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Mar 30

MS Project and Jira. How to Integrate, Export and Import

Microsoft Project Jira integration migration

Permanently migrate or merely integrate MS Project with Jira? We discuss why’s and how’s below.

Although still a major player, MS Project is regressing. The foremost reason? Microsoft Project was born before the Internet Era began, and this heritage haunts MSP users to this day. In Microsoft tool you tend to miss the “real-time” status of a project and the product is more pricey and harder to learn than younger web browser-based competitors, such as Jira.

Let’s look at the rationale behind MS Project to Jira integration, or permanent migration. Why do organizations do that? Which options are cumbersome and which are pretty straightforward? Do you actually need to permanently keep MS Project in sync with Jira, or perhaps export your projects from MS Project to Jira once or a few times? Some project managers even use Jira-back-to-MSP import. So, what are the solutions available on the market?

Two approaches: How to link MS Project to Jira?

We see two major approaches to the “MS Project – Jira integration/export/import” thing:

  1. Be brave and take a leap forward: permanently transfer from MS Project to Jira. We explain the reasons for this step here. What you need is an MS Project-to-Jira export/import feature.
  2. Some organizations use both MS Project and Jira simultaneously. How come? A project manager believes strongly or has his roots deeply in Microsoft Project environment, but all others use Jira for practical reasons; or, usually large enterprises, value Microsoft products and distrust younger project management software. So they kind of “diversify risk” by keeping MSP alive. Other reasons might include the fact that the Gantt chart module of MS Project has been immensely popular, especially in corporations. What these folks need is Jira to MS Project integration.

Which of the two options is better?

Well, it depends. Given no commitment to Microsoft products, option 2 is obviously better. To understand why, consider reasons MS Project is failing for. Released in 1984, long before Internet gained popularity, and in spite of many enhancements on the way, Microsoft Project remains a desktop app and not a web app. This results in MSP being less real-time based, less team-centric, more expensive to purchase and more difficult to learn.

Example: Think of Microsoft Outlook vs. web-based Gmail. Which is cheaper, more efficient and easier to use? Same applies to MS Project vs. Jira dispute.


1. How to permanently transfer from MS Project to Jira?

Table 1: Compare MS Project, plain Jira, and Jira+BP+BT.

MS Project Jira Jira + BigPicture + BigTemplate
Tracking tool yes yes yes
Roadmap yes
Gantt chart yes yes
Resources yes yes
Risks yes
Teams yes
SAFe® compliant yes
MSP to Jira export/import yes
Check a more extensive Jira + BigPicture vs. MS Project comparison.

By giving up MS Project you expect a change for the better, right? But here is the thing: plain Jira is just a superior tracking tool, great for keeping track of hundreds/thousands of fine, detailed tasks. Plain Jira, however, lacks most of the visualisation and aggregation tools that modern, agile project managers need, such as teams, roadmap, resources and risks modules, as well as a Gantt chart.

Why is Jira getting increasingly popular then? Atlassian Marketplace with hundreds of plugins, or apps for Jira is the answer. Among those apps, there is a choice of excellent project management apps and you need to add one of them on top of Jira. So what you basically need is Jira + a project management app.

Currently there are 4 big players on the “PPM app for Jira” market and we compare them here and here. Few of them, however, feature the crucial MS Project to Jira import functionality, see table 2.

Table 2: Major project management apps for Jira.

Microsoft Project to Jira
export/import feature
BigPicture + BigTemplate by SoftwarePlant yes
Jira Portfolio by Atlassian
Structure by ALM Works
Tempo for Jira

Jira + BigPicture + BigTemplate

To import a MS Project native MPP or MPX file to Jira you only need BigTemplate. BigPicture, however, provides roadmapping, teams, resources, risk matrix and a Gantt chart, i.e. all the contemporary project management modules. The suite in a nutshell:

  • BigTemplate recognizes both MPP and MPX Microsoft Project files.
  • BigTemplate will import:
    • all the MSP tasks, including hierarchy
    • non-working days, such as Saturdays, Sundays, set in MSP calendar
    • duration of tasks, their start and end dates
    • dependencies between tasks (set on a Gantt chart in MS Project)
  • As a result of the import procedure you get a new program in BigPicture with a single project inside that program that mirrors your original MSP project.
  • In the unlikely event of you being not satisfied with Jira, BigTemplate can re-export the mpp/mpx file from Jira to bring the project back to MSP ;)
Import MS Project mpp mpx file to Jira BigPicture

Importing Microsoft Project MPP/MPX files to Jira + BigPicture + BigTemplate. Pictured is the Program Manager of BigPicture. Other acceptable formats – csv, xls, xlsx (various MS Excel versions), ods (OpenDocument) – are evident.




MS Project vs. Jira – which is cheaper?

Even with the aforementioned two extra apps added on top, Jira is likely to be much cheaper for your organization than Microsoft Project. Consider these facts, prices as of March 2018:

  • With a single-user MS Project 2016 license you are looking at an expense of approx. $500.
  • Jira plus BigPicture plus BigTemplate, server versions, will cost:
    • Jira for up to 10 users – $10
    • BigPicture, up to 10 users – $10
    • BigTemplate, up to 10 users – $10
    • Total: $30, or $3 per user

Obviously, both Microsoft and Atlassian have deals and the discrepancy between prices for a 1000-user organization is not going to be that shockingly high.

How many licenses do you need for BigPicture and BigTemplate?

Same number as for Jira. If you plan to buy a 500-user Jira license, you will need a 500-user BigPicture license, as well as a 500-user BigTemplate license. This is an Atlassian policy.

