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July 05, 2023

Using Jira in project management: use cases & limitations

Jira Project Management WBS & Backlog Structuring
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

Thousands of project teams and managers use Jira Software for collaboration and task management (among other things). Project managers can use the tool to plan upcoming work, track progress, and oversee team performance. But in many cases, Jira’s project management functionalities are limited.

This might be because Jira was never meant to be a project management tool for all methodologies and approaches. Some tools work better for managing classic, Agile, or hybrid projects, as opposed to being one-size-fits-all. But that means Jira might not be enough for your team, depending on how you manage projects.

Let’s delve into the use cases where Atlassian’s tool really shines. Then, it’s worth looking at areas where other project management tools might serve you better.

Is Jira a project management tool?

The short answer is yes. But there’s a caveat. Atlassian describes Jira Software as an “Agile project management tool.” That sentence alone indicates the best use case for Jira.

Simply put, the tool’s main use case is Agile project management for software development teams. It supports the most popular frameworks, like Scrum and Kanban. But Jira also works for mixed methodologies.

The list of Agile frameworks supported by Jira Software.

Jira for Scrum teams

First, Atlassian’s tool helps Scrum teams organize work into Sprints. The tool offers a backlog functionality, as well as an Agile board where teams move tasks depending on their statuses. The task cards contain information like description, assignee, and story point value, to name a few.

Jira users can configure their boards by adding and modifying columns, swimlanes, task cards, estimation units, and more.

Jira project board for Agile initiatives
Example of a scrum board of a Sprint in Jira Software

The cards also contain issue keys to open the issue detail page, which holds additional information about a task, including labels, dates, comments, attachments, and more.

Jira Software does lack some valuable project management features. For example, the Scrum board doesn’t display aggregated values of all the story points allocated for a Sprint. Moreover, it doesn’t compare that number with capacity values for the team or individual members. As a result, you can’t use Jira to perform capacity planning.

On the other hand, Jira does offer some of the most popular Scrum report types, including a Sprint burndown chart, a cumulative flow diagram, and a velocity chart, among others.

A Sprint burndown chart in Jira
Example of a Sprint burndown chart in Jira Software

Jira for Kanban teams

Software development teams working in Kanban use Jira to visualize their work and keep track of upcoming tasks, bugs, or user stories.

The Kanban board is where all crucial information is displayed. It’s pre-configured with the most popular status columns, but teams can change the number and contents of the columns to suit their workflow.

Kanban board in Jira Software.

One practice that helps Kanban teams reduce lead time and avoid being overloaded is Work in Progress (WIP) limits. If you’ve never heard of this feature, Atlassian created an in-depth explainer of the concept.

Jira Software builds the WIP limit feature into Kanban boards. It’s fully customizable, so teams can set different limits for each board column or team member.

And finally, the tool contains a backlog — a space where the team stores ideas and tasks before they’re ready to work on them.

All in all, Jira is great for team-level management of Agile projects. 

But many organizations need more than that.

Jira as a project management tool — what’s it missing?

Large businesses tend to manage projects in multiple ways. Some departments might benefit from being Agile, while others work sequentially. Then, there’s the case of projects that combine Waterfall and Agile components called Hybrid.

For organizations like this, Jira isn’t the best tool for project management. Here’s why.

No visualization of the entire project

Whether it’s a Waterfall, Agile, or Hybrid initiative, a project manager’s job is much easier when they can plan and visualize the entire project in one view.

Most project management software enables users to see the entire project scope on a timeline, making planning much easier. Classic projects typically contain phases, which also should be visible. But Jira Software doesn’t offer that option out of the box.

Compare the visualization of a Classic project in Jira and BigPicture:

An example of a view of a project in Jira Software.
A project view in Jira Software.

In Jira, the “Open issues” column contains the list of tasks that belong to this project. But the details are only visible for one issue at a time. For all the other tasks, the only set of information visible at a glance is the name, issue type, and key.

Now let’s see how a dedicated Project Portfolio Management tool visualizes the same dataset of a Classic project in Jira.

A visualization of a project in Appfire's BigPicture.
Here’s the same project visualized in BigPicture. Do you see any differences?

First, BigPicture displays the entire
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) of a project in a single space. The project manager can see all the tasks, as well as the project’s structure. The phases, the parent and child tasks, and milestones are marked in the WBS panel. BigPicture also displays other project information, like dates and status aggregations (more on that later).

You have full control over the columns visible in the WBS. As long as there’s a Jira field (standard or custom) available, you can display its data in the panel.

Then there’s the Gantt chart, which shows tasks on a timeline. The task bars provide a better point of reference in combination with the time bar. User-friendly in-line editing and drag-and-drop functionality make changes fast and easy.

Visualizing dependencies is another key difference between Jira and most PPM tools. For example, BigPicture uses lines to showcase dependencies. Jira Software uses a more text-based approach. And just like you saw in the context of tasks, BigPicture shows all dependencies at once, while Jira only lists dependencies for a given task.

