Tools & Resources

Why Your Jira Backlog is Failing (and How to Fix It)

By on January 18, 2021

Many software businesses use Jira to manage their projects, organize sprints, assign bugs and even run marketing campaigns. While the platform is a powerful tool for Agile teams, software projects tend to grow over time and backlogs begin to fail for a variety of reasons. These failures tend to compound unless product managers take quick action to fix them.

Let’s take a look at a few of the most common reasons that Jira backlogs fail and some tools, best practices that you can use to fix and avoid them.

Jira is a powerful project management tool but it can easily grow out of control—fortunately, there are some tools that can help. Click To Tweet

Roadmap Challenges

Software businesses collect customer feedback from a variety of sources.

For example, stakeholders demand certain functionality, product managers may need bug fixes and customers may have their own feature requests. Feature requests, in particular, can be a challenge since they come from outside of the organization via many sources (e.g., sales, support, email, etc.).

The best way to address these challenges is to aggregate external feature requests in a single location. With a public roadmap, you can aggregate feature requests from different sources—and importantly—enable customers to avoid duplicate requests with a voting mechanism. You also need a way to integrate that information with your internal roadmap.

Amoeboids Roadmap Portal – Source: Amoeboids

Amoeboids’ Roadmap Portal makes it easy to build a Jira-integrated public roadmap. Customers can login with their JSD accounts to see the public roadmap, contribute their own ideas and/or vote on existing feature requests. Product managers can use these insights to efficiently prioritize feature requests and incorporate them into their development backlog.

Prioritization Challenges

Most information in Jira is stored in generic descriptions and comments. Even if you use labels (e.g., priorities for different issues), they are rarely granular enough to provide any real value. The inability to search, filter, sort and prioritize information inside of Jira makes it challenging for the team to decide what to work on next.

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There are a few steps to effectively prioritize existing tasks:

  1. Determine the metrics that impact priority and how they should be measured (e.g., stars, labels, etc.). For example, business value, development time/scope and risk reduction may be important factors in the decision.
  2. Create a scoring algorithm that factors in these metrics to standardize the decision-making process across the board. For example: (Business Value + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction) / Estimated Size.
  3. Implement a priority score in Jira using custom fields and JQL or plugins like Foxly that can help automate the process and provide helpful tools. Ideally, these scores should be automatic and integrated into your Jira instance.

Foxly for Backlog Prioritization – Source: Foxly

In addition to priority scores, business and technical teams should meet on a regular basis to discuss the current backlog and reprioritize items. New tasks might command higher priority than existing tasks while existing tasks may suddenly have a higher priority if a certain high-profile customer requests it—the process should be very fluid.

Scalability Challenges

Software projects are easy to manage when there’s a single stakeholder, a handful of developers and few customers. The task becomes a lot more difficult as the project grows in size and scope over time. Jira is built for large-scale project management but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to manage rapidly growing projects.

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There are several ways to scale Jira across larger teams:

  • Quick filters can help narrow boards down to a subset of issues by harnessing the power of JQL to access a wide array of issue attributes. If you have too many quick filters, it’s usually a sign that you can break up a board into multiple boards.
  • Swimlanes help you order issues based on JQL queries, enabling you to see issues organized by things like priority or blocking status. Or you can use priority scores, as mentioned above, to sort within swimlanes across a board.
  • Card colors can be helpful for organizing issue types on a board in order to make them easier to read and understand. You can even use arbitrary JQL when creating colors in more complex cases where you need to segregate cards.

In addition to these technical suggestions, product managers should regularly groom backlogs to keep them relevant and up to date. Product managers should meet with stakeholders to discuss any new issues and the removal of any outdated issues, as well as to reprioritize any existing issues to ensure that the current roadmap is reflected.

Adopting an Effective Workflow

Project management is a team endeavor—regardless of the project management software that you use. If everyone isn’t following the same playbook, it’s impossible to maintain a well-organized structure and ensure everyone is working efficiently toward the same goals—and workflows are at the center of effective communication.

There are best practices to building effective workflows:

  • Members from every department impacted by a workflow should be involved in its creation and implementation, including stakeholders, developers, support and sales. Workflow diagrams are helpful when communicating the steps in the process.
  • Simple workflows are best to shorten the learning curve and avoid mistakes. For instance, a “failed testing” status may not be necessary if any failed tests simply go back into “in development” or “in progress” anyway with a note or label.
  • Transitions should be set up with conditions, validators, post functions, assignees and properties to ensure that they are properly formatted, sent to the right individuals and pass any other checks to ensure their usefulness.

Of course, workflows should also be flexible and responsive to any feedback from stakeholders, developers, support, testers or even customers. Quickly change things that aren’t working by soliciting feedback and determining the best course of action for the future.

The Bottom Line

Jira is a popular software project management tool, but it can quickly grow out of control. By keeping these best practices in mind, you can maintain an orderly Jira backlog and ensure that your projects remain on-time and on-budget with an efficient team.

If you use Atlassian products, check out our growing suite of plugins in the Atlassian Marketplace.

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