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Checking In With JIRA - An Interview With Atlassian

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Checking In With JIRA - An Interview With Atlassian

Zone Leader John Vester interviews the JIRA team to not only talk about some challenges he's experienced with the product, but to hear about future enhancements as well.

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In August, after some challenges in getting our schedules in line, I was finally able to interview a couple members of the JIRA team at Atlassian.  I have been a heavy user of the JIRA project since 2011 and most reading this article are likely familiar with the leading tool for agile enterprise planning.  

In fact, in April 2o17, Gartner again placed JIRA/Atlassian in the top right corner of their Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Agile Planning Tools - which is why over 75,000 customers in 170 markets (nearly every industry known to man) use JIRA on a daily basis.

Sitting at the interview table are two members of the JIRA team at Atlassian:

  • Jake Brereton, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, JIRA Software

  • Jason Wong, Principal Product Manager, JIRA Software

John Vester: Since 2011, JIRA has been the most utilized tool in the projects I have participated in as both a full-time employee and a professional consultant. This is across a portfolio of approximately 25 corporations in my region. What do you attribute to the success of the tool for managing aspects in Information Technology?

JIRA Team: Thank you for your kind words about JIRA, John.

Jake Brereton

As you probably know, JIRA first launched in 2002, and much of its growth over the past 15 years has been due to the support and evangelism of our users. There are several key things that helped make JIRA Software the standard across IT and Engineering teams everywhere:

  1. It’s valuable for every member of the software team. JIRA Software was built to be a single tool that any and every member of the software team can jump into, use, and immediately find value in. It takes a full team, and a range of different skills to plan, build, and ship a great piece of software, and JIRA Software is where the entire team comes together to organize, prioritize, and collaborate on the task at hand.

  2. It molds to the shape of any team and process. JIRA Software was designed to fit the needs of every unique team and that team's unique process. The product has some guard rails and best practices built in, but at the end of the day every team knows how it works best, and JIRA Software meets the team where it is most efficient and productive. Agile software development comes in many flavors and JIRA Software comes out of the box with all the functionality any software team needs to implement a successful Scrum project, Kanban project, Scrumban project, or any combination of those methodologies. With the Atlassian Marketplace, which provides almost 1,500 JIRA Software add-ons, there is truly no use case or project too unique for a team using JIRA Software.

  3. It serves as a team’s single source of truth. When a software team is heads down and focused 100% on getting something built and shipped, there are many moving pieces and things change very quickly. JIRA Software sits at the center of the team and the project and keeps track of who is working on what, what items are blocked (and blocking), how the team is tracking towards their goals, and so on.

  4. It scales with the team, from 10 to 10,000. One of the most unique and powerful things about JIRA Software is that it will scale as the team grows. With JIRA Software, teams can set it up once and know that it will work the same way for a team of 10,000 as it does for a team of 10. We hear over and over again that companies choose JIRA Software because they plan to scale and they need a tool that will scale with them.

While I believe JIRA is a great product, there is one aspect that I have personally struggled with—the concept that a given task can only have one assignee at a time. I understand that sub-tasks can be created and assigned, but at times the need to assign a task/sub-task to more than one person is a valid use case. Have you thought about introducing this functionality?

Jason Wong

We have been thinking about this functionality indeed, for example in cases where two people are working on the same task in the case of pair programming. We have been considering the ability to note down all the people involved in a project and the different roles they play. However, for now, we are keeping the assignee as just one individual in order to avoid ambiguity as to who is actually driving the work forward at each phase. Some customers who demand multiple assignees have created a custom field that lets them record further assignees. Alternatively, in the case of multiple people working on the same overall "parent" item of work, individual subtasks (still with one assignee) help track the contribution of multiple people.

When talking to Scrum Masters at MeetUp events, a common view seems to be that JIRA is well-designed for Scrum teams, but struggles when trying to use the tool for Kanban-based teams. Would you like to address this statement?

Those who are comfortable with using JIRA Software for scrum may have found our Kanban implementation a little harder to use in the past, as prior to 2016 our Kanban offering did not have a dedicated backlog function. Our scrum offering always had a backlog that teams enjoyed using, as it simplifies the management and stack ranking of large lists of issues. For some Kanban users, work began to pile up in the first column of their Kanban board. The issues in that column would then be quite hard to manage and stack rank, given the limited space to see the issues and drag them up and down to modify relative ranking. Customers told us this was their number one pain point, and we implemented a backlog for Kanban last year, bringing it up to par with our scrum offering: https://www.atlassian.com/agile/kanplan

While I would certainly place JIRA in the Plateau of Productivity in Gartner's Hype Cycle, what are your plans to inject some "Technology Triggers" to gain more momentum for the already successful product?