Inability to see the timeline of all projects

Whether your business is big or small, you’ve probably got multiple projects happening at once. When project managers want to schedule a new project, they need to be able to see ongoing initiatives. That way, they can make sure the new project doesn’t derail current ones.

But project managers using Jira won’t be able to see the landscape of projects. Instead, they’d have to filter the list of issues by start and end dates for each project, then write down the dates (or remember them). That’s not the best way to check the timing of ongoing projects.

With a project management tool like BigPicture, the process is much easier. Project managers just go to the Home screen and open the Timeline view. The list of projects — along with their durations on a timeline — is visible there.

BigPicture’s timeline view.

Lack of project-level data aggregations

Although Jira Software is a great tool for gathering data, it’s not ideal for summarizing project data. For example, in Scrum boards, there’s no mention of the total number of story points assigned to a particular Sprint. The data is available in reports, but it can be more accessible using other tools.

An app like BigPicture can display that information directly on the board and compare it to the team’s capacity. As a result, you can see at a glance whether your team can handle the workload of an iteration.

Agile project board in BigPicture with aggregated capacity values.

For Classic initiatives, information like status progress, time tracking, team member workload, or any other statistic that can be aggregated are presented for only a single Jira issue.

On the other hand, tools like BigPicture present the aggregated values of crucial columns based on data pulled straight from Jira. That means you can always look to BigPicture for the most accurate, up-to-date information.

Resource management limitations

If you want to set your team up for success, making sure they have the capacity to handle a new project (and deliver on time) is crucial. Does Jira offer a way to quickly check availability and workload for a project? To a point.

Jira does offer report types that support resource management. But it presents the workload data for just one team member at a time.

User workload report in Jira.
User workload report in Jira Software

That leaves a project manager with two problems. First, verifying the workload of a large team using this method requires going through reports for every member of the team one at a time. The larger the project team, the longer this takes.

Second, the report provides no context. In other words, the report shows how much work is allocated. But it doesn’t show how much time is still available for new projects.

If you want complete information (and you do), you’ll need to look at the workload and capacity of all team members participating in a given project.

But to do that, you need a tool like BigPicture.

An example of a resources module in BigPicture
BigPicture’s Resources module

Another important difference between Jira and BigPicture: Jira shows workload as a report. But in BigPicture, the Resources panel is dynamic.

If a project manager sees that a member has too much on their plate, they can reschedule the task or reassign it using in-line editing and drag and drop.

And users can customize the time periods and aggregation of the data. In other words, the screen can display data for a single week, a month, a quarter, or six months. And if you need aggregate data, the panel can show data for each day, week, month, or Sprint.

Lack of crucial project management tools

Most project management software comes with some standard, out-of-the-box tools. For Jira, one of them is an Agile board. And that might be enough, depending on the size of your team and how you operate. 

But if you want to streamline the project management process, you’ll need some tools that Jira doesn’t include.

Here’s a short list of project management tools you don’t get with Jira Software

  • Gantt charts
  • Scenarios
  • Resource module
  • Risk matrix

The Gantt chart is a staple for project managers. It’s used in Classic, Agile, and Hybrid projects. Combining the chart with scenarios enables project managers to visualize a project’s plan and consider alternative sequences of events. Armed with this information, they can anticipate obstacles and brainstorm solutions before problems happen.

A risk matrix neatly outlines the potential threats to a project. And finally, having a dedicated space to manage the availability and workload of teams makes your work much easier.

BigPicture – the best Jira Project Portfolio Management tool

If you’re using Jira for project management, but your needs have outgrown its out-of-the-box functionality, combine it with BigPicture by Appfire. 

With our Jira project management app, you can visualize entire projects and aggregate crucial data. With this tool, you see the full scope of your initiative in a single place with all the relevant information you might need. And it works no matter what project management approach your organization follows: Classic, Agile, or Hybrid.

The tool offers project managers the flexibility to structure project data with virtually no limits. Whether it’s one project or many, organize information the way you want to.

You can even see beyond the project level. BigPicture displays and aggregates program and portfolio-level data, too.

No matter how your team likes to work, enhancing Jira’s native functionality with an app like BigPicture puts a whole host of new tools at your disposal: an interactive Gantt chart, scenarios, a resource panel, and more. These support project managers in scheduling, resource and capacity planning, and risk management, among other things.

And it synchronizes with Jira, so the data from Atlassian’s software flows directly into our app. Any changes you make in BigPicture flow into Jira automatically.

The synchronization of these two tools also means that the project team can log and track their work in Jira. At the same time, the project managers can oversee the initiatives without one group interrupting the other.

See why BigPicture is the most popular Project Portfolio Management tool in the Atlassian Marketplace: Start your free 30-day trial.