The Tools That Make Our Agency Tick: JIRA
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Our team is working with more than a handful of clients at one time, so keeping each client’s backlog, priorities, and conversations organized is an important part of keeping our development agency running smoothly.
Nearly every agency out there uses some sort of project management software to manage their work with clients. There are dozens of options out there, ranging in price and feature set. Some popular options are Trello, Asana, and what we use – Atlassian’s JIRA.
JIRA is infamous for its complexity. We could write for days about the specific uses, plugins, and features we use in JIRA every day. Here's a short introduction to some basic information about JIRA. If you're considering making a project management tool switch or want to see how a brief overview of the perks of JIRA for an agency, read on.
Pricing and Features
There are two options for hosting – cloud-based or self-hosted. Cloud-based means a quick setup that JIRA hosts. There's no server setup, no storage, and no maintenance required on your end. If you self-host JIRA on your own hardware, you can customize your setup however you'd like. If you want to manage all the little details and have the time available to manage the complexity of self-hosting, you can go with this option.
The essential functionality of the product is the same regardless of which option you choose.
The price for JIRA cloud teams that are smaller than 10 people is a flat, $10 monthly fee. For 11-100 users, the price is $7 per user/month. From there, larger teams can contact JIRA for enterprise pricing. Self-hosted server teams pay a one-time fee based on the number of users. You can calculate that cost here.
JIRA features a comprehensive set of project management functions that help you stay on track of multiple projects at a time. These include kanban boards, where users can drag and drop issues as they are worked on and completed and scrum boards, where additional features like sprint intervals, epics, backlog view, and complexity scoring will help you track and manage your scrum team’s progress. Here's a look at a simple kanban setup we use on our internal marketing projects and blog posts.
This shows a simple swimlane setup that includes to-do, in progress, and done. For more complex workflows, you can adjust or add to these lanes to include design feedback, QA, or any other steps you want to show transparently.
All projects tracked in JIRA will also have data shown in a dozen agile reporting charts that will help you analyze and forecast your project development. You’ll have burndown charts, velocity charts, flow diagrams, and more.
How we use JIRA
Depending on your type of business, the size of your team, and the type of product you’re building or maintaining, you’ll use JIRA differently. Here are a few of features we use and love as a web development agency working with multiple clients.
Different boards for each client
JIRA’s top-level organization is the “board”. These boards hold the collection of user stories that guide our development process. We have different boards for each of our retainer web development clients. From the client’s perspective, they can only see the board that relates to their project. Each board is named with a 2-3 letter abbreviation we use for each client based on their name.
Customizable dashboard views
One of the handy things about JIRA is that it’s highly customizable for each individual user. From your JIRA dashboard, you can decide how you want to view your tasks and in what priority order. You can see your due dates in a calendar format or see an entire list of everything assigned to you by priority. There are built-in widgets that you can arrange to create a dashboard that makes sense for you.
This dashboard helps team members working with multiple clients see the bigger scope of what they’ll be working on in the near future. When client’s tickets are organized by priority and are properly assigned to the right developer, this view helps increase productivity. The downtime between tasks trying to figure out what you should work on next is minimized.
Internal and external comments and notes
If you’re an agency working with clients, the ability in JIRA to limit who can see which comments will help your communication. A project manager and developer can communicate back and forth with a limited access message that the client can’t see – say, if you’re needing to check the status of a ticket. Then, once you find an answer you can leave a comment for the client if you need approval or details.
Changing "Assignee" when necessary to maintain ownership
There are two roles on every ticket in JIRA: the reporter who originally input the ticket (sometimes our client, a project manager, or a developer), and the assignee who is currently responsible for completing the ticket. The assignee can change a handful of times throughout the ticket progress.
The original developer assigned to the ticket may need further clarification from the client on a portion. After leaving a note asking any questions, they can assign the ticket over to the client. After receiving answers, they can take the ticket back. These changes also occur during any design or QA phases of a ticket. By ensuring the assignee is always the current person working on the ticket, everyone is aware of who owns what if there's any delay or questions.
Customizing workflows for type of project
Each workflow in JIRA follows the steps we mentioned above by default: to-do, in progress, done. Once you complete a step, you move each ticket to the next step. You can customize these workflows for each type of project. An internal marketing project will involve different steps than a development change for a client. Here's an example of our JIRA workflow for a blog post, which lets the writer mark a post for editing or lets an editor mark that there are changes that need to be made.
On a development ticket, this includes a client review stage to approve the ticket or request changes before any changes are implemented.
Even within this quick introduction to JIRA, it's likely obvious that there is a lot you can customize on this project management tool. Depending on the type of work you're handling, JIRA may be overkill for your project management needs. But if your current tool is falling short, to-dos are getting lost, or you need more data on your work, JIRA is a helpful project management application to keep track of your agency's projects more accurately.