Mar 24

Top 4 tools for project management in Jira.
And “Do I need a tool at all?”

Thinking about purchasing some project management tool for Jira? Consider these facts:

  1. Top 4 Jira project management tools

    Pictured is an Agile board for managing Sprints in BigPicture.

    Atlassian says “Jira is good enough for managing projects”.

  2. They sell Portfolio, a separate project management tool for Jira.

If you’re like us, these statements may sound a little inconsistent to you. So let’s look closer at project management tools for Jira available on the market, and do you really need one.

Take me to the “Top 4” rank

 

Is Jira itself a project management tool?

Let’s start with a resounding “Yes”: Jira with plugins is indeed a project management tool. So how many of those plugins, or apps as Atlassian now calls them, do you need? Good news is that you basically need one single project management plugin. In real life, however, people tend to have anything from 1, to 20 (average), and up to 40 plugins from Atlassian Marketplace installed (including language packs).

 

What PM tool can be called “Good”?

Even blue chip companies just download a few PM tools and test. This is because the “Big 4” are all really good, but each of them fit some organizations better than others. Of course, there are dozens of specialized, or “single-aspect” project management tools for Jira, too. Still there are some common things to pay attention to:

  1. Integration with Jira. You don’t want to end up duplicating your work: first entering a task in Jira and then again in the project management tool. This may sound like a truism, but there are companies that exactly that: a project manager uses MS Project and all the others use Jira. You want a tool designed for Jira, available on Atlassian Marketplace, but obviously even some of those tools integrate with Jira better than others.
  2. Does a tool show the progress of your project in real time? You just want to be able to check numbers: tasks done / in progress / to do. Sadly, Jira itself is very limited here. You could at best compare these numbers at sprint level, but not for an entire project, or worse yet – program.
  3. Is a tool maintained? Check the “Versions” tab of a plugin on Atlassian Marketplace, then “See all XXX versions”. A recent update is a good sign, but if the last update occurred half a year ago, than I would begin to worry.
  4. A single “big” tool is certainly better than a set of five “specialized” plugins. As there are plenty of single-functionality tools on Atlassian Marketplace, such as roadmap tools, resource plugins, Gantt chart apps, etc. the truth is you are better off with a single, comprehensive, “big” tool. With a single app you are far more likely to get the decent integration between modules, and the integration with Jira, that you so badly need.

As of 2018 four “big” project management tools are available on Atlassian Marketplace.

Top 4 Jira PM tools

(random order)

BigPicture

There is no other app on Atlassian Marketplace, but BigPicture, that has the unique combination of (a) Gantt chart, (b) resource module, and (c) risk module.

All of them in a single tool. You buy BigPicture, you get it all – both for strategic approach and micro-management. With the competition, you typically look at buying two or more apps for this.

If you need a SAFe® compliant tool, keep in mind that BigPicture had implemented SAFe® before any other of the big four did. What it means? As the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words“, and BigPicture is a visualisation tool.

A relatively unbiased app with all the major modules – teams, resources, risks, Gantt chart – equally well developed. A great choice for the large and for those who grow – you never know what modules you’re going to need tomorrow.

Structure

Probably the nearest tool to BigPicture in terms of “balance” between modules, but a little bit closer to the “granularity” end of the scale. Still, there are many similarities to BigPicture:

  • as their “Projects at Scale” slogan suggests, Structure is a great project management plugin for the large,
  • Structure is to a certain extent a visualisation tool, a crucial thing in SAFe®,
  • their key features and strengths: multi-level issue hierarchy, Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS, teams, multi-project environment, improving velocity.

Check Structure vs. BigPicture.

Portfolio

Atlassian’s native tool. It concentrates on Planning. Big P, period.

With Portfolio, you’re going to take a bird’s eye view of your projects/programs.

These keywords summerize Portfolio: roadmapping, or long term planning, and a strategic approach to projects. Therefore Portfolio is great for large enterprises with massive projects and mature project management practices in place.

Skills management makes a strength of Portfolio. It is capable of auto-scheduling tasks based on available resources and skills.

Check Portfolio vs. BigPicture.

Tempo Timesheets

A resource-biased project management tool. Contrary to Portfolio, Tempo concentrates on tracking issues.

In plus: (a) great for “per issue time tracking” and then aggregating the data; (b) features logged vs. estimated time reports; (c) has its native report engine; (d) fully developed team management + integration with Jira groups.

Tempo is great at answering these questions:

  • How profitable has Joe Doe been for the organization, given his salary and the issues he’s been involved in?
  • Is Joe Doe underallocated or perhaps overallocated?

Check Tempo Planner vs. BigPicture.

 

Q&A

How crucial is the “number of active instances” displayed next to each plugin on Atlassian Marketplace? Is a tool with 5000 active instances better than an app with 4000 ones?

Certainly the number of active instances is one crucial factor and an app with 1000 instances is almost surely more mature than an app with 100 instances. But does that statement hold true with the 5000 – 4000 pair?

Is the “Reviews” section credible?

Average star score is more credible than individual reviews. Even more reliable is traveling to an AUG, or Atlassian User Group, and asking real project managers. We see fake reviews on Atlassian Marketplace from time to time, and obviously users with history of reviews spread over time are more credible than those with a single opinion.

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.