A step by step guide to get started with Atlassian Jira

A practical guide for development teams

Atlassian Jira is probably the most used task management tool among software development teams. It is a very complex tool and can be intimidated at first.

Photo by Dorothea OLDANI on Unsplash

So, you got it, and then what?

Then you realize Jira is a mess! It sounds simple, but in a matter of days, everything is a mess.

You hate Jira!

It’s expensive, hard to use, and you wonder, how come this tool is so popular?

If you find yourself in this situation, then this article is for you!

In this article, I’ll not teach you which buttons to click, but why you should go for a specific option or another.

What makes Atlassian Jira great?

I like Jira because it is suitable for many teams, from small groups that get Agile to big organizations with multiple teams and scale Agile. I appreciate that:

  • Jira integrates with the version control systems like Git.
  • Jira is fully configurable.
  • I can use Jira to communicate with teams, program managers, top management, and customers.
  • I can use Jira to program management and sprint planning.
  • Jira has some useful reports at just one click distance (e.g., time to market)
  • I can export all the data I need from Jira and do any data analysis I want
  • Workflow automation
  • Standardization of workflows across the teams

It sounds great, but how do I get started with Jira?

Here’s my five steps guide to it:

  1. Create your first project
  2. Define and configure your workflow
  3. Configure your Jira boards
  4. Keep it up to date
  5. User Jira reports improving your team performance.

Before we get started, here are the rules for a successful Jira experience:

  • Rule no 1: Keep it simple! Don’t overthink it. Just go with an option. If it’s not working, change it. Your goal is to build products, not to best use Jira.
  • Rule no 2: Understand WHY you do something.
  • Rule no 3: Go with the option that best suits you as a team.

Step 1: Create your first project

Here are the things to consider when creating a project in Jira:

  • Scrum or Kanban. If your team develops a product, then go with Scrum. If your team does a repeated work like support, maintenance, then go with Kanban.
  • Select team roles if you selected the Scrum Methodology. Who is a Product Owner? Who is the Scrum Master? The product owner will be responsible for defining the backlog and prioritizing it, while the Scrum Master is the process leader.
  • One or multiple Jira projects? How many Jira projects should you build? By default, I recommend you keep one project for 1–2 teams. Jira allows two parallel sprints, so that means that you can have two teams sharing the same Jira project. The reason is that you want to have a full overview of what a team works in 1 view. Having multiple projects makes it hard to visualize in Jira, a team’s whole load of work.
  • Of course, you can configure multiple Jira projects to be displayed in 1 view, but remember rule no 1: Keep it simple. The simpler you start using Jira, the easier it will be to use it.
  • If we have multiple teams, do we use components? No. No component teams. You want to deliver business value from beginning to end. Don’t build component teams because they create silos, and in the long run, people will focus on delivering their part of the task instead of overall business value.
  • Should we use labels? Use labels for particular things — for example, mark the user stories you want to use for recruitment. Labels are hard to maintain. Every team member can change the labels. Without someone to maintain them strictly, it can turn into a mess: spelling mistakes, or you might forget to add them.

Step 2: Define and configure your workflow.

There are two terms you need to know for it: Definition Of Ready and Definition Of Done.

In Agile, we split the workflow into 2: Upstream and Downstream.

Definition Of Ready (DOR) means what the team needs to estimate and do a specific backlog item (story/task). Upstream is the workflow required to meet the definition of ready — the process to clarify a requirement. You know an upstream process is useful if there is no scope creep during the execution of a task/story.

Definition Of Done (DOD) means what the team needs to do to make available functionality to the user (from creation to production, from writing an article to publish it to the website). Downstream is the agile team’s execution workflow to allow the final beneficiary of the task output to use it.

The ultimate target is that Done means the solution is realizable. However, that’s a long time goal. To start with, “how far can you get close to production that is in the hands of your Agile team?”

Read more about the Definition Of Done (DOD) on User Story Definition of Done in Agile Software Development and Technical Debt.

Here is an example of workflows that I used for one of my teams:

Example of Agile Workflow
Example of Agile Workflow

After you have defined the upstream and downstream statuses with your team, you will go into the workflow section of Jira and define the statuses you agreed on inside the agile team.

To get started, you can use the workflow above:

  • To-Do — initial status
  • Analysis — add more details to the work item.
  • Ready for Estimation(optional) — it is ready for the full team to look into the work item’s information, clarify questions, and estimate it.
  • Ready — all the information is in the Jira ticket description, and the team has estimated the work.
  • In Progress — the team is working on it.
  • Peer Review — another developer reviews that code
  • Testing — someone is testing the functionality.
  • Product Owner Acceptance — The Product Owner ensures that the Agile team implemented the Jira ticket as per her/his expectations.
  • Done — the team completed the as per the definition of Done.

Here’s how to edit your Jira workflow to match your team workflow: https://support.atlassian.com/jira-cloud-administration/docs/add-and-delete-an-issue-workflow/.

Step 3: Configure your Jira boards

There are two boards you are interested in configuring:

  • the sprint board (the downstream process) and
  • the grooming/refinement board (the upstream process).

Tips for configuring your Jira boards:

  • Use automation for status transitions, especially for code reviews and testing — read more about Jira automation — the top 12 settings each team must have.
  • If you see that you forget to test some tickets, define testing sub-tasks
  • Use swimlanes to display the information in the order it makes sense to the team. By default, Jira groups the cards by stories, but prioritizing them by priority or epics might make more sense for your team.
  • Display the cards the information that makes sense for you: e.g., story points, epics, number of subtasks.
  • Use colors for status or anything else you want to visualize easily.

Step 4: Keep your Jira board up to date

During sprint planning, define:

  • The stories of the sprint
  • The sub-tasks that will help you achieve those stories. While this is an optional step, I always like to perform it with my teams because it allows the team to focus on the sprint execution during the sprint.

No matter which project management tool you use, it will get messy if you don’t keep it up to date. The easiest way to keep it up to date is always to have the Jira window open in your browser or update Jira during your daily standup meeting.

Step 5: User Jira reports to improve your team performance

If you are just getting started with Jira, I recommend you only use:

  • sprint velocity (if you use Scrum) and lead time (if you use Kanban)
  • burndown chart

Discuss them during your agile team retrospective and decide how best to use them to improve your performance.

Final thoughts: Jira might be overwhelming, but remember to:

  • please keep it simple
  • it must help you to deliver better products
  • adapt it to what makes sense for you

Please feel free to ask any questions. Happy to help.

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