‘Program Board’ is a SAFe® term. But the tool is so useful and visually appealing that it has been widely adopted by the Jira community, including Scrum, Scrum of Scrums, SAFe, and LeSS practitioners. One of the most distinctive features of the program board are its inter-team dependencies, represented by the famous ‘strings’. While the majority of Program board plugins seem to promote the ‘planning’ variant of the Program board, one cannot pass over the lesser-known ‘execution-stage’ and ‘cross-program-overview’ variants of the tool. Scroll down to see screen captures of all of them.
Let’s compare the most popular Program board plugins for Jira. Also, let’s answer other program-board-related questions: does Jira native Scrum board meet the minimum requirements to act as a Program board? What features should a Program board have? Do you need to plan at the PI (Program Increment) level to justify the existence of a Program board in your organization?
|Agile Hive – SAFe® with Atlassian Tools||BigPicture||Dependency Map for Jira – link viewer||Easy Agile Programs||Kendis – Scaling Agile Platform||piplanning app|
|Vendor||//SEIBERT/MEDIA||SoftwarePlant||FindOut Technologies AB||Easy Agile||Kendis.io||Rentouch|
|# of active instances||48||10761||250||554||162|
/# of reviews
|# of releases (I – VI 2020)
~how actively an app is developed
|Price Cloud 100 users user/month||$2.8||$3|
|Price Server 100 users annually||$6000||$2000||$2000||$3000|
|Planning board (sticky notes and strings)|
|Execution-stage program board. Graphs, progress bars, to do – in progress – done task counts, etc.|
|Cross-program board. An overview of the portfolio of programs with aggregates.|
Why has Jira Align not been included? While Jira Align is a de-facto plugin for Jira, it’s not offered through Atlassian Marketplace. We’ve seen the board available in Jira Align and may responsibly say BigPicture board keeps up with the JA one.
Does Jira have a program board?
Jira Software natively has Scrum and Kanban boards, and so could you use one of them as a Program board and skip the whole plugin ordeal? Jira’s boards lack:
- the cross-team dependency visualization, those popular curved arrows
- while you could use Jira Sprints for the iteration-level planning, you’ll miss the PI level which Jira boards don’t have
- you would have a difficult time trying to display many iterations, let alone PIs, in a single view without a plugin
So, we would say ‘no’. The boards available in Jira SOftware are nowhere near a true Program board, and so you probably need a plugin.
Program board – not one, but three
Now, three variants of the Program board exist, with the ‘PI planning’ one being widely known, as it has been preached by SAFe for a while. Get a grasp of the planning-stage program board (the one proposed by SAFe) vs. execution-stage program board vs. the portfolio-level program board. We’ll use BigPicture screenshots, as the plugin has all three types.
The core features of the PI planning program board are:
- cross-team dependencies
- the backlog
- iteration, as well as PI (Program Increment) levels of planning
- note the ‘Unassigned’ area, collapsed in the screenshot below. It’s wise to have room for scheduling features and user stories not assigned to a team
The execution-phase variant of the program board has:
- comprehensible reporting on how a program, PI or iteration is progressing
- notice the time box combo-box in the top-left corner
- standard measures of progress are: # of story points burnt, # of bugs fixed, # of tasks per assignee, estimated remaining time, or # of features/user stories not completed
- the board is there for a PM to monitor the progress and for everybody else to stay motivated
- you can drill down the graphs in BigPicture (see screenshot)
portfolio-level program board
- takes a long-term, multiannual view
- has progress bars and various aggregates, such as the ones related to time tracking, task-per-status counts, etc.
- one row per program, although you can drill down to the iteration level in BigPicture version 8
I don’t use PIs
And so will the program board be useful for my organization if we don’t plan at the Program Increment level?
We’ve seen clients planning at the iteration level only, yet using the program board tool for its cross-team dependencies and the many-iterations-per-view capability. ‘Program Increment’ is a term specific to Scaled Agile Framework, yet we’ve seen Scrum, Scrum of Scrums, LeSS, and other agile organizations profiting from the BigPicture program boards.
What features must a program board have?
We believe a true program board plugin for Jira must have the following features:
- several iterations ahead, a dozen or so teams. If the board cannot cope with those then it’s not the program board
- ‘above team’/unassigned level of planning. You need to be able to schedule tasks on the board, yet not assign them to a team.
- cross-team dependencies
- delivery dates for features and milestones
- visualizing future events. In BigPicture use markers for that
- responsiveness; you need to be able to drag and drop a feature or story from the backlog in a matter of seconds during the PI planning session, as opposed to time-consuming editing of a task
- the board needs to be in sync with Jira. While you could maintain the program board in some MS Excel file, in such an environment the planning sessions wouldn’t work, especially with distributed or dispersed teams
Have a look at this program board tutorial:
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