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Jira - A Necessary Evil?

December 17, 2016

Because there's no easy way in telling you this, I'll just share it straight away... Next week I'll be setting up a Jira environment for the product teams I'm coaching...

Yes... Jira! The issue & project tracking system for software teams created by Atlassian. It's pretty easy to find negative quotes or memes about Jira. Below is the result of a few minutes searching the internet...

  • "Jira, where user stories die..."

  • "Jira isn't just an information refrigerator, it's an information crisper: cold, out of sight, and only noticed when turned rotten."

  • "Jira, the word that strikes fear into the soul of a developer."



Only a couple of months ago I proudly tweeted about a team I coached. They suggested to stop using Jira because they preferred their physical Scrum board and backlog over a digital tool. It was a joyful moment and I considered myself an awesome coach.


However, next week, for a different program I will be setting up Jira again... But why??? Isn't the first value of the Agile Manifesto "Individuals & Interactions over Processes & Tools"? So why am I - an Agile Coach who takes his profession seriously - support using a tool such as Jira? (or any other tool that tracks things no one looks at).

Well... the honest answer is... I don't have any alternatives...


Life Was Great!

My previous team that stopped using Jira was located on the same location. We've had our own team space. The Product Backlog and roadmap were visualized on a wall where everyone could see it. A physical whiteboard was used to track our Scrum Sprints. Every morning we huddled together for our Daily Scrum. During the day the tasks - written down on post-it's - would flow across the Scrum board. Transparency was all over the place, it was one big "inspect & adapt party". Life was great!


A Common Misunderstanding

So why use Jira? Well... the program I'm currently coaching consists of multiple teams working across different locations (in different countries)...A physical Product Backlog therefore isn't a viable alternative. The Product Backlog needs to be shared in a location that everyone can continuously access. That location will be Jira...

Let's go back to the Agile Manifesto. Yes, the first value is "Individuals & Interactions over Processes & Tools". A common misunderstanding is the manifesto states that processes and tooling are evil. They are not. Processes and tooling are fine, but they should enable teamwork, collaboration and offer transparency. Processes and tools should encourage interaction between individuals.

A physical Scrum board is a great tool that supports these elements. It visualizes the product- and sprint backlog, offers transparency about the progress and invites everyone to share possible impediments, improvements and success!


Pitfalls of Using Jira

Some pitfalls of using a digital Scrum board with the Product- and Sprint Backlog are:

  • The Product Backlog becomes way too large to manage;

  • Communication is done via the tool instead of face2face;

  • The Jira workflow dictates the teams way of working;

  • The Sprint Backlog is updated in such a way nobody notices any progress;

  • Energy drops, the euphoric moment of a "done" item isn't celebrated anymore.


Overall, transparency decreases and the inspection and adaptation that ignites improvement becomes more difficult. Transparency, inspection and adaptation form the core of Scrum. You don't want a process or tool that blocks the heart of Scrum. It's asking for problems!


A Necessary Evil?

But, as mentioned before, sometimes a digital tool might be necessary when working with distributed teams. Therefore I am going to support the configuration of Jira next week. To end this blog post a bit positive: at least I'm aware of the pitfalls... And I do have some ideas on how to make the best out of this situation. For example, using a large touch screen to visualize the backlog. Whenever the status of an item changes, encourage the team to update the status via the touch screen. It's almost like using a physical Scrum board. Let's just find a way of working that copes with the mentioned pitfalls in the best possible manner.



Do you recognize my struggle? Ideas on how to deal with them are more than welcome! Just sharing your experiences is also highly appreciated!


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