This is a great question and one that we're always thinking about and working towards, especially when it comes to our product roadmap. Here are just a few things that I think you'll begin to see from JIRA Software in the near future that will inject even more interest and accelerate further adoption of the product:

  1. The introduction of AI into the product. As JIRA Software is used daily by tens of thousands of software teams around the world, there is tremendous potential to begin identifying the trends of the most efficient and highest performing teams, and then intelligently feeding these learnings back into JIRA Software and to other teams. We're just scratching the surface when it comes to JIRA Software's ability to not only be a great product, but also a very valuable service, and I think you're going to see some awesome improvements on this front in the years ahead.

  2. Deeper, smarter developer tool integrations. While JIRA Software already boasts nearly 1,500 add-ons and dozens of other integrations with services like AWS and Microsoft Power BI, the interest in and need for deeper and more intelligent integrations with other developer tools continues to grow. As software teams' single source of truth, the more information being fed into JIRA Software, the smarter and more helpful the product becomes to the team using it, and for this reason, you're going to see some big and exciting new integrations coming from the JIRA team in the near future.

  3. An increasing embrace of mobile technologies. Over the past year and half, JIRA has launched native mobile apps for iPhone, Android, and iPad, and the reception and adoption of these apps has been very positive. Based on the traction we've seen in the past year, we'll be continuing to iterate and push the envelope on our mobile applications and where & how we can bring the value of JIRA to teams on the go.

I think back to similar products that were at the success level of JIRA. Some examples are BlackBerry, Novell NetWare, and even the Blockbuster video chain. While these products may still exist, their dominance in the market pales to the success they once maintained. How are you planning to keep JIRA off a list of products that were once great, but are no longer mainstream?

That's a good question, though we think the comparison is not justified given that we are driving the innovation in the market instead of being a satisfied and lazy incumbent. You should consider the following two aspects:

  1. The people who build JIRA Software are its primary users—and critics. JIRA Software has always had the good fortune of being a tool targeting the same people as the ones building it, and this is an enormous advantage since internal teams at Atlassian rely on JIRA Software just as heavily as tens of thousands of customers do. As the majority of our internal teams practices Agile methodologies, JIRA Software empowers Atlassian teams around the globe with the ability to regularly test new product features and enhancements, quickly iterate on feedback from users, and deploy new versions of the product with great consistency. This kind of rapid innovation and improvement not only allows us to quickly respond to customer needs and pain points, but also to stay ahead of the curve in terms of market trends, new technologies, and so on.

  2. We are constantly gathering feedback from customers. Atlassian is an incredibly data driven company. However, we invest a significant amount of time and energy in qualitative data as well. We have a massive and very active online community, sponsor the Atlassian User Group program (which boasts over 15,000 members in 30 countries), and collect in-product NPS data and feedback from thousands of active users every week. On top of this, most product and marketing teams have aggressive quarterly customer visit goals. The reason we engage so deeply with all of our users is to hear their candid thoughts and concerns, learn about how they're working, and identify trends across teams and industries. This sort of consistent, direct and open communication channels with our many users gives us another major competitive advantage and one that continues to ensure we stay ahead of curve in meeting customer needs.

What aspects of JIRA's vision for the future are you willing and able to share with the readers at DZone?

The thing we are focused on right now is user experience, as it has become critical to winning over the hearts and minds of customers for any software product or service.

  • To start with, you'll see us put effort into improving the usability of JIRA Software itself. We have an all new user experience already in JIRA Software Cloud based on what we call ADG3 (Atlassian Design Guidelines 3) that improves the visual aspect and delivers new search and navigation patterns.

  • In the near future, you'll see a redesign of issues—the most heavily used page in JIRA—to make it a lot easier to read and act on them. We also have a brand new boards experience to complement our highly configurable Scrum and Kanban offerings. The new board is going to be delivered starting in beta, with a simpler, more process agnostic stance on agile. It's a lightweight way to track software development to make it easier to adopt, but over time we will also add in more of the configuration options that many customers have enjoyed and want to use as their way of working matures.

  • Along with the new boards experience, we are simultaneously working to make the configuration experience more intuitive, simplifying setup of issue types and workflows. Customers will be offered to opt-in and try out these features as we gradually roll them out to more and more users.

  • To help teams build well-designed software, we're looking for opportunities to simplify collaboration between designers and developers. You will see us deliver deep integrations with the most popular tools that designers use.

Indeed, those are some updates I personally am looking forward to not only seeing in place, but taking advantage of them on a daily basis!  Thank you, so much for your time!

Have a really great day!

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Topics:
jira ,agile adoption ,scrum ,kanban ,kanban tool ,atlassian

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