What is a Jira Workflow and how do you use it?

Estimated read time 5 min read


Laptop computer displaying logo of Jira.
Image: monticellllo/Adobe Stock

When you think of workflow, what comes to mind? In simplest terms, a workflow is a planned and repeatable way of doing what you do. Having a workflow is far more important than you might think, especially as businesses and projects scale. With an inefficient workflow, things either don’t get done or come to completion in a less-than-efficient manner.

You don’t want that. Instead, you want predictability, efficiency and even a certain level of automation.

SEE: Hiring kit: Project manager (TechRepublic Premium)

That’s why Jira added a Workflow tool to its project management platform. The Jira Workflow is a set of statuses and transitions that a particular issue moves through during its lifecycle. Workflows represent processes within organizations and teams.

With Jira, you get built-in workflows to help make things easier. These workflows consist of two components:

  • Statuses: The steps that describe the state of a task, such as In Progress, Pending and Closed. Statuses serve as “drop zones” for cards on a board.
  • Transitions: A one-way link between Statuses. This is how a task moves between statuses, such as Waiting for Support or Waiting for Customer.

You will also find active and inactive workflows. An inactive workflow is one that is not being used by a project at the time, and an active workflow is one that is currently being used.

What you’ll need to create a Workflow in Jira

In order to create a Workflow in Jira, you’ll need a valid Jira account. That’s it: You can create Workflows in the Free plan.

How to create a Workflow

Log in to your Jira Software account and click the gear icon in the upper right corner. In the resulting page, click Workflows in the left sidebar (Figure A).

Figure A

The Issues page in Jira contains access to Workflows.
The Issues page in Jira contains access to Workflows.

In the resulting page, click Add Workflow in the upper right corner and select Import from Marketplace. We’re going this route simply because it’s much easier to understand how Workflows actually work. Once you get the hang of it, you can then start to build custom workflows to perfectly match your project.

In the Workflow marketplace, you can search for a particular workflow or scroll through the list to find one that closely matches your needs.

Let’s say you want to use the Cross-Project Board Workflow which makes it easy to manage issues from multiple projects in one kanban board. For that, click Select (Figure B).

Figure B

The Cross-Project Board Workflow in Jira.
The Cross-Project Board Workflow in Jira.

In the next screen, give the Workflow a name and click Next (Figure C).

Figure C

Naming our new Workflow.
Naming our new Workflow.

Here’s where I ran into some trouble. After naming your Workflow and hitting Next, if you see an error saying that the “import wizard must be restarted,” then you need to search for a Workflow such that it’s the only entry visible.

In this case, in the Search field you would type Cross-Project Board. When the entry appears, click Select.

If that error continues to show itself, the only route to take is to create a Workflow from scratch. To do that, go back to the Workflows screen, click the Workflows drop-down, and select Create New. In the first window, give the Workflow a name/description and click Add (Figure D).

Figure D

Creating a custom Workflow in Jira.
Creating a custom Workflow in Jira.

Click Add and you’ll find yourself on the Workflow designer, where you add statuses and transitions. Click Add Status and, in the resulting Popup, select a status from the drop-down and click Add (Figure E).

Figure E

Adding a new Status to our custom Workflow.
Adding a new Status to our custom Workflow.

Now that you have a new Status created, click a dot in the OPEN status and then drag it to the new status (Figure F).

Figure F

Two statuses waiting for a Transition.
Two statuses waiting for a Transition.

This will open the Transition creation pop-up, where you must fill out the necessary details (Figure G).

Figure G

Creating a new Transition for a Jira Workflow.
Creating a new Transition for a Jira Workflow.

Make sure to select New Transition and then select a From Status, To Status, Name, optional Description and optional Screen. Then click Add.

For the most part, creating a Transition is self-explanatory. The one thing you might not understand is the Screen option. These are intermediate workflow screens that can be used to collect additional information from the user. For example, users can be presented with a screen to select a Resolution for an issue when the issue is resolved. There are many built-in Screens.

Add a new Status and connect it with a Transition. Keep doing this until you have your workflow complete. As you work, you can click on any Transition and add more options (Figure H).

Figure H

Adding options to a Transition.
Adding options to a Transition.

One rather frustrating aspect of this is the publishing of a Workflow draft. This has been a bug in the system for some time, and it has yet to be resolved. In order to publish your workflow, you must make a copy of the workflow, edit it, go back to Workflows and add the new workflow to your list in a particular project. It’s convoluted. Hopefully, Jira will simplify the process soon.

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