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May 21

How to manage skills in Jira?

Skilled team member, engineer, pencil, clockThink ‘Jira skills management’, and two things come to mind: (1) a skill matrix and (2) scheduling of tasks based on skills. The former is more of an HR tool—a hint on who to hire or train. The latter, on the other hand, whispers to a project manager what skill is going to be in short supply (or oversupply) in the upcoming month, week, or even day.

(1) and (2) overlap each other. The skills matrix is an excellent tool for staffing managers, while the scheduling based on skills would be a natural choice for project managers. How to practice both in Jira?

Skill matrix in Jira

Let’s just quickly list a couple of means an organization founded on Atlassian environment can get their skill matrix:

  • you could manually maintain a skill/employee name grid in Confluence
  • the more automated approach to this is to have a separate Confluence bio page for each employee, then label it with reusable skill labels, such as ‘construction engineer’, ‘ATM technician’, or ‘event speaker’, and then aggregate these by a ‘Content by Label’ macro. There is a thread on that on Atlassian Community
  • you could research Atlassian Marketplace against the ‘skills’ keyword, but at the time of writing, we didn’t find any specifically designed skill matrix apps for Jira. But: we did find Skills-Radar for Jira
  • Excel and Google Spreadsheets would be other apparent choices

As we stated, however, the skills matrix is a tool for long-term talent management for stable, Japan-work-culture environments. The technique may not necessarily keep up with the pace of work a typical Jira sees.

If you expect an alarm-clock-like tool, planning based on skills is the way to go.

Plan tasks based on skills in Jira

Why even include skills in the planning process? Disregard skill management, and you may end up with a project schedule delay of a year or two. This happens when you have, say, two engineers and eight salespeople on board, but your project called for eight engineers and two sales reps. Of course, many project managers negotiate the resources they need based on intuition. This works, unless a project is too big or too complicated.

You need an app from the Marketplace, as Jira alone won’t handle skills. Ideally, get some project management plugin and not just a resource management one, so that you can do the complete project management process within a single Jira addon. BigPicture is one such full PM app.

Let’s go step by step through the skills management process in Jira + BigPicture.

(0) You know the scope of your project, right?

Before you begin to plan skills, you need to scope your project(s), at least the important phases, features, epics, or stories. Use BigPicture’s Scope or Gantt chart component for that. Check a tutorial on how to scope your project in the Scope module.

(1) Add skills to your team members

Go to BigPicture > Administration and add skills to the skills register.

Skills register Jira


Now, add skills to your team members, as marked in the below screenshot.

How to add skills to individuals, skill management


You have to set the start date for a skill. The end date is optional.

Start and end date for a skill.

You need to have some availability (capacity) set up for your team members, such as 8 hours a day, 40 hours per week, Independence Day and Christmas off, and so on. Set these using:


(2) Add required skills to the scope of your project

Go through the epics and stories in BigPicture’s Gantt chart or Scope module (pictured below)…

Jira scope


…and add skills to each of them requires. Multiple skills per task are O.K.

The good news is that you don’t have to add the required skills to each and every task. The bad news is that if you do skip too many tasks, the quality of your skill management will get hurt. The more tasks you cover, the more precise your skill management will be.

Add required skills to JIra epic, story

More in Docs: Skill widget in Jira issue detailed view


(3) Manage resources

We did an excellent job in steps (1) and (2). Let’s have a look at the Resources component of Jira BigPicture, where the whole skill management and reasoning happens.

Jira skills management


We can immediately see two things in the above sample screenshot:

A. The organization needs to hire a developer. They consistently have 0 capacity for the ‘Developer’ skill, and they also planned a weekly effort of 14.5 hours or more for this skill.

Note, that you could also estimate in story points, and if so the recommendation would probably read ‘Hire developers and a lot of them’, more in Story points in Jira explained.

B. We need to reschedule the WATER-20 task. 1 week 4 days of work remains in the ‘Estimated’ field of the ‘Time Tracking’ section of this task. Hence the exorbitant 86.5-hour allocation of the ‘Project Management’ skill for the week of June 3-9. A sound project manager will change the task’s type from a milestone to a regular task and then spread its period more evenly over several weeks.


A. is a long-term conclusion, one that you could as well make with the skill matrix. B. is more of a short-term thing, one that the skill matrix wouldn’t detect.

There could also be C., such as assign some work to testers, as you have the abundance of the ‘Tester’ skill available and zero job effort for this competence.

Read more in BigPicture docs: skill panel.



Advanced Roadmaps vs. BigPicture

This essay wouldn’t be complete without a reference to the Advanced Roadmaps Jira module (formerly Portfolio for Jira). The app is big on planning and can auto-schedule tasks based on the availability of skills. How does BigPicture compare to Advanced Roadmaps?

Whereas Advanced Roadmaps are more thorough or ‘intelligent’ in terms of slicing tasks into chunks and assigning skills to those slices, and then auto-scheduling them, BigPicture is a more complete/universal/comprehensive project management app, featuring modules that Advanced Roadmaps lack, such as Scope, Gantt chart, and Risks. Check the Giants compared: BigPicture vs. Advanced Roadmaps.


When is skill management advisable?

Consider these real-life situations:

  • the demand for particular skills varies significantly in time in your project. Say, in the first stage you need more engineers, and later you may need more implementation consultants or salespeople
  • your organization experience a high staff turnover rate. People leaving, and new people onboarding daily

If this is your reality, then why not transfer/hire professionals based on roles/skills you are currently needing?


Limitations of skills management

In spite of us being promoters of skills management, we see disadvantages, too, and here are some of them:

  • in 1,000-user environments, it would be adventurous to let everybody manage their competency profiles in skills management software. One answer is to delegate this duty to the team leader role, at least when you have teams of 10 members or so
  • there is a considerable overhead inherent in adding required skills to tasks in Jira…
  • … but BigPicture will have this automated soon—a skill will be added to a task based on the task’s type

The final word: we find the skills management more appropriate at the planning stage of the project cycle and less so at the execution stage.



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.