Is BigPicture enough to import a project from MS Project to Jira?
Export MPP MPX pdf xlsx from Jira

Export manager of BigPicture + BigTemplate. You can export an entire project in MS Project native MPP/MPX formats or export individual issues to PDF, JPG, PNG files. Refer to BigTemplate docs.

No. BigPicture itself is not an importing tool, it’s a PPM, or Project Portfolio Management tool. You need BigTemplate to perform the data migration from MSP to Jira and after that you need BigPicture to manage your projects in a contemporary, agile fashion.

BigTemplate’s role, however, extends long after the migration, as the plugin’s second and major feature is exporting tasks or tickets to custom pdf, doc, docx and even xml templates, A4/Letter printable. Why to print tickets on paper?

  • You might wish to hand a printed instruction with QR code to some laborer,
  • or print and stick a label on your asset or property,
  • or print a job contract to hand it to a part time employee, or… or…
  • and keep in mind that BigTemplate exports mpp/mpx files from Jira, too, so you can bring a project back to Microsoft software.
Will BigTemplate read both MPP and MPX files?

Yes. No matter in which version of MS Project they were saved, BigTemplate reads and imports both MPP (newer) and MPX (older) format.

The older MPX, X stands for eXchanging data with other project management software, can be created in up to Microsoft Project 98, but it can still be read by as far as MSP 2010.

Will BigTemplate permanently integrate MSP with Jira?

No. BigTemplate does a perfect job importing an MPP/MPX file and creating a new program/project in Jira. BigTemplate, however, is not capable of updating an existing Jira project. So BT could have tough time as a permanent bridge between Jira and MSP.

But are you in the initial stage of a project, when real-time sync is not that important? Then yes, BigTemplate will suit you. Note that BigTemplate can re-export mpp/mpx file from Jira to bring the project back to MSP.

How about other MSP-to-Jira export/import tools available on Atlassian Marketplace?

There is an excellent MS Project Importer for Jira by Ricksoft, but always compare the “active installations” number that is displayed next to each plugin. The Atlassian crowd is rarely wrong.

Is plain Jira enough to import a project from MS Project to Jira?

No. As of today Jira itself does not recognize mpx/mpp files.

Given all the disadvantages of MS Project, why does it persist on the project management market?

Well, again because it’s a well-established pioneer. It was launched 20 years ahead of Jira. Large organizations overly prize Microsoft, as they tend to stick to a single software supplier. What’s more the MS Project’s Gantt module has made MS Project immensely popular. It’s inertia of the large that drives MS Project.

Check an extensive Jira + BigPicture vs. Microsoft Project comparison.

Is MS Project truly all that bad?

Think of MS Excel and Google Sheets pair. Until the late 2000s, when one utilized MS Excel only, one thought it was natural for an xls file to be limited to one person at a time, and that the file needs to be distributed over e-mail, etc. Then suddenly Google ushered in the cloud-hosted Sheets, accessible by multiple users at a time, lightweight and cheap.

This is a parallel with the MS Project – Jira pair. But there is more to the regression of MSP:

  • Macs are generally not compatible with MS Project, unless you install Windows next to OS X. There are exceptions, but why struggle?
  • A steep learning curve of MS Project compared to web browser-based Jira
  • A cleaner, simpler user interface of Jira
  • Laborious calendars configuration in MS Project
  • Wish to open Project 2010 file with Project 2007 software? Either impossible or you could find yourself at a mercy of some converter, and there were plenty of versions, i.e. Microsoft Project 4.0, 4.1, 98, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016. Jira has no “versions” limitations.
  • MS Project tends to be pricey
  • Jira is licensed per-user, while Microsoft still sells per-device licenses; you generally need fewer Jira licenses.
Is the Jira + BP + BT suite recommended for corporations?

Yes. How corporations are different from small and medium businesses? They have (a) global operations and (b) long term planning. Jira, with its web-based architecture, is great for distributed and dispersed teams. The Gantt chart in MS Project is certainly great, but it’s about granular, short-term planning. Jira + BigPicture, on the other hand, provide not only a Gantt chart, but also teams and roadmapping modules. Check Atlassian licensing to discover the 2k-10k and above 10k tiers.

Visual project management board, roadmap

BigPicture sleek interface. Pictured is the roadmap board. More on roadmapping in Jira.


How is Jira different from other modern project management frameworks, such as Asana, Trello, Rally and Pivotal Tracker?

Well, the question calls for a detailed analysis and the tools constantly change. If we were to name the three most distinguishing features of Jira vs. the rest, we would say:

  • Jira has made advances to the giants – by making the software a little bit more sophisticated and customizable than the competition, and not as slim as, say, Trello.
  • Atlassian’s product supports the mainstream PM methodologies: agile, Scrum, Kanban
  • Jira has veered towards the integrate-with-every-popular-tool approach, by creating the whole Atlassian Marketplace, and allowing independent developers to sell apps for Jira there.


2. How to integrate MS Project with Jira?

Instead of migrating from MS Project to Jira, some organizations elect to keep both tools active. Google “MS Project Jira integration” and you’ll find at least a couple of solutions to keep the two in sync.

We find this approach, however, fundamentally wrong. Not only you are about to fall into a two-databases setup, which is a flaw in itself. Since you already have Jira with plenty of affordable and by just about any means better project management apps available on the Marketplace, why to keep MSP alive in the first place and struggle with data exchange? Thoughts on why to migrate from MS to 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.