Jira Agile Boards: Why and How to Create Swimlanes.

Jira Swimlane Agile Project

In a conversation my wife overheard yesterday she heard me mention ‘swimlanes’ which led her to excitedly expect that we were going to the leisure centre this weekend.  Of course as each year passes we have a tendency as a species to reuse and reapportion the meaning of words into new and fancy things. Apparently back in the annals of time the word ‘Nice’ meant ‘Silly , foolish , simple’ and the word ‘Silly’ originally meant ‘to be worthy or blessed’.  Luckily for us and our Jira musings the concept of swimlanes is very similar in use to that most of us grew up with albeit in a slightly different context.

To put it simply, ‘Swimlanes’ are normally used to separate your project ‘to-do’ lists into ordered, actionable and easily identifiable ‘faster /more important’ sections often by individual users or project areas.  They are a clever and query driven way of producing dynamic lists with a logical workflow and, significantly, are a visual way of seeing the health of a project and any outstanding blockages that need rapidly addressing.  Hitherto in most definitions this is a ‘view’ of a Kanban board and is not dissimilar to physical board forms used throughout many Agile organisations in the world. There are advantages and disadvantages of using virtual boards using swimlanes over physical boards but that is for another time.

If you choose to have such a project or set of tasks with a Kanban and swimlane approach then Jira has most bases covered. Once you have a project in mind then there are a number of key decisions that the project needs to make before creating the swimlanes on a board. (blog for further info on Visualizing Work with Jira Kanban Boards).

Get your Jira Workflow Right

It may sound obvious, but without an appropriate workflow, swimlanes are not very powerful and possibly very unusable. When you set up a project there are a number of basic workflows out of the box which you could choose but it is often better to start with fundamentals and draw your own workflow on a piece of paper before mapping it into Jira . The number of times I’ve scribbled down and modified what I was trying to do in a meeting has saved me time in the long run  – the measure twice and cut once still applies at a rudimentary ‘tech’ level! Most workflows have similar concepts such as a starting state, an end state, and one or multiple loops in the middle, but it is key for you to choose what is right for you based on what statuses you plan on reporting on, or are wanting to see.

… that includes State Transformations

So many times I have been called to look at a Jira Kanban board that cards cannot be moved on screen as they are not ‘in the right state’.

TIP:  Before you start to create your swimlanes ensure that each item can be dragged freely from one status to another within your on screen/project modelling.

Which Workflow Statuses to Report on the Jira Dashboard?

A workflow in simplest terms might have a simple three-part model with a beginning, middle, and end but this would be rare. It is more common to have many more statuses that you could group on a singular board. Jira provides the opportunity to merge multiple workflow statuses into the same columns and relabel columns in any way that suits you so you are able to have a useful board setup quickly, e.g. when presenting ‘test’ and ‘retest’ in the same column on the board to reduce space under some mapping, which is very useful when creating a board with swimlanes on it.

What Type of Jira Swimlanes Should I Use?

Jira comes with six distinct options for swimlanes each with differing purposes and uses…

Base Jira Swimlanes on Queries, Stories, Assignees, Epics, or Jira Projects

Story (or Jira Epic) Swimlanes

As you would envisage selecting to create Story or Epic related swimlanes will simply present the stories or epics in the project and in what current status they are in. There will be other information on the cards but it is a standard view of seeing the state of a project and very much looks like a traditional Kanban board.

Jira Issue Assignee Swimlanes

Selecting this option simply shows a person by person view of what work is assigned to them which might be useful for a quick view on workload at scrum master level or to see what reliance a project has on an individual e.g. if they were ill/unable to work for a period of time.

“For smaller teams, we actually prefer to do quick filters for each assignee.
On the kanban for our waterfall teams who are executing a project plan, I see a lot of value in using swimlane by query to dedicate a swimlane to critical path and another to behind target.”

Patty Land, Project Management Consultant, PwC

Jira Project Swimlanes

If reporting on multiple projects (or sub-sections of projects) then this option will allow you to see the status of each in a way so you can see what is happening from a very global perspective …. perfect for the Big-Picture megalomaniac amongst us all!

None

This option simply applies no filtering to a board and is not something I would often use but is probably useful at getting to grips with vanilla Jira Kanban boards.

Jira Query

Here’s the thing… I use query-driven swimlanes almost all the time.  You have full control, can add new queries at any time and can adjust what is seen on the screen to help present the information you are trying to show.  With the query-based approach you can create swimlanes for each of the other types described by simply writing appropriate JQL. I tend to write query-based swimlanes for each member, or team, in the project(s) and also like to have a priority-driven view i.e. highest at the top. This can be defined in the appropriate JQL and then dragging the ‘Name’ column into a relevant order on screen.

Reorder Jira Swimlane Priority

TIP:  Swimlanes can use any valid JQL so different lanes shown on the same report don’t even need to relate to each other but simply show a grid view of how a query models against a workflow

The configuration options and uses are endless here. When you suddenly have one of those meetings with ‘The Boss’ who suddenly determines that an issue you deemed insignificant has to be fixed for a big demo coming up… but don’t want to change the priority.

