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Jan 11

What is Jira? How to expand Jira’s project management capabilities?

Two people surrounded by jira issue type logos floating in a box

Thousands of teams use Jira every day for a variety of reasons. But what is Jira exactly? Who can benefit from using it the most? Is there a way to improve the software? It’s time to break it down and explain Atlassian’s flagship tool.

What is Jira?

The simple answer is that Jira is a work management tool. However, that barely covers the extent of Atlassian’s software. It helps teams plan their everyday tasks, log and track progress, exchange feedback, automate processes, and more.

Who uses Jira in an organization? Depending on the context, the list can range from C-level executives, project managers, and team leaders, to other employees alike. Speaking of use, it’s time to delve into the most popular use cases of Jira software.

What is Jira used for?

Atlassian’s tool works in various environments, industries, and use cases. Here is a quick overview of the most common uses of Jira.

Task management

Jira Software offers interactive boards for managers and team members to create and track tasks. Each one can contain details, dates, or even reminders. It’s possible to break down the work into sub-tasks for more accurate management of the upcoming workload. Linking tasks helps see the connections between cross-team work items.

Software development

Developers have sprint and release planning tools at their disposal. The addition of project backlog helps teams catalog and prioritize upcoming work. On top of that, Jira supports feature flagging thanks to integrations.

Project management

Managers can oversee Classic or Agile projects in Jira and gather various pieces of information. Workflows offer a repeatable structure and automate the transition of project phases. Built-in tools enable tracking, monitoring, and execution of projects and tasks. Numerous report types support presenting a wide assortment of data in specific contexts.

Bug tracking

Jira improves managing errors by providing a backlog. It lets developers quickly see the list of problems and prioritize them. The built-in tools assist in tracking the resolution of bugs. Additionally, customizable workflows help create an automated path with steps and assignments of the right people to the appropriate bugs.

Key concepts in Jira

Jira uses its own terminology, which might be confusing at first. After all, terms like “issue”, “epic”, or “parent/child relationship” have specific meanings in the English language. What do they have to do with managing work? As it turns out, they are critical to understanding how Jira works.

Issue

In Jira, the word doesn’t have a negative connotation. An issue is a singular piece of work that needs to be completed. For example, an issue can be a task in a project, a helpdesk ticket, or a product backlog item in Scrum, to name a few.

Issues are often connected and dependent upon each other. Jira presents the issue links on the issue page along with additional information such as the name, its category, and its status.

The list of Jira issue links in the issue page (marked with a red frame).

Issue type

The word “issue” in Jira is almost omnipresent. The software uses five issue types to categorize, identify, and structure the work performed by teams on a daily basis. Some of them apply to a specific use case or management approach, while others have a broader application. Here is the list of the five default Jira issue types:

A list of Jira issue types with corresponding logos and a hierarchy structure.

Epic

It’s the largest issue type available in Jira Software. An epic is “a large body of work that can be broken down into a number of smaller issues.” In other words, it contains multiple tasks, bugs, or user stories. The term originates from the Agile software development approach.

Epics serve as containers for smaller Jira issue types. In practical terms, an epic can be a deliverable of a project, for example, a feature comprised of several components. Each component can be a separate user story or functionality. In Agile frameworks like Scrum or Kanban, developers tend to work on epics throughout multiple Sprints.

You can see the issue type in the “Details” section.

Epic link

Simply put, an Epic Link is a custom field that connects all the issues to a given Epic. It helps maintain the proper structure of your initiatives. On top of that, it allows you to quickly assign a task or a story to the Epic of your choice.

The “Epic Link” field is located in the details section of your issue.

Whether you create new issues or assign existing ones, the Epic Link field will ensure that the work items have the right structure. As a result, finding and organizing elements of the Epic is quick and easy.

Parent and Child

These two terms explain the relationship between Jira issues. Additionally, they provide a clear hierarchy and structure. Atlassian defines the parent and child relationship as follows:

  • “A parent issue is an issue that sits above another issue e.g. a story that’s made up of subtasks.”
  • “A child issue is an issue that sits below another issue e.g. a subtask that belongs to a task.”

In other words, it lets users know which issues are higher or lower on the hierarchy than others. It is particularly useful in breaking down the work in a project.

The parent-child relationship is contingent on the issue type. Here is a short breakdown:

  • An Epic can only be a parent since it’s at the top of the hierarchy.
  • A Task can be a child of an Epic, a parent of another Task, or a child of a Task.
  • The same applies to Bugs and Stories.
  • A Subtask can only be a child of a Task.

Backlog

It’s a list of tasks that the team is either working on or will tackle in the future. Backlog is an Agile term, which is why it’s used in Agile frameworks such as Kanban or Scrum. The Jira backlog will look different depending on the framework you use to manage projects.

In Kanban, the backlog is one of the columns on the boards. Dragging it from one column to another means a team member is ready to work on an issue from the Backlog. Before that happens, the items are marked with a “Backlog” in the Status field on the issue page.

