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Jul 24

Program and portfolio management in BigPicture

For many companies using BigPicture managing single projects is just one part of the broader view. And it’s quite easy to do with creating BigPicture Programs (or Boxes) representing those projects. Every project manager has a dedicated space to create a task structure, WBS, manage teams, resources, project plans, risks, and whatnot.

But what if you need more? What if you want to group your projects into programs or portfolios? What if you want to be able to report the progress of your work on a higher, aggregated level? Don’t worry, BigPicture has got you covered!

Simplistic program portfolio management Jira BigPicture

More than one way

During all the years I’ve been implementing BigPicture with my customers I’ve developed an approach to this that provides the most flexibility in terms of configuration and reporting. Just to be clear, this is not the only way of doing this. Especially with BigPicture 8.0 coming and bringing new Box functionalities, you’ll be able to create a smart hierarchy of them to fit your needs, but after analyzing the possibilities I still think that the config I’m sharing with you here is going to be valid and will have some benefits over Box configuration. Curious? Let’s get right into it!

Create your project structure in Jira first

As you probably know Jira tickets can be created with different templates, which are called issue types. This is a way for users to make a distinction between a task, a bug, a user story, and so on. Each one of these can have a different set of parameters (Jira fields), statuses (workflows), or screens. This feature is very useful when working with BigPicture. You can for example create separate issue types as templates for your risks (because when you create a risk you might want to provide some information that is risk-specific like risk mitigation plan, risk impact, risk probability and consequence, risk owner). Similarly, you can create a new issue type to represent:

  • Projects
  • Portfolios
  • Programs
Jira create program, project, or portfolio

Start with creating Portfolio, Program, and Project issue types in Jira.


Why would I do it, you might ask, when I have Jira Projects, or Programs and Boxes in BigPicture? Well, that’s because I’ve promised you flexibility. If you take the Jira issue type approach you will have total freedom over what information you can store on the level of your projects, portfolios, and programs. You will be able to record information like: simple budgeting, sponsor, project manager, communication plan, inside notes and comments, attachments, and basically anything you’d need.

Create a hierarchy

Of course with just Jira, it’s not perfect, because you won’t be able to connect them into a hierarchy, but you can easily do it with BigPicture and structure builders! All you need to do is to pick a Jira link you’d like to use to build a hierarchy and then enable it in your Task Structure configuration. This will build a structure for you every time you connect the tickets together. This means that assuming your structure is like this: Program -> Portfolio -> Project, you’d connect your several projects to a single portfolio item they should belong to, and then you’d link your portfolios to a program. If that seems not intuitive and you’re using a different nomenclature in your company, don’t worry, it works with all of them!

Build program portfolio structure. BigPicture structure builders

Use Jira links together with BigPicture structure builders to design tree hierarchies.

If you’re working with waterfall-like projects you might also want to create phases inside your projects using the exact same configuration just by adding an additional issue type. Isn’t that cool?

How to get proper reporting?

Now you need to decide how you’re going to group your data in BigPicture. From my experience, to get a view that you desire, you’ll probably have to create one BigPicture Program per one project you want to manage, and then also create BigPicture Programs for portfolios grouping projects and programs grouping portfolios. This means that some information will be visible in several different BigPicture Programs, but that’s ok, BigPicture deals with that splendidly.

With this config, you’ll be able to get reporting on every level of your PMO structure. Just go to the Gantt Module, configure desired columns you want to see, make sure that you turn on the right aggregation settings for each of them and you’re all set. To complement this you’re still able to use filtering and/or grouping functionalities. This should be enough to get a lot of information out of your structure. Remember that BigPicture also has Reports module (in Beta version) which adds another layer to this. If you’re still missing something here is another awesome thing about this approach: all your data is stored in Jira, which means that you can create more reports using dashboard gadgets. And if all of this fails, then you’ll have to look into additional Apps for reporting, like AIO Reports, EazyBI, or similar. The depth you’ll need to go to with reporting is dependent on your specific needs and there is no “standard” recipe for this.

Portfolio-level reporting in Jira BigPicture


The only thing to consider while designing your BigPicture Programs scope is the size of those Programs. If your projects have many hundreds or even thousands of tickets inside this will be something to consider. You probably don’t want to build BigPicture Programs that are too big, because they will load slowly and cause frustration. At the same time, you’re not able to cut off the bottom-level tasks, because then you’ll not get proper data, unless you employ some scripts that will gather the data and put them on parent tasks. Some compromises might be necessary.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Since the described approach gives you a lot of flexibility, you’ll discover that you are able to tweak it to your needs. Both Jira and BigPicture have lots of hidden features and it’s worth exploring the possibilities and using the software to its full potential. We help companies do that with BigPicture training and Implementation Consulting, sharing our vast experience and helping you achieve your goals. Reach out to us if you want to schedule a free call to talk and see if we can help you.

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About The Author

14+ years of managing projects taught me that there is nothing more important than having fun at work, being honest, meeting great people, delivering true value and making sure that you stay positive and empathetic. That's the kind of business I'm creating - I'm in Peoples business. Providing great quality training, consultancy, service, OVER-delivering every single time, that's my mission and I'm having a blast while I'm at it :)