Dec 15

Boxes in BigPicture. All you need to know.

Boxes are the major highlight of BigPicture 8. We’ve been observing a growing interest in “umbrella” software, a quite rare type on the market. So we devised Boxes – they let you build and manage diversified portfolios of initiatives in BigPicture. Boxes can also source tasks from third-party tools, such as Trello. In this article, you will find a step by step compendium – all you need to know about Boxes in BigPicture.

Beyond projects and products

Are Boxes just projects or products? Not quite. Projects/products make a subset of Boxes. In the project management world, the term ‘project’ has been for many years associated with what we call “classic projects”, PMBOK, and linear planning. Following the development and popularization of agile methodologies, however, conducting nonlinear initiatives, or product management has become an equally common practice among managers. As a consequence of this methodological shift, concepts such as Agile, Waterfall, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), or Large Scale Scrum (LeSS) have entered the world of management for good. Moreover, in many organizations initiatives conducted in diverse methodologies coexist and are interdependent. Thanks to Boxes, BigPicture allows for combining agile and classic projects, products, Agile Release Trains (SAFe ARTs), or Requirement Areas (LeSS) within a single portfolio. Furthermore, it enables managing all those initiatives and tracking progress in a standardized way, as well as reporting based on reliable data originating directly from teams responsible for executing tasks.

BigPicture provides Boxes corresponding with all: classic, hybrid, and fully agile initiatives.Portfolio Management in BigPicture, Boxes

Box configuration

The true power of Boxes becomes apparent once you click the ‘Configure’ button for any given Box. You can set in detail how each of the Boxes should behave and interact with other Boxes. You can define, among others, where does a Box source its tasks from, how the tree structure of tasks is built, how it schedules resources, the man-days to story points ratio, column views, quick filters, and so on.

To better understand what a Box is, think of a glass cube containing items such as tasks, resources, and risks. Depending on which of the walls of a Box you look at, you can see different aspects of what is inside. Moreover, you can customize the view to see only the pieces of information you need in a particular context. Take a Hybrid Project Box as an example. When you look at the  Scope “wall”, you can see all the tasks and subtasks the Hybrid Project consists of, as well as their progress bars, and critical properties such as start and end dates; when you look through the  Gantt “wall”, you can see all the tasks and sub-tasks visualized as a neat timeline chart, and so on.

Now, what if you need to create 10 or 100 identical or similar Boxes in your portfolio?

Boxes vs. Box types

Whereas Boxes are flexible management spaces for tasks, stories, or epics, Box types are molds you begin casting new Boxes with. Unlike plaster molds, however, you can re-shape (reconfigure) Box types later. Think of the Box types as templates that you can edit, as your organization evolves.

Example 1: you need to create 10 similar agile projects, one for each of the 10 products in your portfolio. To do this quickly, you simply replicate the Agile Project Box type, ten times.

Think of the automotive industry. You need to order 10 cars for your fleet. Box types are car trims, that you can further configure before you make a purchase. A sporty trim, an off-road one, and a comfy one are available. You choose one of them, and then you place an order. Next, a factory manufactures the actual 10 cars (Boxes). Once you have the 10 cars delivered, you can further hone them by retrofitting them with accessories. The same goes true with actual project Boxes in BigPicture. A project manager can further hone the configuration of their Box (project) anytime during its lifetime.

Parent types Boxes

Take notice of the ‘Parent types’ column. Here, you can effectively design the hierarchy in your portfolio. For instance, the Program Increment Box is only allowed inside the SAFe ART and Program Boxes.

Example 2: Let’s suppose you manage an extremely diversified corporation that manufactures ships, cars, and bicycles. Agility proves correct when designing bicycles, hybrid approach – with cars, while ships need to be designed linearly. Start with creating ‘Bicycle’, ‘Car’, and ‘Ship’ product Boxes. Have a look at the ‘Parent types’ column. You could limit bicycle product managers to adding Iterations within their Bicycle product Boxes. Carline product managers could be limited to adding hybrid stages, while Ship PMs could add regular Stages inside their products. The bottom line: you can design the tree-like structure of your portfolio with Box types.

