Feb 11

Four approaches to WBS in BigPicture / BigGantt

Work-breakdown structureTo most users, Jira’s standard work breakdown structure (a.k.a. issue links) is not enough. They need a visual WBS, and this is supplied by addons available from Atlassian Marketplace. Plugins can build their graphical, drillable WBS on Jira’s native issue links or fields, such as ‘project’ or ‘version’. In this overview, we’ll see what wbs options are available in BigPicture and BigGantt. We’ll also see how to synchronize the graphical WBS with Jira fields or links.

Why is the WBS so beneficial? Because it is capable of connecting the high-level business view of a Project Sponsor with the low-level approach of the engineers. Thanks to the WBS, management can learn at any given point, that, say, 60% of the development has been completed, 70% of the estimated time has already been logged, 50 out of 80 epics have been delivered, and so on. From the engineers’ point of view, WBS helps to canalize efforts towards usable chunks of work rather than randomly selected tasks.

WBS in the Gantt chart

available in both BigPicture and BigGantt

Gantt charts tend to be heavily utilized throughout the execution stage of a project. Looking at the below screenshot, you’ve got the WBS pane to the left, but the wbs is combined here with the timeline view (to the right) for optimal visibility into the battlefield. Now, notice the crucial ‘Status’ column. Can you see the BPIV-30 Project management phase? 33,3% of its sub-items are open, further 33,3% are in progress, and finally, 33,3% have been completed. So, the aggregation of low-level data is the first application of the wbs.

Work Breakdown Structure Jira Gantt chart

This WBS view is available in both BigPicture and BigGantt.


Work Breakdown Structure in Scope module

available in BigPicture

We should have begun this study with the Scope module because it tends to be utilized before the Gantt charts in a typical project workflow. Here, you decompose high-level initiatives into more manageable epics, stories, tasks, sub-tasks, and other types, so that teams can tackle a project. The view is highly configurable, and note how the ‘Status’ and ‘Time tracking’ columns supply the bird’s eye view on the whole portfolio (in ’24 Portfolio’ row).

WBS scope a project in Jira

Scope is another WBS module within BigPicture.


WBS through Board module

available in BigPicture

Another spot where you can find the work breakdown structure is Board module, and specifically its backlog (the right pane in the below screenshot). Remember, when we stated that WBS promotes delivering usable chunks of work (deliverables)? Agile teams use Board to plan work for the upcoming iterations and program increments, and so the work breakdown structure here definitely canalizes their efforts.

Work Breakdown Structure. Backllog of dependency board in Jira Big Picture

WBS is available in the backlog pane of BigPicture’s dependency board module.


WBS widget in Jira issue detail view

available in BigPicture and BigGantt

BigPicture and BigGantt insert a couple of widgets into the Jira issue detail view. Notice the ‘BigPicture – Work Breakdown Structure’ widget in the below screenshot. It narrows down the wbs tree to the parents of BIGMAP-89, but when you press the ‘Program overview’ button, you’ll see the whole structure, including issues unrelated to BIGMAP-89.

What’s the purpose of the WBS widget? Again, teams and engineers can tell whether completing BIGMAP-89 will help deliver its parent.

WBS in Jira issue detail view

Note the ‘Program overview’ button; once pressed, the wbs widget displays the whole structure and not only the parents of BIGMAP-89 Feature.


So here you have it – the classic spots to look for the work breakdown structure in BigPicture version 7.x.

Now, what to expect in BigPicture 8, that will debut in Spring 2020? The ‘Eight’ introduces [Boxes], or customizable containers, such as ‘portfolio’, ‘program’, ‘project’, ‘phase’, ‘Agile Release Train’, for the true Project Portfolio Management experience. Keep in mind that until BigPicture 7, you had the single ‘Program’ container available. So what does this ‘portfolio’ revolution mean in terms of the work breakdown structure?

High-level WBS-es in BigPicture 8 (scheduled for 2020)

The above ‘classic’ wbs modules will, of course, still be there in BigPicture 8, but have a look at the below screenshots of the portfolio-level wbs, new in BigPicture 8. An entirely new Overview module replaces the current Program Manager. Even the hierarchy-tree-like icon (top-right corner) indicates that the new Overview steers for the work breakdown structure. And the WBS here is obviously at a higher, portfolio level rather than the task-story-epic level, as is the case within the Gantt chart, Scope, and Board modules.

Overview work breakdown structure Big Picture 8

The new ‘Overview’ module replaces Program Manager in BigPicture 8; to debut in Spring 2020.


Work breakdown structure at Portfolio level, Big Picture

The same Overview module, with the ‘Hierarchy’ tab active.


WBS configuration

Back to the ‘classic’ WBS – the one available within Gantt chart, Scope, and Board modules. Its configuration boils down to the following question: is it more useful to base the visual wbs on Jira fields and issue links, and let the automatics create the hierarchy in the blink of an eye? Or is it better to create the wbs tree manually, so that the visual WBS in BigPicture is independent and not affected by Jira fields or issue links?

Both scenarios are viable, and we see them in real-life environments.

WBS not affected by Jira fields and issue links

In this scenario, the visual work breakdown structure in BigPicture / BigGantt is independent of Jira issue links. You design the structure manually, typically in the Scope or Board modules, because at the time of writing, they support multi-select (you can drag&drop or indent/outdent many tasks at a time). Future versions of the Gantt chart will have the multi-select feature, too.

WBS synchronizes with Jira issue links or fields

In this scenario, you can build the visual work breakdown structure in BigPicture (BigGantt) within seconds. Go to Program configuration > General > Synchronization. Once you click ‘Save’ a flat task list in the Gantt chart, Scope, and Board modules should immediately be formatted into the work breakdown structure.

Jira BigPicture work breakdown structure synchronization configuration

This configuration is responsible for how the visual work breakdown structure looks like in the above screenshots of the Gantt chart, Scope, and Board modules.

Drag and drop structure builders (change their order) to influence the design of a wbs. For instance, ‘Project’ structure builder, its first position, means that Jira’s project field will make the top level of the newly created visual wbs in BigPicture. Notice that you also need to have the ‘Add / Update JIRA projects …’ checkbox checked for the configuration to work correctly. The above screenshot is a valid, real-life configuration of automated visual wbs based on Jira projects, versions, and sub-tasks.

More in docs:

Automated task structure (WBS)
Issue detail view WBS widget


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The good news
Feb 2020
If you’re after dependency arrows in Jira, then consider BigPicture the leader. Read a guide on strong and soft visual task dependencies in BigPicture/BigGantt and how to map them to Jira task links. More.
Feb 2020
BigPicture is becoming an optionally standalone enterprise agile planning tool. With the new edition, called BigPicture.ONE, you’ll be able to do project portfolio management without Jira. BigPicture for Jira will remain our core product, though, and will be developed concurrently. More.
Dec 2019
We’ve been doing custom development for years, but have now released its official guide. Need a new feature in BigPicture/BigGantt? You’ve got options.

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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.