For Scrum projects, Jira provides a dedicated space for the backlog. That’s where teams can drop all the items they will work on in future sprints. The Backlog tab displays information such as the issue’s name, link, assignee, or the estimated number of story points needed to complete it. Naturally, not all of these fields have to be filled out. In some cases, it’s not possible to know all the information before the task gets assigned and the work starts. In both Kanban and Scrum environments, backlog users can add, estimate, categorize, and prioritize issues.

An example of a Jira backlog in an Agile project.

Board

Jira uses boards to display the work of the team in various stages of completion. The main elements of the board are the status columns and cards. Every issue has its own card that is placed on the corresponding status column. Once the work on a given issue progresses to the next stage, the users can drag the card from one column to another.

Jira’s default boards have three statuses:

  • To do,
  • In progress,
  • Done.

Any time a team member or manager adds a new task to the board, it lands in the “To do” column by default.

An example of a Board in Jira.

Sprint

In Agile, Sprint is an event that provides a time frame for the work done by the Developers. Its idea is to deliver a working product increment during the Sprint. In Jira’s terms, it’s a custom time frame that helps Scrum teams organize their work.

When starting a new Sprint, the team either adds new issues to the backlog or imports the unfinished work from the previous iteration. Additionally, users have the option to add information such as Sprint’s name, duration, and main goal.

Teams using Jira use boards to view the list of items assigned to a Sprint. Furthermore, any team member can quickly add an issue to a Sprint in the issue detail view. When a Jira Sprint ends with incomplete items, you can move them to the backlog or a new Sprint.

JQL

The abbreviation stands for Jira Query Language. As the name suggests, it is a set of phrases users can utilize to search for all kinds of data in Jira. JQL expands the functionality of the traditional search bar. It allows users to create detailed and complex queries to find exactly what they need.

You can think of JQL as an advanced filtering device. Let’s say you have a project with dozens or hundreds of tasks. Scrolling through them all to find a select few would take a long time. Instead, teams use JQL to filter their lists and display issues containing specific parameters.

Team-managed project

It’s one of two types of projects available in Jira. This one allows teams to manage the project internally, without the support of a Jira administrator. The teams are in control of most of the settings, they can create and modify the workflows at will, and the configuration options have been reduced to accommodate less proficient Jira users.

Company-managed project

For projects that are more cross-team in nature, the company-managed option is a much better choice. The structure, screens, and workflows are managed by Jira admins. Consequently, the projects are standardized across teams. Less control of the settings by individual team members is the obvious drawback here. Though shared access for many teams and a streamlined project structure might outweigh that disadvantage. It’s important to note that company-managed projects require the installation of additional software.

Atlassian Marketplace – Jira’s integration hub

Even though Jira provides teams with a lot of functionality out of the box, there are ways to extend it even further. It’s possible by integrating the work management software with other apps. Some of them are Atlassian products, others are the work of third-party vendors.

There is a place where users get to find all the Jira-compatible apps. The Atlassian Marketplace is home to thousands of apps in over 30 categories. The list includes Jira apps for project management, admin tools, CRM, documentation, ITSM, testing, and reporting to name a few.

Boost your portfolio project management abilities with BigPicture

One of the most popular project management apps in the Atlassian Marketplace, BigPicture, is a comprehensive tool for managers at any level and operating in any methodology. While Jira issues end at the Epic level, BigPicture takes it two steps further. Appfire’s software adds the Program and Portfolio levels.

As a result, managing multiple projects – or even all the initiatives in an organization – is much easier and clearer. Whether it’s the complete top-down overview, aggregation, or a streamlined information flow – our tool allows users to see the whole landscape of initiatives and make better decisions because of that.

BigPicture supports the installation of multiple Jira Cloud instances, which is all the more important for complex organizations with teams using separate instances of Atlassian’s software. All of that means you can use it as a single source of truth for all your project data. That, in turn, helps align the work with appropriate objectives on every level in the organization.

An example of the home view of all the initiatives. Note various data containers on the left (Portfolio, Program), as well as methodology-specific labels (Agile, Hybrid, Classic, SAFe® ART).

Manage projects in any approach

The comprehensiveness of the PPM tool is elevated by the support of Classic, Agile, and Hybrid approaches to project management. Methodology-specific tools like the Gantt chart, SAFe®-compatible Agile board, and Hybrid’s Planner module provide clarity of information. Risk matrices help manage and mitigate potential obstacles in the future. The Resources module will help keep the workload of teams in check.

The app is fully synchronized with Jira bidirectionally. It means that changes made in BigPicture are immediately saved in Atlassian’s tool and vice versa. That ensures the data is up-to-date across tools at all times.

Whether you want to plan the team’s work, manage scope, allocate resources, review and report progress, or assess risks, BigPicture will help you do so more efficiently and easier than ever before.

About The Author

Content Specialist at BigPicture. Passionate about new technologies, both in hardware and software form, as well as creating educational content that makes complex ideas more understandable.