Jira Best Practices from Experts

Railsware is an engineer-led company with a vast portfolio of building projects for companies such as Calendly and brightbytes.net, as well as experience in launching our own products like Mailtrap or Coupler. So when talking about Jira best practices for developers, we speak from experience.

Why do people love Jira?

Jira is by no means perfect. It certainly has its downsides and drawbacks. For instance, it is a behemoth of a product and, as such, it is pretty slow when it comes to updates or additions of new functionality.

Some developers also say that Jira goes against certain agile principles because – when in the wrong hands – it can promote fixation on due dates rather than delivery of product value. Getting lost in layers and levels of several boards can, indeed, disconnect people by overcomplicating things. 

Still, it is among the preferred project management tools among software development teams. Why is that? 

  • Permissions: teams, especially bigger ones, work with many different experts and stakeholders, besides the core team itself. So setting up the right access to information is crucial. 
  • Roadmaps and epics: Jira is great for organizing your project on all levels. On the highest level you have a roadmap with a timeline. Then you have epics that group tasks by features or feature versions. Then, inside each epic, you create tickets for implementation.
  • Customization: This is Jira’s strongest point. You can customize virtually anything: 
    • Fields for your JIRA tickets;
    • UI of your tickets, boards, roadmaps, etc.;
    • Notifications;
    • Workflows – each project may require its own workflow and set of statuses per ticket, e.g. some projects have staging server and QA testing on it and some don’t.
  • Search is unrivalled (if you know SQL aka JQL in Jira): Finding something that would have been lost to history in a different project management tool is a matter of knowing JQL in Jira. The ability to add labels using keywords makes the aforementioned search and analysis even simpler. 
  • Automation: The ability to automate many actions is among the greatest and most underestimated strengths of Jira.
    • You can create custom flows where tickets will create temporary assignees (like the back and forth between development and QA);
    • Or you can make the issue fall into certain columns on the board based on its content;
    • Or move issue to “in progress” from “todo” when there’s a related commit;
    • Or post the list of released tickets to Slack as a part of release notes.
  • Integrations and third party apps: Github, Bitbucket, and Slack are among the most prominent Jira integrations, and for good reasons. Creating a Jira ticket from a message, for example, is quite handy at times. The Atlassian Marketplace broadens your reach even further with thousands of add-ons and applications.
  • Broad application: Jira is suitable for both iterative and non-iterative development processes for both IT and non-IT teams.

Jira best practices

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of Jira best practices for multiple projects or for a single one.

1. Define your goals and users

Jira, being as flexible as it is, can be used in a wide manner of ways. For instance, you can primarily rely on status checking throughout the duration of your sprint, or you can use it as a project management tool on a higher level (a tool for business people to keep tabs on the development process). Define your team and goals.

Now that you have a clear understanding of why, let’s talk about the ‘who’. Who will be the primary Jira user? And will they be using it to:

  • Track the progress on certain tickets in order to know where and when to contribute?
  • Use it as a guide to learn more about the project? 
  • Or maybe you’ll use it as a tool for tracking time for invoicing clients, performance for internal, data-driven decision making, or both?
  • Or is it a means of collaborating, sharing, and spreading knowledge across several teams involved in the development of the product?

The answers to the above questions should help you define the team and goals in the context of using Jira.

2. Integrations, third party APIs, and plugins

Jira is a behemoth of a project management platform. And, like all behemoths, it is somewhat slow and clunky when it comes to moving forward. If there’s some functionality you feel is missing from the app – don’t shy away from the marketplace. There’s probably a solution for your pain already out there.

Our team, for instance, relies on a third party tool to create a series of internal processes and enhance fruitful collaboration. You can use ScriptRunner to create automation that’s a bit more intricate than what comes out of the box. Or you can use BigGantt to visualize the progress in a friendly drag-&-drop interface.

3. Checklists in tickets

Having a checklist integrated into your Jira issues can help guide a culture that’s centered around structured and organized work as well as transparency and clarity to everyone. Our Smart Checklist for Jira offers even more benefits: 

  • You have a plan. Often times it’s hard to start a feature implementation and without a plan, you can go in circles for a long time;
  • Having mental peace, working item by item is much more calm and productive than dealing with the unknown;
  • Visibility of your work – if everyone sees the checklist progress, you are all on the same page;
  • Getting help – if your progress is visible, colleagues can give you advice on the plan itself and on the items that are challenging you;
  • Prioritization – once you have the items list, you can decide with your team what goes into v1, and what can be easily done later.

4. Less is more 

Information is undoubtedly the key to success. That said, in the case of a Jira issue, awareness is key. 

What we’ve noticed over our time of experimenting with Jira is that adding more info that is either unnecessary or irrelevant seems to introduce more confusion than clarity into the process. 

If an age-old history of changes or an individual’s perspective on the requirements is not needed – keep it out of the ticket. Stick to what is absolutely necessary for the successful completion of a task and elaborate on that. Not more, nor less.

5. Keep the backlog and requirements healthy and updated

Every project has a backlog – a list of ideas, implementation tickets, bugs, and enhancements to be addressed. And every project that does not keep its backlog well-maintained ends up in a pickle sooner rather than later. 

Some of our pro-tips on maintaining a healthy backlog are:

  • Gradually add the requirements to the backlog. If not for anything else, you’ll have a point of reference at all times, but moving them there immediately may cause certain issues as they may change before you are ready for implementation.
  • Keep all the work of the development team in a single backlog. Spreading yourself thin across several systems that track bugs, technical debt, UX enhancements, and requirements is a big no-no.
  • Set up a regular backlog grooming procedure. You’ll get a base plan of future activities as a result. We’d like to point out that said plan needs to remain flexible in order to make changes based on feedback and/or tickets from marketing, sales, and customer support. 

Conclusion

If there’s a product when there’s something for everyone – within the context of a development team – it’s probably Jira. The level of customization, adaptability, and quality of life features is an excellent choice for those teams that are willing to invest in developing a scalable and reliable process. And if there’s anything that’s missing from the app – you can easily find it on the Atlassian Marketplace.

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