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Aug 26

How to manage Initiatives in Jira BigPicture?

Initiatives in Jia Big PictureMany approaches to Initiatives exist throughout the project management community. Some claim an initiative is a short-lived, rough idea that will either receive funding (and become a project) or be scrapped. According to others, an initiative is as elaborate as a project, has epics and stories linked to it, and lives as long as a regular project would do. How to model initiatives in Jira BigPicture? Also, how to leverage Portfolio for Jira initiatives in BigPicture?

Most of the tutorial applies to BigGantt, too.

A register of Initiatives

Let’s begin with the simpler case. Say, you wish to encourage creative folks in your organization to report ‘rough ideas on how to make more money in line with the strategy’. So it’s going to be more of a brainstorming tool.

You need Jira administration rights to pursue most of the below tips.

  • Create a new ‘Initiative’ issue type. To do that go to Jira Administration > Issues > Issue types.
  • Create a new Jira project called ‘Initiatives’.
  • Think of some workflow, or a sequence of statuses, for this new project – how you’re going grade and approve/scrap initiatives, for instance, New > Under consideration > Approved.
  • Create a new BigPicture program called ‘Initiatives’ (optional); the program could show only those initiatives that have reached the ‘Under consideration’ status.
  • Encourage everyone to record their smart ideas in the new project (program); tell them to use an issue’s ‘Description’ field to elaborate on an idea.
  • Periodically evaluate the reported initiatives; grant funding to those with the most business value; scrap the rest.

Easy and simple. Once an initiative has gotten approval and funding, it becomes a project.

Instead of the separate ‘Initiative’ issue type, you could also use Jira’s custom fields (Jira Administration > Issues > Custom fields) to mark that a Jira task constitutes an initiative and not just a regular task. For instance, you could create an ‘Initiative’ checkbox, or, even better, label tasks with an ‘Initiative’ label. All that for the sake of filtering out initiatives, when an evaluation session comes.

Full-scale initiatives (projects) in Jira BigPicture

In the agile world, however, people regard initiatives as slightly smaller… projects. An initiative, in this approach, gets decomposed into epics, stories, and sub-tasks. And it’s still called an ‘Initiative’ once it has reached the execution stage. Its progress has to be tracked, etc. How to have these more elaborate and long-lived initiatives in Jira BigPicture?

Create a new ‘Initiative’ issue type. To do that go to Jira Administration > Issues > Issue types.

Add Initiative, a new Jira issue type


Create a new Jira project called ‘Initiatives’.

Launch a new BigPicture program called ‘Initiatives’; the program will cover the initiatives from the ‘Initiatives’ project. See more in docs.

Think of a workflow, or a sequence of statuses, for this new project-program – how are you going design, develop, and oversee the initiatives.

Create a new ‘Initiative’ issue link. To do that go to Jira Administration > Issues > Issue linking.

Initiative issue link, add new in Jira


Here comes the crucial part: go to the new ‘Initiative’ program configuration in BigPicture and set the correct, pro-initiative order of synchronization.

Set up initiatives in Jira BigPicture


You should now be able to observe, schedule and track initiatives in the Scope and Gantt chart modules of BigPicture (and the Gantt chart module of BigGantt).

Why is it beneficial to have initiatives in BigPicture? There is this primary goal of traceability: both Scope and Gantt chart modules are capable of aggregating the progress of 100s or 1000s of tasks an initiative may consist of. You need to know where you are at, at any given moment of an initiative’s lifespan, right? Not to mention managing resources, risks, do the reporting and more, all available in BigPicture. After all, an ‘initiative’ here stands for a ‘project’.

The below Gantt chart is one of many modules in BigPicture (BigGantt) you can plan and supervise initiatives in.

Initiatives in Jira Gantt chart

Is Initiative > Epic > Story > Sub-task truly a standard?

Atlassian has long promoted the Epic > Story > Sub-task standard in Jira environment. Portfolio for Jira adds Initiatives on top of Epics by default. This is why the Initiative > Epic > Story > Sub-task hierarchy has become the norm across the PM community. Is this the only way to manage initiatives? Not quite.

Since initiatives tend to be fragile, sketchy, and roughly described, there is not one, but numerous ‘right’ ways to go about them. Portfolio for Jira has hardcoded Initiatives above Epics, so people think this is the proper way. Other project management apps, such as BigPicture, adopted a more flexible approach, where you can set up a custom hierarchy, and here’s why: we’ve talked to project managers who have milestones only in their Gantt charts and that liberal approach is o.k., too. However, the more detailed your work breakdown structure is, the more accurate you can track the progress of an initiative.

Likewise, you don’t need to have a separate ‘Initiatives’ program in BigPicture. Since a BigPicture program can selectively include task from various Jira projects (as well as from other BigPicture programs), you can distribute your initiatives across numerous Jira projects/BP programs and then gather them under one roof by means of a text filter or JQL query.

Using BigPicture and Portfolio for Jira simultaneously?

If you utilize both BigPicture and Portfolio for Jira, and you expect BigPicture to recreate the structure of tasks you see in the Portfolio, including the initiatives, then you need to have the below order in BigPicture > Program configuration > General > Synchronization > Task hierarchy (Work Breakdown Structure).

BigPicture Jira Portfolio initiative synchronization set-up


Sample initiatives

  • let’s update the SWOT analysis for our core business
  • let’s replace the chairs in our office (say, our backs hurt)
  • we’ll develop a Gantt chart app for Trello
  • we’re entering the Australian market
  • let’s renegotiate contracts to reduce overhead expenses

With initiatives, though, the trick is to populate the ‘Description’ field at length. Think forms, questionnaires, etc., to encourage initiatives’ reporters to


About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.