Step-by-step: First, you need to check that the Agile project Box type (mold) is suited to your organization’s needs. Go to BigPicture administration > Box types tab and update the Agile project Box type’s configuration. Once ready, you can go back to the Overview module and set up the actual 10 projects for your portfolio. To create a new Agile project Box from a predefined Box type click +Add new > Agile project.

Thanks to Boxes an organization has the single source of truth – resulting from all the tasks coming from Jira on which BigPicture sits. Each stakeholder, on the other hand, acts within his/her Box – a subset of those tasks. Thus, the individual project manager, rather than getting distracted, is busy observing the initiatives related to his/her organizational role only.

Now, how many “trims” – Box types can you have in BigPicture? Differences between BigPicture and BigPicture Enterprise begin here.

BigPicture vs. BigPicture Enterprise

Boxes are available in both BigPicture and BigPicture Enterprise. Larger and more diversified organizations will benefit from BigPicture Enterprise, as it supports hybrid initiatives, as well as portfolios making use of many methodologies. In other words, portfolios that combine agile and classic project management methodologies are better off with BigPicture Enterprise. Have a look at this quick comparison:

BigPicture BigPicture Enterprise
three Box types unlimited number of Box types
Default Box types:

  • Program,
  • Program Increment,
  • Iteration.
Default Box types:

  • Agile project,
  • Classic project,
  • Hybrid project,
  • Hybrid stage,
  • Iteration,
  • LeSS Requirement Area,
  • Portfolio,
  • Program,
  • Program Increment,
  • SAFe ART,
  • Stage.
You can edit the three available Box types, including their names. To add a custom/in-house Box type, you need to release one of the three available slots. The ‘Add new Box type’ button is active in the BigPicture administration panel, so you can add your own, custom Box types, for instance:

  • to model new methodologies (corporate level)
  • to add templates of projects/products (PMs’ level)
You can’t rename BigPicture modules. You can rename BigPicture modules, for instance, ‘Gantt’ could be relabeled to ‘Roadmap’. Both Box types and the actual Boxes let you rename modules.

Both BigPicture and BigPicture Enterprise let you link Boxes with Trello. A Box can source tasks not just from the underlying Jira, but also from third-party tools.

Boxes can synchronize with third-party task management tools

Do you maintain many task management software packages in your organization? If so, then you must be familiar with both benefits and challenges of the multi-tool environment. We believe that multi-tool organizations are the thing of the future rather than something to be avoided. This is why BigPicture lets you synchronize Boxes with third-party tools, currently with Trello. Notably, the sync lets you not only view a Trello task in BigPicture, but also edit such a Trello task from within the BigPicture context. Trello will be followed by other task managers: more than one Jira Cloud / Server, Azure DevOps Server, among others, will soon be synchronizable with BigPicture.

Let’s name the benefits of a multi-tool environment synchronizing with BigPicture “umbrella”:

  • data entered by teams is way more credible than data that would otherwise be entered by mid-level managers,
  • low-level data is collected on-the-fly by BigPicture, and the progress of a portfolio and its individual projects can be observed in real time,
  • managers save a plethora of time, they would otherwise spend on entering data and administration. BigPicture translates the low-level data into high-level aggregates,
  • teams can keep the tools they love.

Step-by-step: To set up a bridge between BigPicture and Trello go to the Overview module and click ‘Configuration’ for any given Box. Proceed to Tasks > Scope definition tab. Can you see the +Add new tool button to the right? The resulting connection is bi-directional – you’ll be able to edit Trello tasks both in Trello and on the BigPicture’s end.

Within the scope of a Box, you can combine both Jira and Trello tasks. Display a combination of Jira and Trello tasks on a single Gantt chart view, plan those tasks using BigPicture’s Program Board and Roadmap, or use those tasks within Scope, Resources, Risks, Calendar, and Reports modules. Your teams can keep the tools they love, while the senior management can retain the bird’s-eye view.

Read more about BigPicture integrations

Boxes in BigGantt

BigGantt has Boxes, too. Just like BigPicture, BigGantt has three slots for the Box types. BigGantt Boxes can also accept connections from Trello.


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About The Author

With his automotive background Marcin goes beyond the 'Jira + software development' standard. He likes simple, up-to-five-sentence answers to complex questions.