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Feb 22

Jira BigPicture vs. MS Project. Two Giants compared

Why do folks tend to migrate from Microsoft Project to Jira and not the other way? In short: MSP was designed for the ‘worker bee era’, while Jira was born in the ‘participation era’. MS Project uses ways to discourage a worker bee from updating the plan, whereas the philosophy behind Jira is different. An end user of Jira can not only update data, enjoy tons of PM, CRM, sales, HR extensions, but also profit from Jira’s much gentler learning curve. However, Jira alone is not enough to beat MS Project. You need a project management plugin — BigPicture will do the job.

Think of the ‘MS Project vs. Jira’ dilemma as if you were choosing a bank account. You have one financial institution that offers just bank accounts, and that’s it (MS Project). Yet there is another bank that has insurance, wealth solutions and has five branches in your town (Jira + BigPicture). Which would you commit to?

Table 1: Compare Jira + BigPicture vs. Microsoft Project

Jira itself is tracking software, so you need a project management app, such as BigPicture, on top to make the comparison reasonable.

Jira + BigPicture

MS Project

Mindset Everyone in the organization updates the data on-the-fly. BigPicture is a project management ‘extension’ to the ‘mother base’ Jira. Sales, marketing and HR departments might use their apps on top of Jira as well. A project manager updates the plan on behalf of the teams. The plan is therefore outdated quite often. Sales, marketing and HR departments use their own software and not Microsoft Project.
A dream project Both long-term and short-term projects. While Jira alone is focused on agile software development, Jira + BigPicture is equally good for industries such as construction, media, finance, consumer goods and so on. A large, multi-year construction project.
Learning curve Gentle.
Both Jira and BigPicture are web-based and intuitive.
To drive a car
A multitude of functionalities. A professional project manager is capable of mastering MSP.
To pilot a plane
Users Project managers, team leaders, team members.

Average computer skills will do.

Project managers.

Those who have an analytical frame of mind and have been trained well.

Which departments will find it useful? Jira + BigPicture is useful for project management, R&D, purchasing, sales, HR, support, asset management departments, and others Project management offices
A do-it-all app? Yes.

For instance: we’ve modeled both development and training processes in Jira. Thus, when our trainers are back home from training sessions with their thoughts, they can report these issues to Jira. When developers solve these issues, a client can be automatically updated.

A specialized project management app. Little room for modeling other processes.
How current is data in the software? Very current. Data is updated on-the-fly by everyone. Only as current as project managers keep up with updating data.
Outdated plans are common.
How is data fed into the system? Teams input data. A project manager collects data from teams and then inputs that into the system.
Cloud / on-premises On-premises – Jira Server

Cloud – Jira Cloud

Local – classic MS Project

On-premises – MS Project Server

Cloud – MS Project Online (Office 365)

Web browser or application? The Jira interface is available over all major web browsers. Classic MSP is an application. Most functionalities of Project Online are available over a web browser.
Launched Jira – 2002

BigPicture – 2014


MSP Server – 2000, MSP Online – 2013

Project management

Support project management methodologies Agile and waterfall.

Hybrid projects (mixed agile/waterfall) are allowed; this is BigPicture’s specialty

Sample agile PM methodologies agilePM, Crystal, DSDM, FDD, Lean, LeSS, SAFe, Scrum, UAP, XP
Will fragmented data do the job? Yes. Fragmented, incomplete, ‘messy’ data will do. No. Precise, complete data is necessary.
What is the cost of inputting data? Relatively low since everyone enters/updates data in an ad-hoc manner and the data doesn’t have to be complete. The system is ‘forgiving’. Relatively high, since trained project managers have to input data.
How ‘rough’ can your planning possibly be? Dependencies between tasks. But, you can also set up dependencies between whole iterations, and these iterations can last up to several months. So, very rough planning is feasible in Jira and BigPicture, and that ‘rough’ scheduling is what agile methodologies have been evolving into over the last ten years. Dependencies between tasks
Still, can you plan for exact dates? yes yes
Portfolio management yes yes
Gantt charts yes yes
Resource management There is (a) a standalone resources module and (b) a resource pane below the Gantt chart in BigPicture. When an end user changes an assignee in a Jira task, a project manager has the capacity, allocation and remaining capacity values updated immediately in both (a) and (b). Resource management is doable at the initial stage of a project. It gets more complicated the further you get into a project. This is because a project manager would have to constantly keep in touch with the teams and update who’s working on what and how delayed people are.  From our practice, resource management on-the-fly simply doesn’t happen with MS Project given all the manual updating a project manager would be required to do.
Risk management yes
Roadmapping yes
Program boards for planning Program Increments and Iterations (agile project management) yes

Bottom line

Analogy to Google Docs Microsoft Word
Key phrases collaboration, egalitarian, quick to learn maintenance intensive, elite, harder to learn
Challenges Software performance as with many cloud, web browser-based solutions. Monitoring performance against plan.

Once a plan has been committed, it’s not updated automatically.

Amount of clerical work.

A truly current schedule rarely exists.

The outlook for future 100s of independent developers work every day on various apps (formerly: plugins, add-ons) extending Jira. They are being released on a daily basis. Just google ‘Atlassian Marketplace’.

Artificial intelligence will be introduced to BigPicture one day.

Atlassian has only released Jira 8 (Feb 2019).

Microsoft released new editions of Project in 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019.

Check the below Google Trends screenshot for Jira vs. MS Project topicality.


BigPicture Gantt chart with resource pane

The Gantt chart module of BigPicture. You can always hide the resource pane visible below the actual Gantt chart. There is also a full-size resource module in Jira + BigPicture featuring remaining capacity among others.


What do users say?

Note that Erik talks about BigGantt vs. Microsoft Project, and BigGantt is a subset of BigPicture’s functionalities – just Gantt charts and resources lite. Compare BigPicture with BigGantt.

Jira BigGantt vs. Microsoft Project review

Source: Atlassian Marketplace


What does Google Trends say?

MS Project vs Jira according to Google Trends

Source: Google Trends


How to migrate?

First, decide on the project management app for Jira you’ll be using. Of the big 4, we recommend BigPicture because it’s most universal1. For Microsoft Project users these two factors could be of particular importance:

  • BigPicture has the most popular Gantt chart for Jira,
  • and it supports both waterfall and agile methodologies, while some competitors don’t.

The migration process will differ from Jira app to Jira app. We discuss the move from MS Project to Jira here. You can just import an mpp/mpx file.

1Components of BigPicture: Roadmap, board, scope, Gantt chart, resources, risks.



Skills in Big Picture 7

Skills allocation in the resource module of BigPicture. Observe the two red ellipses.


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.