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April 06, 2022

Jira time tracking: how to do it better?

Jira Project Management
Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

What is so great about time tracking in project management applications? First, they can help you replace guesswork with math to make project delivery estimates more accurate. Second, they enable you to draw necessary insights which you can use to boost productivity and healthy workflow. And third, time tracking is automatic if you are using relevant applications.

By relevant applications, we mean robust tools like Jira. But even Jira’s time tracking functionality can be insufficient if you need accurate timesheets and logs. For those, you will need software like BigPicture and BigGantt that builds up on top of Jira’s native time tracking functionalities to give you more control over your time—and project. First, let’s take a look at what you can do with the native Jira time tracking feature. And then, we will cover how BigPicture and BigGantt can extend this functionality.

Jira hours tracking: metrics and reports

The time tracking feature in Jira is enabled in most of the projects by default, so you can start using it right off the bat. If you happen to have it turned off (or you want to grant the required permissions to the individual users involved in the project), a person with Administrator privileges can configure time tracking settings. With the time tracking feature, you will be able to generate Time Tracking Reports. They will help you see how much time your teams spend on tasks and ensure compliance with original time estimates.

Jira time metrics

There are four Jira native metrics (tracking fields) dedicated to tracking time spent on issues:

  • Original Estimate – Original estimate of the total amount of time it would take to complete this issue.
  • Remaining Estimate (Estimated Time Remaining) – The current estimate of the remaining amount of time it would take to complete this issue.
  • Time Spent – Aggregate amount of time spent on a particular issue.
  • Accuracy – Accuracy of the original estimate compared to the current estimate for the issue. It is the difference between the sum of the Time Spent and Estimated Time Remaining fields and the Original Estimate field.

You can track time in two ways. Either by entering the values in the Original Estimate and the Remaining Estimate fields on individual issues. Or by editing multiple issues using the Bulk change option. You perform all these activities manually.

To begin with time tracking, first, open Jira’s task settings by clicking on an item in the Board interface. Next, indicate a time estimate for a task in hours or days (1d = 8h by default), and make a time entry once you have stopped working on it. When finished, you will be able to review the time spent on the task and the time that has remained.

A screenshot of Jira's time-tracking feature.

Time reporting in Jira

The Time Tracking Report in Jira shows time tracking data on issues for a certain project version. It displays the Original Estimate, Estimated Time Remaining, and the Time Spent for all issues so you can check whether they are ahead of or behind the original estimate.

To generate the Time Tracking Report in Jira, navigate to your project and select Reports from the sidebar on the left hand-site. Next, scroll down to the Forecast & management section and choose Time Tracking Report. You will see four fields, each with a drop-down menu: Fix Version, Sorting, Issues, and Sub-task Inclusion.

A screenshot of a page where the user creates a time-tracking report in Jira.

  • Fix Version: select the version you want to have a report on. All issues that belong to a given version will be included in the report.
  • Sorting: choose how you want to sort your issues. The Least completed issue option will show issues starting with the highest Estimated Remaining Time ones. The Most completed issue option will show issues starting with the lowest Estimated Remaining Time ones.
  • Issues: select All to include all the issues that belong to the given version in your report; if you do not need issues that are completed (Estimated Remaining Time = 0) or their time is not tracked (no Original Estimate set), then choose Incomplete issues only.
  • Sub-task Inclusion: pick which sub-tasks you want to include in the report. Based on your choice, the parent issues can belong to the previously selected version or have no version assigned at all.
Jira Time Tracking Report with sub-tasks selected.

 

Hit the Next button to generate your report.

Is Jira good for time tracking?

The Jira time tracking feature is quite inefficient since you must manually input your hours in the time tracking fields and keep your time for every issue. Jira native feature is also fairly limited. On the one hand, it allows for some insight into the work logs for a particular issue. But on the other, you cannot easily get information on how much of that time was logged by a particular user since you can log your work only on each Issue tab.

 

Furthermore, you will not find a separate page where you can collectively manage your work logs, nor a dedicated page where you could check the summary of logged times for other employees. All you can get are the basic reporting features that do not provide enough information on the team’s engagement and efficiency in a given Sprint.

Extending Jira time tracking with BigPicture and BigGantt

Given that Jira does not offer a wide array of time tracking results, users turn to the Atlassian Marketplace where they can find a variety of plugins (add-ons) that compensate for Jira’s shortcomings. For better time tracking, you can easily extend Jira’s functionality by integrating BigPicture or BigGantt to schedule, track, and optimize your projects (or portfolios) even more efficiently directly in Jira Software dashboards.

Measure progress and aggregate time

Imagine what you see on the Jira Time Tracking Report you can see on your project overview—without the need to generate any reports. That’s how you can view your project in BigPicture and BigGantt.

