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Feb 18

How to go about Product Management in Jira?

A great Product Manager innovates and motivates more than they make plans or resource management. A Jira-based product manager is no exception to that rule: a simple roadmap and cross-team dependency board are tools to go with. What’s the workflow of a Product Manager (as opposed to a Project manager). And how to set this up in Jira?

First, this enlightening picture:

Both product and project management app for Jira

BigPicture is both a Project and Product management app since the two terms blend into each other. To the left, BigPicture at Atlassian Summit; to the right – at SAFe Summit.


Project Manager vs. Product Manager

In a nutshell: a Project Manager thinks ‘scope, time (start & end dates), and budget’. A Product Manager thinks ‘customer experience, a continuous stream of value, sales, and marketing’.

Yet, there is another difference. Product Managers are there to promote a shared understanding with teams and stakeholders and collect feedback. So, a Product Manager is at least equally a social role as he/she is a technocrat. It is the single most distinguishing feature that separates the Product Manager from the Project Manager.

How did it happen that Product Management saw daylight? Before the 1990s, you would have a timeline with projects on that timeline, and the projects might have been broken into products. In the 1990s, we began to see products as the highest-level items on organizations’ timelines and projects as sub-items of those products. Finally, with the agile revolution in the 2000s, and especially with the advent of Scaled Agile Framework, we have witnessed the demise of projects – here is why.

One Product Manager per product

Let’s suppose we’re in the automotive industry and the popular compact car segment. A product manager would not only listen to the dealerships (what do customers say?), follow the government regulations (new emission standards), talk to aftersales (are we in a position to raise the prices of service?). The product manager would also proactively set trends, for instance ‘let’s add a smartphone holder on the dashboard and subtract the not-so-popular onboard navigation from our middle trim’ to increase satisfaction and cut down the price. Now, such an omnipotent Product Manager occurs in niche industries and domestic markets. With complex products and world markets, the Product Manager role tends to be distributed among several people.

Specialized Product Managers

Here is the typical multi-PM environment with well-established enterprises:

  • Senior/Strategy Product Manager is responsible for the business context, market analysis, clients’ expectations, pricing, sales, and long-term product development strategy.
  • Technical Product Manager keeps an eye on the technology of the product, technological progress of the competition, technical innovation, user experience, versions of the product.
  • Product Marketing Manager rolls the short-/medium-term marketing plan, leads the marketing staff, copywriters, authors (SEM, SEO activities, social media, success stories), orders the point of sales materials, and educates the sales team.

Sometimes even the technical support team is under the Senior Product Manager.


Jira Product Management toolset

If a Product Manager finds him-/herself in Atlassian/Jira environment, how they set it up for the Product Management workflow? Typically you’ll use a plugin with the three below tools:

1. Roadmap

For agile Product Management, it could be the Roadmap. For a hybrid or waterfall project manager, it could be the Gantt chart. The two tools blend into each other. You use the roadmap to align your teams and internal stakeholders. Sometimes a Product Manager maintains another roadmap for the customers (public roadmap).

Roadmap in Jira, iteration goals

Product roadmap in Jira BigPicture. You can assign Planned Business Value to each item to prioritize items and Actual Business Value, once the items have been completed.


Visualize epics or features on the timeline view:

Gantt chart roadmap features, product management

2. Product Requirements

Product Requirements Document could be as simple as a text document attached to a Jira ticket. Or, perhaps, a set of Jira tickets, with a detailed description of each feature or story, could constitute the PRD. All these tickets would have priorities set, they could also link to Confluence pages, and they would collectively make the backlog.

3. Board with the backlog

For a simple product, it could be a regular Kanban board available in Jira. For a complex product, however, it would typically be a Program board with iterations, Program Increments, and cross-team dependencies. Such as the one pictured below.

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

Cross-team board with Backlog in Jira BigPicture. Product Owner’s feast.


– The best way to build a product might actually be to get out of your team’s way.
– Great product teams build a shared understanding.
– If it’s you – the Product Manager – who updates the Roadmap and the Backlog, then you probably don’t have a shared understanding with your team.
– Our job as Product Managers is to give context to the team.
– Product Manager is the CEO of a product in a non-CEO way (no reports, no authority, being an influencer).
– Product Management sits at the intersection of user experience, technology, and business. 


Product Manager vs. Product Owner

Product Manager Product Owner
high-level  (mission, vision) day-to-day activities (requirements, stories, backlog)
conceptual level daily chores
owns vision, marketing, ROI owns team backlog and fulfillment work
works with outside stakeholders works with internal stakeholders
role responsibility
– Listen to your customers. You cannot solve the customer’s problem without understanding it.


– Your customers are the least qualified people to come up with solutions.1

– Watch the competition to understand the customer problem better.


– The competition may be wrong.1

– Spend a lifetime being dumb. You’re going to have a great career as a Product Manager.1

1 By Dave Wascha (see video below)

Why have projects disappeared (in some industries)?

It has to do with the Oil & Mass Production Age being on the wane, and the Software & Digital Age being on the rise. You could have made long-term plans in the former, but you are no longer able to plan two years ahead in the latter. It’s not to say that Product Managers do not make plans. They rather plan flexibly: they always have a backlog of epics, features, and stories, and they ‘draw’ tickets from that pool, from iteration to iteration (Board), from Increment to another PI (Roadmap). Take a look at the Mik Kersten’s Project to Product page:

Software as Proportion of car cost

Source: Project to Product, Mik Kersten.

Did you know that around 2013, car manufacturers routinely put money into their smartphone-to-car audio interfaces, only to discover Apple CarPlay and Android Auto a year later? The more of the software component in a product, the less applicable Project Management, and the more applicable Product Management are.



Can I run Product Management with plain Jira

and no product management app, such as BigPicture, on top?

Yes, you could:

  • Go to Issues > Search for issues > ‘Type’ combo box > narrow down search to ‘Epics’ or ‘Features’. Here you have it, your roadmap. You could also add the ‘Due date’ column to your search view.
  • Get into a habit of adding custom attributes to your epics or features. For instance, a car manufacturer might want to add the ‘body type’ attribute that can take ‘sedan’, ‘wagon’, and ‘hatchback’ values, and then they can filter out epics/features by body type, and this would be your product requirements document. You could further link those tasks to Confluence.
  • From Jira’s main menu, go to Boards > [your board’s name] > Backlog tab. Here you have it, your board with the backlog.

This setup is viable at small organizations. With medium to large companies, when cross-team management and visualization are crucial, give a PM plugin a try.



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.