How To Jira: Advice for Teams Getting Started

Are you getting started with Jira for the first time? Whether your team is large or small, technical or non-technical, experienced in project management or not so much, here are topics to consider as you begin:

  1. Know your options
  2. Strategize with an experienced Jira admin
  3. Train your users
  4. Appoint a chief Jira administrator
  5. Experiment with new features in a sandbox

1. Know your options

There are many, many project management solutions out there. Jira is one of the most fully-featured, customizable options available and a personal favorite of mine. That doesn’t mean you should use it!

Choosing project management or issue tracking software is a decision that is deeply personal to your organization. Used correctly, it will become the source of everything that needs to be done.

Before settling upon a specific platform, make a list of needs or problems that your organization has with its current solution. Identify long-term desires and goals for the tool. Speak with leaders, project managers, product managers, and software administrators of other teams similar to your own to discover what tools they use and what they like most and least about their solution.

Now with your list of problems, desires, and goals in hand, explore a variety of options. Browse feature lists. Request demos. Take your list directly to support communities, where others experienced with the tool can weigh in on if it’s likely to be a good fit for you.

In addition to Jira, popular platforms to explore include:

There are other lesser known options too, such as Wrike, Favro, Mantis, or Kanban Tool. Alternatively, you may choose not to use a separate platform at all, instead using planning boards and to-do list features included in documentation software like Notion or Quip.

There is no overall best choice — there is only the best tool for your circumstances.

2. Strategize with an experienced Jira admin

Once you’ve done your research and have settled upon Jira as the right platform for your org, find an experienced Jira administrator to help you strategize the setup of your instance.

Like I mentioned before, Jira is incredibly customizable. And it’s been around forever! Jira 1.0 was released back in 2002 and has grown robust through many iterations. As a first time user, you’re going to raise a lot of questions — “how do I do this?” and “what does feature X accomplish vs feature Y?” and “why does that thingy work in a way I didn’t expect?”

There are many books, videos, and articles available for how to use Jira. But let’s be honest: you’re neither going to consume nor remember all you need to know before you begin the setup process.

You won’t know if you’re learning about functionality that no longer exists in Jira. You won’t be able to make good choices about how to implement a feature that could be approached in a variety of ways. You won’t know if you’re buying plug-ins to achieve something that’s already default functionality in Jira.

An experienced admin will be your guide as you navigate the waves of decisions to be made and the sea of information available.

Use your list of problems, desires, and goals from step 1 to get the conversation started. They will help you ask the right questions of the right people, and will point you in the right direction much more quickly than searching years worth of support posts or perusing the backlog of Jira feature requests will.

A Jira workspace can get unwieldy to manage surprisingly fast. The best defense is having a strategic foundational setup from the start. An expert guide will save you years of pain and suffering in the long run.

3. Train your users

Now that you’ve navigated the overwhelm of everything you need to setup, and you have a strong foundation and strategic plan in place, you’re ready to train your users. This will come in 2 parts: initial training and ongoing training.

Initial Training

Jira (and the Atlassian ecosystem as a whole) can be overwhelming for first-time users. No matter how much effort you put into your setup, knowing where to find what and how certain features work will not be intuitive for everyone right off the bat.

A setup may involve custom dashboards, permissions, notifications, fields, workflows, components, issue types, filters, and more. Different project types implement functionality differently too.

Some roles may have special access, or each department may have certain options available to them. And some folks may need more technical knowledge about the platform, such as how to build effective search queries for use in reports, filters, or dashboards.

If your teams is adopting Agile or Scrum for the first time, you’ll need training on these aspects as well.

Ongoing Training

As your organization develops and new initiatives emerge, you will want to modify or add features to your workspace and train your team along the way.

There may be key users in your org responsible for people or knowledge management. These users will benefit from additional in-depth training about what is possible with Jira (such as knowledge on workflows, components, or automations), enabling them to support the team directly as everyone collectively explores and strategizes new ideas and processes.

These key users will assist in forming thorough feature requests from the team, communicating them clearly, and implementing them correctly the first time, so as to avoid work disruptions. And with knowledge of both the team’s day-to-day and of general Jira functionality, they will be equipped to advise on the development of ongoing training materials.

Other non-technical changes will be made along the way, too. As part of your foundational strategy, you’ll want to create naming conventions for various aspects of your workspace, such as in project names, versions, or labels, so users can quickly find what they’re looking for.

Notification of changes should be regularly shared with users (and a history of changes kept) in a consistent place. Be sure to announce updates in advance so no one is caught by surprise!

4. Appoint a chief Jira administrator

In order to manage everything that changes or needs attention within Jira, you will need a chief Jira administrator. They will be responsible for your Jira instance from a big picture point of view. They will know everything there is to know about the foundational setup of your workspace, and should be equipped with the knowledge to answer or investigate any question.

Depending on the size of your organization, this person may be contract, part-time, or full-time. They may be part of your operations or IT team and will allocate time to implementing requests, writing documentation, communicating with Atlassian, and interviewing team members on their needs.

You may wonder: why not have a variety of administrators who can make changes to anything at any time? That’s totally fine to grant administrative access to a handful of key users (being mindful of their experience with the product before granting full access, of course)!

But you will need a primary point of contact for making sense of the workspace and the data as a whole. There are many intricacies of each individual setup. Making changes without insight into the big picture may result in undesirable consequences. And generating reports without an understanding of the data will certainly result in poor decision making.

In addition, Atlassian makes iterative updates to the functionality of their core product fairly regularly. Your chief administrator should be responsible for monitoring these changes and communicating expected impact to the team on a regular basis.

Users will need to know how to ask for help and when they can expect a response. This should be clearly posted in the place where platform updates are shared. For a small team, the chief administrator alone may be able to handle requests. For larger organizations, you may grant certain responsibilities to additional admins who will communicate with the chief administrator as needed.

5. Experiment with new features in a sandbox

Once you’re past the initial setup and training, and you have a solid foundation established, you’ll find a great deal of fun in experimenting with new features, different implementations, plug-ins, etc.

Keep your workspace safe by experimenting in a sandbox environment. This could be a separate project or a separate Jira instance entirely. Because the platform is constantly being improved upon by Atlassian, there are plenty of hidden legacy quirks and small updates being made to functionality. Even for the most experienced administrators, it can be easy to click the wrong thing or make a change with unexpected results. It’s rare this can’t be undone, but sometimes not without effort.

And the disruption to your users isn’t worth it, no matter how small. Do users reference important data in Jira during client calls? Are they in the flow of a critical task and suddenly their product spec is missing? Did an important ticket get lost into the void due to a workflow change? Did a new plug-in function differently than expected?

The impact of making unexpected changes to your workspace can have serious consequences for your bottom line. Play it safe and rest easy by experimenting in a sandbox environment first, and informing your users ahead of any upcoming changes.

You’ll want to grant sandbox access to anyone who can implement administrative changes into your Jira instance.

This will allow key users to prototype new features that can be collaborated upon with the chief administrator and others, avoiding potential hiccups when you roll it out. You may also choose to trial new ideas with a small group ahead of time, to see if new features are received as positively as expected.

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