Jira: Project management software review


Jira has been a top choice for software development teams for a long time. Meanwhile, a universe of non-developer teams have looked to general-use PM software like ClickUp, Smartsheet, and Wrike for a less technical UX. Atlassian’s response to these brands as the market for general team and project management platforms matures is Jira Work Management.

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Review methodology

This review is based on my experience registering, configuring, and executing a project in Jira. The sample project I built in the tool is a three-month application development timeline with six sprints and over 20 core tasks.

Below is the sample project (Figure A). The columns listed include task name, start and end dates, assigned contact, status, duration, completion percentage, and notes. Meanwhile, rows organize sprint tasks and subtasks into sprints. Two sprints contain multiple subtasks.

Figure A

Image: Sam Ingalls/TechRepublic.

To add additional context, I familiarized myself with Jira’s product documentation, demos, industry reviews and recognition and a comparative analysis with alternative software applications. I ran a free trial of the Business plan to test this tool.

Jira alternatives & competitors

*in alphabetical order

What is Jira Work Management?

Jira is the flagship software and project management platform developed by Atlassian for software development teams. Released in 2002, the core product—Jira Software—offers developers tools to plan, track, release, and report in the software development lifecycle.

Almost twenty years later, Atlassian announced the addition of Jira Work Management to the Jira family of applications in 2021. Through a collaborative platform, Jira Work Management offers teams across industries the capabilities the vendor built for developer and IT services teams.

What is Atlassian?

In 2002, recent college graduates Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar launched Atlassian in Sydney, Australia. Jira and Confluence were released shortly after while the company grew slowly until the start of the cloud revolution in the late 2000s.

Between two funding rounds in 2010 and 2014, Atlassian raised $210 million before becoming a public company (NASDAQ:TEAM) in 2015.

Through two decades, Atlassian has strengthened its portfolio with almost twenty acquisitions, including Cenqua (2007), Bitbucket (2010), Trello (2017), OpsGenie (2018), and Jira Align (2019). Together, the Atlassian portfolio extends to collaboration, code management, security, and service desk applications.

Figure B

Jira overview

Jira is a project management solution available as a free trial, free plan for teams under 10 users, or premium SaaS subscription. Teams can access the platform through the company’s website or mobile application for iOS and Android devices through the Apple and Google Play stores. All Jira apps are available through Jira Cloud by Atlassian.

Jira is available through a web browser or on Apple and Android devices via Jira Cloud.

Start with the Atlassian website or mobile application

From the Jira homepage or mobile app, new users can input their business email and full name to trigger a verification email. Once confirmed, users select their team industry and function for recommendations on templates and tools. Similar to other PM tools, adding teammates by email will be an ongoing prompt to utilize team-oriented features like assigning tasks.*

Note: While other PM platforms use the term tasks or items for a row’s value, Jira often interchangeably uses tasks with the developer-friendly “issues.”

The Jira Work Management interface (Figure C) guides users through a Quickstart guide to see how to start projects, lists, calendars, timelines, and forms. This was quick and useful but a bug prevented me from completing a step in the onboarding. After dismissing the menu, I was free to explore the platform.

Figure C

Teams start with an empty board view with a navigation menu on the left to start work.

Jira Work Management features and capabilities

Import existing work and transform tasks into issues

After parsing through nearly every platform page and pertinent documentation, I still struggled to find where to import my existing project tasks. To save any readers the pain:

Users can import existing project data by clicking either

  1. the [+] icon on the top banner and selecting “Import issues,” or
  2. the gear icon to open “Settings,” select “System” under Jira Settings, scroll down, and select “External System Import.”

Both options send users to the Jira import engine with options to upload a CSV, JSON, or Trello file, followed by a reconciliation process to match initial field values with Jira’s parameters. The next steps were both confusing and frustrating.

The fields matching step (Figure D) included an extensive range of built-in field values and the option to create a field for any field types that were missing to ensure data makes it onto the platform. At least that was true on my first attempt.

Figure D

The reconciliation step offers a wide range of field values to match against existing data.

Through a half-dozen tries at the import process, I had no option to move to the next step on a few occasions, forcing a restart, and the previously mentioned extent of field values had dissipated. When finally arriving at the next step, I validated any unique field values before confirming the import. The first time finishing the import process, the data failed to appear on my selected project. Second time finishing, and the sixth attempt, worked.

There is a handy preview to end these two steps that displays errors, warnings, and issues created correctly for the imported file. Already having spent enough time on this, I ignored the fact that the import engine didn’t recognize dates, despite my following its date format prompt.