By utilizing a label and adding a new swimlane at the top of your settings then this and other tagged issues will suddenly be the prime focus of the next catchup meeting and can be dealt with accordingly.

JQL Jira Swimlanes Sort by Priority
Jira Board Best Practice Swimlanes

TIP:  Jira will allow as many boards as you want so you don’t ever have to stick with one view. Why not have a swimlane board dedicated to priorities and one dedicated to individual workload? The options are endless….

Conclusion

Jira Swimlanes are a fantastic way of presenting information for individuals and teams. With minimal JQL knowledge, you can create Agile Project boards within Jira containing items that you want showing and in the order you wish them to be displayed. You can hide items you don’t want displaying and use such organized boards to drive an agenda for any meeting that updates dynamically in real-time as the meeting progresses. Jira swimlanes can also be used in conjunction with quick-filters, card layout and details, and other board features to present a perfect view of your project for your audience.

Boost Productivity with Enhanced Jira Reporting

As a Manager within an organization using Jira as a Project Management tool, enhanced Jira reporting helps you to clearly see the progress teams are achieving, and where bottlenecks are forming in every project. This in turn helps you to prioritize the tasks your teams need to focus on.

Enhanced Jira dashboard reports.

Enhanced Jira reporting visualization leads to better-organized teams, which leads to improved productivity, faster delivery, and better results. Jira reports also help keep your teams motivated by helping them share their successes, and learn from their failures.

It’s not always that simple though, are you finding the task of accessing data and producing Jira reports tedious? Do you find that the reports you are currently producing don’t accurately represent up-to-date statuses of your projects? Do you wonder why there is the need to export your data to another program to produce your reports, and why each team is using a different tool? Do you struggle to make the reports produced more impactful? Do you need to manually copy filters or send Jira Query Language to get the charts to look right and consistent between teams?

Wouldn’t it be great to share your reports with non-Jira users via a common platform such as Confluence without having to worry about permissions?

There are several add-ons for Jira reporting that give you more powerful options, but if you want a solution that doesn’t require training, or coding, yet has enough features to keep all your teams’ reporting within Jira Dashboards. Custom Charts for Jira – Reports by Old Street, an Atlassian Staff Pick from a top Atlassian Marketplace Vendor. 

Custom Charts for Jira provides chart components pulled directly from Jira with features not possible in native Jira Dashboards or Confluence pages out of the box, offering significant benefits. For example, the ability to merge segments (with or without using JQL) and chart any field by time, issue count, or story points is massively beneficial when tracking progress.

Custom Charts offer a far simpler and straightforward way to create Jira reports and charts that will convey more meaningful information to your teams. All with an extremely well-built and easy to use interface. 

Features include:

  • The ability to choose segment colors to remain on brand, to maintain consistency across charts, and more in a few clicks, without any need for coding. 
  • Use Custom Jira Query Language (JQL), saved filters, or use the simple click and drag interface to create any chart
  • Drag and Drop to reorder segments, bars, or tables
  • Merge segments or hide segments to simplify your charts and make them less cluttered
  • Save and share configurations and filters
  • Integrates with any Advanced JQL searches, and calculated custom fields
  • Chart 2-dimensional tables and charts by Story points, Issues or Time Spent

Explore how the apps work with our Interactive App Playground which will allow you to try out creating different types of charts using available data from our website 

Personalize those charts and see how easy it is to use our tools. Check out the playground here:

Enhanced Jira Reporting with customization and display options for Jira Dashboards and Confluence pages.

You can also view our demo video and see how easy it is to use our apps to personalize your charts:

Chart by anything you could write a JQL search for, and each segment is an individual JQL search.

For additional information on creating Custom Charts for Jira, check out the documentation for Jira Reporting here.

How to Prioritize Work in Jira

Jira Priority Icons for Jira 8.0

The key to the success of any project is knowing which tasks to prioritize first and which can be held back until later. When Jira issues come in that need fixing urgently, do you drop what you’re doing or do you attempt to speed up and quickly finish what you’re on? And how do you ensure everyone is on the same page, in terms of how to track and maintain progress? Well, if you know how to correctly prioritize work in Jira, you can easily maximize the efficiency of your teams, making workloads manageable and reducing wasted time. 

Prioritize Jira Issues Consistently

By default, issues in Jira can have one of five priority levels: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest. You can easily set this by opening up a particular issue and then selecting it under ‘Priority’. Just click on the current priority level to open up a dropdown menu of the available priorities.

But how do you actually define the different priority levels? And if more than one person is responsible for prioritizing work in Jira, how do we know everyone is using the same definitions? For all you know, your Medium issue might be your colleague’s High priority issue. 

