immediately based on the dependency rules and the target task’s start/end date.

This way, no matter how close or far you drop the target task away from the source task, it will stay right next to the source task (and auto-schedule for the next working day).

Lag time

The opposite situation is possible, too.

You can set the target task to start X calendar days after the source task starts or finishes. This rule is called a Lag time. When you set the Lag time to three days, the testing task will start a minimum of three days after the completion of the development task.

Why the minimum?

Without the ASAP mode, the testing can start four, five, or more days later, depending on how far you move the taskbar. You need to enable the ASAP mode if you want the tasks’ periods to be exactly three days apart.

This task has a dependency lag of 3 days, and the ASAP mode enabled. The target task will start 3 days after the source task has finished. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, cloud)

Task period alignment

Task period alignment means that the scheduling mechanism can adjust the task’s start and end dates to fit the date range of the project (box) it belongs to. This ensures that the task doesn’t start before you initiate your project and doesn’t finish after you close the project.

A great use case for period alignment is Sprint/iteration. If you work in an Agile methodology, you usually don’t plan the exact dates the task will start and finish but the Sprint in which it needs to happen.

For such cases, the “Precise period alignment” will make any task you add to the Sprint automatically inherit the start and end dates you set for that Sprint box.

Tasks in the “Precise task period alignment” inherit the start/end dates of the box they belong to. The task period matches the period of the Sprint box. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, data center)

 

On the other hand, the Smart period alignment also ensures the tasks do not exceed the Sprint duration dates. But, unlike the Precise alignment, it doesn’t affect the tasks’ initial duration. So, if the task is supposed to take two days, the taskbar will still be two days long.

The Inforbar panel features the “Change history” section, where you can look up all the changes made to your project. You can find out who, when, and what changes someone has made. (screenshot from BigPicture for Jira, cloud)

 

(If you happen to accidentally move or resize the taskbar, use the Undo button (or ctrl+z/ cmd+z keyboard shortcut) to undo this action. You can undo only the most recent action.)

Holiday plan

When you work on your project scheduling, days like individual absences, public holidays, and weekends will extend the task duration.

How does BigPicture know when a given assignee is absent or there’s a holiday in your country? It takes such data from the Holiday plans. You can create and customize many different plans and assign them to your resources across the entire company.

Accidental user actions

You or one of your team colleagues might introduce unintentional changes to your task start/end date, for example, by moving a taskbar by mistake. Although it’s not a formal way of task scheduling, such actions have scheduling consequences.

If you notice changes to your tasks’ dates you do not recognize, you can review them in the Infobar section under the Change history. The log lists the type of change, the change date, and the person who has introduced the change.

Sign up to try BigPicture for free

BigPicture is a flexible and scalable app that helps you plan, build, and manage complex projects and portfolios. It offers many convenient and easy ways to schedule project tasks. With automatic scheduling mechanisms, the app will initiate, finish, and reschedule tasks for you.

Sign up for a 30-day free trial to see how BigPicture streamlines projects — no matter how big, complex, or unique they are. (If you are not ready to start the trial yet, visit our demo page to try all the BigPicture features inside your browser.)