Jira completed the import with the resulting List view (Figure E) showing issues by row. Unfortunately, the import engine failed to recognize fields like task status, assignee (requires email), and the start and end dates. With an already small number of fields needed, this process and the manual effort required after to reconcile missing data was time-consuming, to say the least.

Figure E

Imported data from spreadsheets will look familiar to users in List view.

Collaborate across different project views

While the default view is Jira’s Kanban-style Board, all issues will sit in the “To Do” lane if they don’t have their status yet. For spreadsheet users, the List view is more convenient for adjusting issue data. After my import experience, a chunk of time was required to reconcile my initial project data (Figure A) and what appeared in my import results (Figure E).

List view

The List view breaks down project data into rows for tasks and columns to define field values. Users can drag-and-drop rows vertically or columns horizontally, add columns or subtasks, and open task details. Regrettably, I was unable to select multiple tasks to perform group operations, which meant changing all field values manually in a time-consuming endeavor.

Note: Much later in my exploration of the software, I landed on the Issues page which allows for bulk actions to edit, move, transition, or watch issues in a 4-step Bulk Operation engine. Though this is better than no group operation option, the format was outdated and unintuitive relative to competitor platforms.

From the link featured in the Key # column, teams can open any task details. The in-platform window (Figure F) includes the task name, description, files, and comments, with options to add a subtask, link tasks, or add an app.

Figure F

Users can open, view, and modify details for issues, and attach comments or files.

In the above example, I’ve attached the onboarding file to the issue as well as comments to reiterate reading the guide. Upon opening the bottom right “More fields” tab, users can also open an additional window (Figure G) to configure time tracking. While every PM software offers a detailed view of task data, the built-in time tracker is unique and accessible.

Figure G

Teams can estimate and track effort spent on tasks with a built-in time tracker.

Board

Back to the developer-friendly Board view (Figure H), project tasks are now split into three lanes (To Do, In Progress, and Done) based on modifications to task status made in List view.

Like other Kanban board tools, Jira allows users to drag-and-drop cards horizontally between lanes and vertically within lanes. Teams can also filter their view by assignee, issue type, label, or priority, create new cards, and open task details with a click of a card.

From the “More” menu (top-right), users can customize card views to only display pertinent details, but I would’ve liked the option to create a new column.

Figure H

View and modify tasks as cards divided into lanes based on progress status.

Calendar and Timeline views: Tasks over time

For teams and users who appreciate seeing tasks against time in a project, the Calendar and Timeline views offer just that.

I appreciate the Calendar view (Figure I), which shows the full length of tasks rather than the individual start and end dates. However, an option to export to or import from a third-party calendar tool would be a nice addition.

Figure I

Move to Calendar view to see task start and end dates across weeks of time.

The Timeline view (Figure J) similarly offers users the chance to select, open, and modify tasks details on a timescale, but also includes the option to view the timeline by weeks, months, or quarter. Upon hovering over tasks, users can click and drag a line between tasks to create a visually helpful dependency.

Both Calendar and Timeline views also allow users to drag and drop tasks along the calendar or timescale to adjust the start and end dates.

Figure J

Timeline view displays tasks as rows against a timescale by week, month, or quarter.

Automation: Reduce effort and simplify workflows

From the platform settings, users can create, view, and modify automations for project workflows. In Figure K, Jira’s automation engine offers a few sensible examples of automations for any project, and users can explore hundreds more automation rule templates here.

Figure K

Project managers can enable automation rules from settings or the platform interface.

Other Jira features

Forms: Customize and collect survey data

Through the Forms tool, users can create surveys that will import directly to issue fields. These forms help teams quickly collect responses from across the company in the Jira platform. Compared to other PM tools, I found Jira’s form builder quite simple. Besides enabling project fields as prompts, there’s little else one can do to configure and brand the form for release, which could either be freeing or restricting based on the company’s commitment to whitelabelling internal or external forms.

Templates: Start projects fast

Jira Work Management offers over 20 templates for teams across design, finance, human resources, legal, and marketing fields. See more in Use Cases for different examples.

Project settings gateway

The gear icon labeled “Project settings” on the bottom-left of the Jira Work Management platform opens a long list of options to configure:

  • Project details, people, and automations
  • Issue types, workflows, screens, and fields for project data
  • Versions and components of the project
  • Roles, permissions, and notification policies
  • Issue collectors for connecting website data into Jira Issues
  • Integrating Slack and channel notifications

Access to and understanding these platform features will be essential to making the most of team usage. That said, the learning curve for first-time Jira users is evident. While components of other PM platforms vary somewhat (e.g., Sheet vs. List vs. Table), Jira Work Management’s use of developer jargon will be intimidating for non-software development project managers.