If you’re working to a defined SLA, then you’ll likely have clear definitions to ensure consistency, and you’ll prioritise work in Jira according to the criteria of that document. If, however, you don’t have any formal method to determine the urgency of incoming tasks, then you can quickly find issues being categorised inconsistently, which is confusing and inefficient. It is recommended, therefore, to agree and adopt some kind of system for identifying and categorising issues, so they’re prioritised consistently and tasks are completed in a meaningful and efficient order. This should be clearly documented so your entire team can refer back to it as needed.

If it is practical to do so, assign priorities to issues as soon as they come in. This will ensure that new but urgent tasks can be attended to as quickly as possible, and it will give you more time to reschedule less pressing issues. 

Customize Jira Priorities

Jira’s built-in priorities no doubt cover a wide range of scenarios, but you may find that your team would benefit from using customised priority fields instead. Assuming you have the relevant permissions within Jira, you can create your own priorities using the following steps:

  1. Head to Administration > Issues and select ‘Priorities’. 
  2. Now choose ‘Add priority’. 
  3. Enter a name for your new priority, as well as a description. 
  4. Select an icon to represent the priority. 
  5. You can now pick a colour for the priority, either from the colour chart or by entering the appropriate HTML.
  6. Now select Add, and your priority will be ready to use. 

To associate priorities with particular projects, add them to a priority scheme and then link that scheme to your project. 

If you do set up your own priorities, be wary of adding too many and/or making them too vague. It is generally advisable to reduce unnecessary complexity, as this helps to avoid redundancies in your workflow and ensures that you prioritise work in Jira in a way that is most effective.

Use Flags To Highlight Blocked Jira Issues

Flagged Jira Issues 8.0

If something is preventing a task from being completed, it is beneficial to highlight it as soon as possible, so all team members are aware of blockers that may potentially impact their own work or which they may be able to assist with.  

A simple way to draw attention to blocked issues in Jira is to add a flag, which highlights the issue in yellow in locations such as the backlog and the Jira Kanban board. It also replaces the priority icon with a flag icon. 

To flag an issue, open it and then click the cog to open a dropdown menu. Select ‘Add flag’, (‘Remove flag’ to take it off again). Alternatively, you can right-click an issue and then choose ‘Add flag’ from the context menu. If you want to leave a comment on the issue as well, you can select ‘Add flag and comment’.  

As well as being a quick, visual way to spot blockers, flagged issues can also be searched for with a simple bit of JQL: Flagged = Impediment.

Use Reporting to Prioritize Work in Jira

The sheer amount of data that Jira can spit out can, quite frankly, be overwhelming. It’s a hugely powerful tool, and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself wading through a seemingly never-ending tide of epics, stories and a growing backlog. If you want to see the bigger picture, to get a clearer understanding of your team’s work processes and so you can better prioritize work in Jira, you’d be better served by collating data into relevant graphs and tables. That’s where reporting comes in. 

Out of the box, Jira has some basic reporting functionality, with the ability to make various graphs and charts. Unfortunately, they are severely lacking when it comes to customized Jira reporting, so users often find they can’t quite create the charts they want or access the data in them in a user-friendly manner. 

The good news is that thanks to the extensibility of Jira, there are many ways of adding extra functionality to Jira data visualization reporting features, including high-end business intelligence solutions. However, many of them are hugely expensive or so complex that they alienate and exclude all but the most technically minded people, typically leaving only one or two experts within a company to operate them. 

For many organisations, the ideal solution is one that balances features with accessibility. That’s why Old Street Solutions built Custom Charts for Jira. Its interface is designed to be easy to operate, so even novices can quickly bring up informative charts and start customising them. With just a few clicks, they can set up colours, filters and chart types exactly how they wish. At the same time, Custom Chart for Jira has enough underlying power that more experienced users can further define their charts and tables, using custom JQL or saved filters. 

With the help of Custom Charts, users and project managers can see, at a glance, everything from the number and severity of outstanding issues to how much time has been spent dealing with blockers. They can access pie charts, bar graphs and more, with the ability to quickly drill down from the macro level into the details using the Custom Charts – Simple Search gadget.

By presenting information about your workflows through these charts, you and any other stakeholders can begin to better understand the data held within them. This will enable you to make more informed decisions about how you prioritize work in Jira.

Custom Charts for Jira Reports screenshot to Jira Dashboard Gadgets

Try The Atlassian Playbook

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice about how to prioritize work in Jira, you could certainly do worse than checking out the Atlassian Team Playbook. This extensive library of self-guided workshops is a valuable resource for any teams that are struggling to find the best working methodologies for their business. You might, for example, try the Allthethings Prioritization Matrix play, an hour-long workshop designed to help you team visualise the priority of their projects compared to work requested by other teams. 

However you choose to address the challenge of prioritisation, it’s important to understand that any time you spend on it is an investment: what you put in now can potentially save your teams significantly more time and effort later. As stated at the start of this post, you should aim for consistency, above all else, but you can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your work methodology by using reporting solutions like Custom Charts for Jira. 

For more information about Custom Charts for Jira or any other Atlassian add-ons from Old Street Solutions, check them out on the Atlassian Marketplace.