Keep Agile Project Management from Keeping You Behind


If you work in software development in the current market, odds are you’ve heard of Agile. Actually, the odds are pretty high that you and your team follow the Agile method when it comes to your product management strategies. If you’re in the minority that has never heard of Agile, no fear; it’s simply a way of breaking down projects into short bursts while keeping certain core tenants in mind. There’s a lot to the Agile way of life, but what gets to most project managers and their teams is the way it segments work.

One of the things many teams who use the Agile method complain about is the overly flexible nature of the system. Those used to more rigid networks and processes are often left confused and unnecessarily pressured by a switch to the more free stylings of Agile. Tasks are often lost in inboxes, buried in documents or forgotten altogether. There are so many moving pieces to a project that both the team and the project manager have trouble keeping track of where a project is, who’s responsible for what, and what the big picture is.

This is where JIRA custom workflows come in. With JIRA custom workflows, the big picture becomes clear, and there’s no mistaking where the project is and what needs to be done. As with any software, JIRA custom workflows have their challenges. We’re breaking down these benefits and challenges so you can see if and how JIRA custom workflows can work for you.

Benefits of JIRA Custom Workflows

flow chart map on blackboard

Imagine an author writing their great work. They break up the characters, their development, the plot, the main scenes, everything. Then they write these segmented pieces that eventually need to go together in emails and send them hither and yon without putting to paper a comprehensive chart of how all the pieces go together. That’s similar to how a lot of project management goes under the Agile method.

Before JIRA custom workflows, there wasn’t one place where a team could visualize the different pieces of a project and how they fit together. What’s more, with JIRA custom workflows, this picture is static. As your project develops, you can watch in real time as it moves through each step and see where it needs to go next. You can watch the pieces come together until, finally, your team has finished. Here’s how it all works.

Jira Custom Workflow

Screenshot taken from Atlassian webpage

You start by choosing a workflow that works for you. This can be a default workflow, one you copy from an outside network, or even one you build yourself. Your JIRA custom workflow will consist of

  • Statuses

  • Assignees

  • Transitions

  • Resolutions

Each of these building blocks help keep you and your team organized and on top of your project as you move through the process.

Statuses are those colored blocks you see in the image above. JIRA custom workflows allow you to label these “steps” however you’d like. Is your project in progress? In review? Scheduled? Pending analysis? Without JIRA custom workflows the task of finding where a project is and what’s holding it up can be maddening. Was it John’s or Amy’s responsibility? Why haven’t they turned in their work yet? What do they need? Etc. Answering these questions the old fashioned way can involve dozens of emails and wasted time. With JIRA custom workflow you can see at a glance where your team is on the road to completion and exactly what needs to happen to get them there.

Assignees are your team. Mark Statuses and responsibilities with members of your team so you know who needs to be doing what and when. Was it John or Amy? Instead of waiting for each of them to tell you it was the other, JIRA custom workflows remembers it was John, and you’re not left wasting time.

Transitions are how you get from one Status to the next. They’re represented by the black arrows between the colored blocks. They can go only one way or both depending on your unique workflow process. They can make clear what needs to happen as well as ensure certain steps are taken so your project makes its way to the next Status the right way. This happens by using

  • Conditions

  • Validators

  • Post Functions

  • Properties

These are tags and markers that can be added to Transitions so you know things have happened the way they need to for the project to move forward correctly. Essentially, all of these perform one similar function in different ways. They make it so it’s impossible to mark a project as that next step without first verifying the last step was done correctly. They can make it so the project manager has to approve the work. They can make it so only certain people can move the project forward within the JIRA custom workflow. This is where your JIRA custom workflow can be truly customized and made to fit your project’s needs.

Finally, Resolutions are the whole point. Resolutions are that final Status your team is working toward. Most often these are simply ‘Completed’ or ‘Ready for Post’, but again, it’s all about what your project needs are. Your JIRA custom workflow can have any number of Resolutions. JIRA custom workflows lets you do anything you need for your team to succeed.

Challenges of JIRA Custom Workflows

Challenges, thumbs down

JIRA custom workflows seem perfect, we know, but as with any software, it has its issues. Thankfully, they aren’t very extensive. The two main problems users have complained about when using JIRA custom workflows are

  • Difficulty managing dependencies

  • Difficulty managing multiple projects

Right now JIRA custom workflows don’t automatically tracked and noted within the base software. This makes visualizing the full picture of a project -- especially cross-team projects -- difficult. Some developers and companies have found workarounds to this problem. In 2013, Twitter released how they managed to work around this problem. The fact is, however, most people aren’t Twitter, and they certainly don’t have the time and staff that Twitter has available to dedicate to solving these problems and implementing complicated solutions to them.

As for managing multiple projects and their concurrent releases, solutions do exist. In 2012, at the Atlassian Summit, Ian Wells discussed how he was able to inject a series of Python scripts into Telogis Inc.’s JIRA custom workflow in order to change the definitions of ‘projects’ and ‘products’ in order to fix this issue. This solution is a bit complicated, however, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, injecting code can cause major bugs for your software. This can create more problems than you started with, and definitely bigger headaches.

There also remains the fact that using any software for the first time is a challenge in and of itself. If you don’t know what you’re doing, what to look for or even what your exact needs are, creating your own JIRA custom workflow can take hours and still not be what your team needs. This is where Savvior can save the day. Our team of Atlassian product experts know exactly how to customize JIRA custom workflows so you and your team can get to the important things: your projects. Why reinvent the wheel, when we already have one?