Summary page

Atop the platform menu is the Summary page for an overview of project data by task status, priority, workload, and related projects. Clicking on the first four widgets opens the select tasks filtered in List view, but there’s little more one can do here.

Figure L

The Summary page offers an overview of project data and metrics

The Atlassian advantage

The Atlassian portfolio goes much farther than Jira Work Management with a family of Jira applications, as well as products covering:

Collaboration: Confluence and Trello.

Code management: Bitbucket, Sourcetree, Bamboo, Fisheye, and Crucible.

Identity and security: Atlassian Access and Crowd.

Due to the wide array of Atlassian products that can be used by tech and non-developer teams of many types, companies that already use many of these products may find that they have access to better connectivity and a more seamless experience when integrating with these tools.

The Jira family

It’s no surprise to see Atlassian build out its flagship product’s capabilities for a growing number of IT professionals, teams, and businesses that can also benefit from project management platforms. Beyond the core platform for software development and Agile teams, Jira Software, and the addition of Work Management, the suite also includes:

Jira Service Management: IT support and service platform for issue and incident management.

Capture for Jira: Session-based testing and bug reporting for remediation.

Status page: Inform users with communications about downtime, incidents, and maintenance.

Jira Align: Enterprise Agile-capabilities for visibility, strategy, and flexible frameworks at scale.

Bitbucket and Bamboo: Manage code repositories and optimize CI/CD

Acquired by Atlassian in 2010, Bitbucket is the Git-based code hosting and collaboration platform for repository management is an invaluable integration for Jira clients managing application development and maintenance.

Bamboo is another tool designed to optimize continuous integration and continuous development pipelines, offering a CI/CD server to automate testing of source code status and building software. These apps and more are why Atlassian is a favorite for enterprise organizations bundling multiple products.

Jira Work Management use cases and audience

While Jira Software may present some initial onboarding difficulties for non-software development teams, Jira Work Management opens the door to a multitude of teams across industries and functions. In all, the Jira family of applications serves more than 100,00 customers worldwide from startups and small businesses to enterprise organizations. Notable clients include Airbnb, Cisco, Dropbox, eBay, Spotify, and Square.

Use cases

  • Bug tracking and issue management
  • Campaign and content management
  • General project management
  • Go-to-market launch
  • Lead tracking and sales pipeline
  • New employee onboarding and recruitment
  • Performance review system
  • Policy and procedure management

Types of teams for Jira family applications

  • Finance
  • Human resources
  • Incident response
  • Information technology
  • Legal firms
  • Marketing and sales
  • Operations and logistics
  • Software development

Pros & cons of Jira Work Management

Jira advantages and benefits

  • Familiar interface and terminology for Jira Software teams and users.
  • Robust documentation for learning the platform and tools.
  • Built-in time tracking tool for estimating and logging effort against tasks.
  • Over 500 integrations and 3000 extensions to connect workflows between apps.
  • Bundle with Atlassian’s portfolio of tools like BitBucket, Crucible, and Trello.

Jira disadvantages

  • Newer general-use PM solution still developing from Jira Software base.
  • Import process was difficult to complete successfully and failed to include needed existing project data.
  • A higher learning curve for non-software development teams for various features.
  • Not as intuitive as competing top PM solutions, requiring more troubleshooting.
  • Occasional lagging when moving pages and times where entire components are missing.
  • Some annual plans aren’t worth the cost relative to monthly subscriptions.

Jira Work Management has room to grow

  • Tenured project management platform with extensive integrations and use cases.
  • Top choice for software development teams with a new options for general PM functionality.
  • Less ideal for non-developer users and teams relative to leading PM solutions.

While Jira Software remains one of the top choices for software development, its younger sibling, Jira Work Management still has room to grow. When considered alone for non-software development teams, I found Jira’s general project management software to be underwhelming relative to other top PM platforms. It may look and feel like competitors, but Jira lacks the same depth of functionality and granular controls over team and project management.

The caveat: Jira Work Management is also the least expensive subscription in the project management space. With a solid free plan and a monthly subscription of $5 or less for personnel, Jira might be the most affordable for its value. Unlike some competitors, Atlassian does offer discounts for larger teams meaning a lower per user cost when choosing Jira as a company-wide or enterprise solution.

As a newer PM solution, I expect Jira Work Management will continue to develop its functionality and UX for general teams. For now, it remains a less attractive option for teams looking for the most control and features in a PM platform.

Image: Jira



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