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Mar 26

How to tackle large projects in Jira?

Facing a massive project? Or several large projects? Or an overwhelming program? Here are a few ways to manage through large projects with or… without Jira. Atlassian puts it this way: “Start with a big picture”. But we add: “Start with an even bigger picture”. How come?

Jira for large projects

While the construction process of the Golden Gate Bridge would constitute a program by today’s standards, many would simply call it “a very large project”. Surely, achievable with Jira. Check the project vs. program paragraph below.

If I was to formulate a single “rule” I would say that fundamental thinking is an essential thing to be successful with massive projects. Einstein put it this way:

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.

With an “average” project you could, at worst, lose after a few months. With a large project, you’re potentially looking at “betting wrong and losing a farm”.

Einstein’s approach

So before you engage in the “5 minutes” stage, i.e. running some large project in Jira, you might want to do your homework on the “55 minutes” side:

  • What basic need will your new project or service satisfy?
  • Are there other, simpler answers to that need that have already been discovered and have been present on the market?
  • How high are barriers to entry?
  • How high are barriers to exit?
  • Could global trends undermine the planned product or service?
  • Are changes in the legislation likely to happen?
  • Are you prepared for “E” like Escalation of the costs and to what extent, e.g. 2x, 5x, or 10x the original estimation?

They all boil down to “It’s better to be safe than sorry” and relate to strategic thinking and sector analysis.

“Organizational” approach

Having completed the “55 minutes” stage above, let’s pass to the “5 minute” stage and see what we can do with just Jira + some special techniques important in large, lengthy projects:

  • Involve people with experience in large-scale projects.
  • Set a goal that is likely to stand the test of time. How? Think what values will your team, and the world, profess in 5-10-20 years?
  • Be definite in your goals, but flexible in your approach. Remember the big picture, but be agile.
  • Treat your team fair. Reward, make them think that their work will last, and that… they will last. Be transparent and open.

Now and only now, let’s make the third step:

Approach large projects with Jira

Do I need a PPM plugin?

Yes. With large, multi-year projects risks come to the fore. Running a several-year project without serious risk assessment and management is like reckless driving. Chances are some disaster will happen. So you need some risk management module, which plain Jira, a tracking tool, obviously doesn’t have.

Project or program?

People talk about large projects but what they often mean are programs. A program = several projects, but there is more to that:

  1. While projects rarely last several years, programs often do.
  2. A project team could consist of 20 people; a program team might be five times as big.
  3. While a project, more often than not, has a single goal, e.g. releasing a new product or a new version of the product, a program tends to have several objectives, that collectively make a change. A change in an organization, on the market, or in the world.
  4. Finally, a program usually has greater levels of uncertainty, than a project.

But most importantly, you’re going to have dependencies between projects in your program, you’ll utilize common resources and you’re going to do some long-term planning.

And this is where Jira plus a true PPM app makes sense.

How to pick the right app for large projects?

First and foremost, pick a complete app, with all the customary modules, such as teams, resources, risks, roadmap, Gantt chart. Here I explain why it’s better to have a single “Jira for large projects” app than a collection of five apps.

As of today, there are four major players in the Jira for large projects market, all available on Atlassian Marketplace. We compare them here:

Top 4 tools for project management in Jira

How to pick a project management plugin for Jira?

How about large organizations?

Companies with hundreds/thousands of users will find BigPicture Enterprise helpful. BigPicture Enterprise is an expansion pack for BigPicture, so large-scale companies need both. Read on how BigPicture Enterprise helps with large portfolios.


Jira program project view

Projects on a program’s timeline. BigPicture plugin for running big projects or programs in Jira.


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.