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I’ve recently retweeted a few tweets which weren’t exactly complimentary about Jira. For example:
Plenty of good things happened at work today. And then I heard we start using Jira.
— Henri Karhatsu (@karhatsu) December 16, 2015
— Neil Killick (@neil_killick) December 16, 2015
Today a co-worker asked me why I was so down on Jira. Which is a fair question; especially since we use the entire Atlassian suite of products including Jira. So why does Jira set my teeth on edge?
The biggest reason is that there’s somehow become a conflation between using Jira and “doing Agile”; that is, many organisations seem to think that gaining agility is a matter of installing a tool. Of course, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” would have you think again; but maybe hoping that people have read the agile manifesto is a little optimistic .
It hurts a little bit to follow the #kanban discussion from the neighbor table: “you only need to turn on kanban in Jira, that’s it” 😮
— Klaus Leopold (@klausleopold) December 15, 2015
Since Atlassian renamed the Greenhopper plugin to “Jira Agile”, the situation has only got worse. What you now see is still a “project” that is composed of “issues” but they’re magically displayed in swimlanes. So now we’re Agile, right? The thing is that Jira started life as a bug/issue management tool; and if your primary unit of work is an “issue”, you’re not starting from a great place . (As an aside, every time I hear a team talk about their user stories or features as “Jiras” a little piece of me dies inside).
You can see the impact this has had on organisations by looking at what skills they’re seeking in their job ads. Project Managers with MS Project skills have been replaced with “SCRUM Masters (sic)” with Jira skills.
Words that red-flag so-called Agile vacancies: “own”, “run”, “certified”, “project”, “ensure”, “manage”, “Jira” + typos, spellings, etc.
— Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) December 11, 2015
The second way that Jira promotes bad practice is in its workflows. I’ll admit that it’s over five years since I had to administer a Jira workflow but it was hellish then and I suspect it’s not got much better since. Because there’s such complexity, there’s a big ramp up time and large learning curve; therefore, teams are not incentivised to change their process. Changing your process would be one of the key outcomes of an inspect and adapt cycle and a core fundamental of continuous improvement.
Let’s be clear people, you can’t do #kanban with Jira. If you want real results & improvement get a tool designed for evolutionary change
— David J Anderson (@lki_dja) December 16, 2015
The final reason I’d advise people to steer clear of Jira? Because physical boards are awesome. A physical card wall is a totem for the team ; it’s an information radiator that anyone who’s passing by can look at and engage in a conversation around. Jira, meanwhile, hides that away behind a login screen – it actively discourages you from looking at work in progress.
OH: “JIRA is not just an information refrigerator, it’s an information crisper: cold, out of sight, and only noticed when turned rotten.”
— Ted M. Young (@jitterted) November 3, 2015
Nothing creates a sense of connection with your work quite like a physical card wall . There’s a real sense of meaningful progress when you move cards around on a wall that you just don’t get by dragging them with a mouse. And there’s plenty of research to show that progress, no matter how small, is motivating for individuals and teams.
I like the feeling when moving a piece of paper in the whiteboard and creating space for the next one. Does Jira give you that feeling?
— Henri Karhatsu (@karhatsu) December 18, 2015
So why would you use Jira instead of a physical board? If you want a backup of the wall (what happens if someone defaces the cards or the building burns down) then take a photo every day. If you want interaction in a split-site team, have two card walls that are kept in sync by a team member on each end of the divide. If you want charts, draw them by hand – a big visible chart in the team area is much more valuable than a tiny one hidden on a dashboard.
I know some teams love Jira – I worked with one who were devastated that it had been taken away from them in favour of a (much larger, more bloated) agile lifecycle management tool. But I know just as many teams who’d much rather not use Jira or any electronic tool at all. All I’m asking is that you see the world beyond Jira – try not using any tool, try using a lighter weight tool and then go back to Jira if you really think you’re missing out on something.