 

You base the progress calculation in your projects on Jira’s native Time Tracking fields (Original Estimate, Estimated Time Remaining, and Time Spent). Respectively, in BigPicture and BigGantt these fields are Original Estimate, Remaining Estimate, and Time Spent. The counterpart to Jira native Accuracy metric is called Work Ratio in BigPicture and BigGantt. Work Ratio compares Time Spent to the Original Estimate and visualizes the outcome in the form of status bars, not just percentage values.

 

With BigPicture or BigGantt, you will be able to aggregate time logged of low-level elements, such as sub-tasks or stories. You can display the estimates in “Pretty” units (full time), days, hours, or decimals. In the screenshot below, the display of time is “Pretty.”

Time tracking columns in BigGantt. Here, we aggregated them by the Sum function.

 

You can choose from several aggregation functions, such as:

 

  • None
  • Minimum
  • Maximum
  • Sum
  • Sum, without parent
  • Average
  • Average, without parent
Column data aggregation methods in BigGantt.

 

You can apply any of these functions to each time tracking field and the estimates will adjust automatically. In the screenshot below, the time fields are aggregated by the “Sum, without parent” function.

Aggregated time tracking fields in BigPicture.

 

In addition, you can customize the columns in your view by adding or deleting the time fields (there are many other fields you can add), or by dragging any of them to change their order.

Jira aggregation vs BigPicture and BigGantt aggregation

How could you achieve similar results without having BigPicture/BigGantt? To calculate similar aggregates in plain Jira, you would have to use JQL. However, Jira does not have a fully developed Work Breakdown Structure. For instance, it lacks program-to-epic, portfolio-to-program, and custom-to-custom links. But with Jira add-ons such as BigPicture, you can observe the progress of whole projects and portfolios.

BigPicture and BigGantt – automatic synchronization of delays

The Gantt chart bars in the timeline can automatically synchronize to show any delays reported by team members. Go to Jira administration > Applications > Manage apps > BigGantt configuration [or BigPicture configuration] > Task configuration. Then, scroll down a bit to locate the End date field. Click on the dropdown menu and select Time Spent + Remaining Estimate.

Task configuration window in BigGantt and BigPicture.

Resources and capacity

The Resources view (available in BigPicture as the Resources module and in BigGantt as the Resources panel) gives you a full picture of the capacity of individuals or a team over time. You assign tasks to individual users to determine their capacity and overall team capacity within a program increment.

Color-coded capacity and threshold

The Resources view shows the capacity indirectly through the use of color-coding (lower right quadrant of the screenshot below). The capacity threshold is as follows: the green color indicates the resource is under-allocated (0 – 75%), orange—when the workload is moderate (75 – 100%), and red—when the capacity is exceeded (>100%). The BigPicture Enterprise additionally allows for customization of color codes and threshold levels.

Resources panel in BigGantt.

The numbers in color-coded bars indicate the sum of all efforts that have been assigned to a given employee. You can express the effort using the Original Estimate, Remaining Estimate, or Time Spent. You can also specify skills for individual team members, and visualize the capacity of a particular skill across program increments.

Workload contouring

There is one more feature that will help you distribute workload across resources and projects more efficiently, namely the Workload Contouring. It allows for changing the workload distribution for a given task and specifying how the effort of a given team member is distributed across a task period. You can choose from several contouring modes. And if you opt for BigPicture Enterprise, you will be able to switch to manual contouring for more flexibility and control over your team’s time.

Time management of individuals and teams

With Resources, you can add and manage Teams, Workload Plans, and Holiday Plans. This way you can distribute a proper (and even) amount of work to individuals and teams (to maintain a healthy workflow). Whereas the HR department is able to track the maximum weekly and monthly working hours of every employee logged.

Hint: You can export your Resources view to Excel and further process data with Excel functions (this requires the BigTemplate app).

Time tracking fields in issue cards

The Risks module in BigPicture is a way to document and visualize risks. They can exist for specified ranges and you can display them as a matrix and table. You also get a heatmap option on the matrix that changes the color of tickets according to their place on the matrix. Configuring risks for specified date ranges is also possible.

You can customize risk cards to include the Time Tracking fields (and other fields), as well as progress bars. To do this, go to BigPicture > App settings > Administration > Risks > Card Views.

You will see a risk card in the middle section and the list of fields you can add to your risk card on the right. Click the + (plus) sign on a card to prompt an empty field, and drag the Time Tracking field into that empty field on a card. You can do the same with other time-related fields (i.e., Time Spent, End date, etc.) depending on the setup you need.

Risks module view in BigPicture.

Tempo integration

Tempo Timesheets for Jira is a standard tool for many HR and accounting departments. But you might lean towards the BigPicture app. BigPicture for Jira Server/Data Center can see Teams, Skills, Workload Plans, and Holiday Plans you have defined in Tempo Timesheets, Planner, and Budgets. To maintain the sync between BigPicture and Tempo, you will need the BigPicture Enterprise extension.