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Feb 11

Four approaches to WBS in BigPicture / BigGantt

Work-breakdown structureTo most users, Jira’s standard work breakdown structure (a.k.a. Epic –> Story –> Sub-task) is not enough. They need a visual WBS, and this is delivered by addons available from Atlassian Marketplace. These plugins can build their graphical, drillable WBS on Jira’s native issue links, such as ‘relates to’ or ‘is blocked by’, or on Jira’s native fields, such as ‘project’ or ‘version’. In this overview, we’ll see what visual WBS options are available in BigPicture and BigGantt. We’ll also see how to synchronize the graphical WBS with Jira links or fields.

Why is the WBS beneficial? Because it is capable of connecting the high-level project deliverables of a Project Sponsor with the low-level approach of the engineers. Thanks to the WBS, management can learn aggregated values at any given point, say, 60% of the development has been completed, 70% of the estimated time has already been logged, 50 out of 80 key features have been delivered, and so on. From the engineers’ point of view, WBS helps to channel efforts towards usable chunks of work rather than dealing with randomly selected tasks.

WBS in the Gantt chart

available in both BigPicture and BigGantt

Gantt charts tend to be heavily utilized throughout the execution stage of a project. If you look at the below screenshot, you’ve got the WBS pane to the left, but the work breakdown structure is combined here with the timeline view (to the right) for optimal visibility into the battlefield. Now, notice the crucial ‘Status’ column. Can you see the BPIV-30 Project Initiation phase? 33,3% of its sub-items are open, further 33,3% are in progress, and finally, 33,3% have been completed. So, the aggregation of low-level data is the first application of the WBS.

Work Breakdown Structure Jira Gantt chart

This WBS view is available in both BigPicture and BigGantt.


Work Breakdown Structure in Scope module

available in BigPicture

We should have begun this study with the Scope module because it tends to be utilized before the Gantt charts in a typical project workflow. Here, you decompose high-level initiatives into more manageable epics, stories, tasks, sub-tasks, and other types, so that teams can tackle a project. The view is highly configurable, and note how the ‘Status’ and ‘Time tracking’ columns supply the bird’s eye view on the whole portfolio (in ’24 Portfolio’ row).

WBS scope a project in Jira

Scope is another BigPicture module that delivers the WBS.


WBS through Board module

available in BigPicture

Another spot where you can find the work breakdown structure is Board module, and specifically its backlog (the right pane in the below screenshot). Remember, when we stated that WBS promotes delivering usable chunks of work (deliverables)? Agile teams use Board to plan work for the upcoming iterations and program increments, and so they need to have the backlog structured, to channel their efforts toward those deliverables. Interestingly, agile folks call the thing ‘backlog structure’, or ‘backlog model’, rather than ‘work breakdown structure’.

Work Breakdown Structure. Backllog of dependency board in Jira Big Picture

WBS is available in the backlog pane of BigPicture’s dependency board module.


WBS widget in Jira issue detail view

available in BigPicture and BigGantt

BigPicture and BigGantt insert a couple of widgets into the Jira issue detail view. Notice the ‘BigPicture – Work Breakdown Structure’ widget in the below screenshot. It narrows down the WBS tree to the parents of BIGMAP-89, but when you press the ‘Program overview’ button, you’ll see the whole structure, including issues unrelated to BIGMAP-89.

What’s the purpose of the WBS widget? An assignee can see here how their errand is part of a bigger change, and how the assignee’s share contributes to the overall effect.

WBS in Jira issue detail view

Note the ‘Program overview’ button; once pressed, the WBS widget displays the whole structure and not only the parents of BIGMAP-89 Feature.


So here you have it – the spots to look for the work breakdown structure in BigPicture and BigGantt.

WBS configuration

Before you start configuring the visual work breakdown structure in BigPicture you need to answer this single question: is it more useful for me to base the WBS on Jira fields and issue links, and let the automatics create the hierarchy in the blink of an eye? Or, perhaps, do I feel more like creating the WBS tree manually so that the visual WBS in BigPicture is independent and not affected by Jira fields or issue links?

Both scenarios are viable, and we see them in real-life environments.

WBS not affected by Jira fields and issue links

In this scenario, the visual work breakdown structure in BigPicture / BigGantt is independent of Jira issue links. You design the structure manually, typically in the Scope or Board modules, because at the time of writing, they support multi-select, and so you can drag&drop or indent/outdent many tasks at a time. Future versions of the Gantt chart will have the multi-select feature, too.

WBS synchronizes with Jira issue links or fields

In this scenario, you can build the visual work breakdown structure in BigPicture (BigGantt) automatically and within seconds. Go to Program configuration > General > Synchronization (starting BigPicture ver. 7.11 the tab will bear the name Task structure rather than Synchronization).

Now enable and change the order of structure builders of your choice to influence the design of your own WBS. Looking at the below screenshot, the fact that that ‘Project’ structure builder is enabled together with its first position, means that Jira’s project field will make the top level of the newly created visual WBS in BigPicture.  The below screen is a valid, real-life configuration of automated visual WBS based on Jira projects, versions, and sub-tasks. Once you click ‘Save’ a flat task list in the Gantt chart, Scope, and Board modules should immediately be formatted into the three-level work breakdown structure.

Jira BigPicture work breakdown structure synchronization configuration

The pictured configuration is responsible for how the WBS appears in most of the screenshots in this article.


More in docs:

Automated task structure (WBS)
Issue detail view WBS widget


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.