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Nov 09

How to do Top-down planning in Jira?

Use caseA client of ours asked us during a BigPicture training session: how to do top-down planning in Jira, as opposed to bottom-up planning. In top-down planning PMs start with epics, or high-level objectives, only then they assign user stories or tasks to those epics. Let’s investigate this interesting use case: how to practically do the top-down planning in Jira + BigPicture.


The PM asks: I need to define a top-down roadmap. I wish to build that roadmap of existing epics/tasks. I’d like to set high-level goals first and then backfill tasks and milestones from the backlog. I’m going to work ‘backwards’.

The optimal way to achieve the top-down planning is to create new epics on the Gantt chart of BigPicture / BigGantt.


JIra top-down planning. Create epic

Start your top-down planning process on the Gantt chart in BigPicture/BigGantt. Create your first epic, or high-level goal. In this program the ‘Epic’ issue type was dubbed ‘Feature’.

Visit Documentation: Tasks and task based actions. Creating tasks

Had Program Synchronisers been configured beforehand, the structure of a project would be kept regardless of whether a Jira issue has been created in Jira or directly on the Gantt chart.  Check Documentation: Synchronization


Top-down planning, simple plan, roadmap

This very simple decomposition of a construction project is the aftermath of top-down planning. The ‘Build house’ epic has been positioned on the Gantt chart first.


Below is a project closer to real life of a more advanced BigPicture user. The WBS has four levels of nesting, and again, according to the top-down planning rules, a project manager was expected to establish the ‘Evaluate Program XVI-I’ task first and only then gradually break it up into lower-level tasks.

Advanced, complex Gantt chart

A Gantt chart of a more complex top-down planned project.


Once the roadmap has been defined, I wish to see how my team is doing. I wish to see any delays in milestone goals and projected finish date.

The best way to achieve this is to use Baseline functionality available on BigPicture Gantt chart.

Documentation: Data display and editing. Baselines

The baselines will appear right on the Gantt chart and will show tasks’ original positions on the timeline. This way, you can compare the actual start and end dates of each task to the original plan. Baselines work with both epics and lower-level tasks.  

Top down planning baselines

Use ‘baselines’ on the Gantt chart to keep an eye on changes to the original plan. Notice the single milestone – the diamond-shaped, green ‘Test product’ task.


Once the roadmap has been defined, I wish my team members to be able to easily backfill more tasks required to complete milestone goals, as sometimes new work is discovered in the course of a project.

The Gantt chart module in BigPicture gives you a real-time insight into current state of the Roadmap/Plan with possibility of backfilling any required tasks on the go.

Add sub-task

Add more work to epics en route to a milestone. The Gantt chart module in BigPicture.


If you’ve elected to use the Board view instead of the Gantt view, then you should follow a slightly different path to backfill new tasks once the project has commenced:

  1. Create a new Jira issue in Jira and not on BigPicture Gantt chart.
  2. Assign a ‘Sprint’ to the ticket, see the figure below.
  3. This will affect Team and Cadence capacity visible in the Board module.
  4. BigPicture Board has to be in Small/Large team mode.

Documentation: Using the Board

Create Jira task, assign sprint

When using Roadmap module instead of the Gantt chart in the execution phase of a top-down planned project, assign a ‘Sprint’ when creating a new task.


The good news

Aug 2021
Firstly, why do clients decide to upgrade to BigPicture Enterprise? Even BigGantt users do that. How is the Enterprise edition evolving? What are the highlights and pricing? Read more.

Jul 2021
Secondly, why is Jira believed to be limited to software companies and IT departments? What three qualities can make Jira a universal project management tool, suitable for just about any industry, including manufacturing, automotive, or R&D? Read more.

Jul 2021
Thirdly, decision-making. What specific views to look at in BigPicture when making major business decisions? Read more.


How about if you don’t need dates, just work breakdown structure?

You might need a project’s ‘sketch’, or work breakdown structure, without any particular schedule or dates. This happens at any stage of a project, but very typically at the initiation phase. For instance, you are to make a quick top-down decomposition of some smart idea for a prospective sponsor so that they can evaluate the proposal and approve or disapprove it. The new Scope component of BigPicture 7 lends a helping hand.

Work Breakdown Structure, Scope Big Picture 7

Scope module of BigPicture 7.

It’s easier to decompose a project in the Scope module, than it is in the Gantt chart module.

Apart from the classic ‘Epic’ and ‘User story’ levels, the custom, more fancy ‘Capability’ and ‘Feature’ ones have been added to the pictured program/project.


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Top-down vs. bottom-up planning in Jira

Planning in Jira
Top-down Bottom-up
Principle High-level goals, epics are to be positioned first on the Gantt chart. You create user stories, tasks and sub-tasks later. User stories and tasks are to be set first. Only then they are bind into epics, or higher-level goals.
Planning horizon strategic tactical
Who sets goals Senior-level managers, PMs Talented, experienced team members. Senior managers approve goals.
or how the goals are set Divide a project into high-level objectives, or epics. Only then break them down into user stories, tasks and sub-tasks. The goals are framed based on low-level tasks.
Motivation Employees need to be motivated with money or perks. Employees tend to be self-motivated.
Bottom line A mix of the top-down and bottom-up planning is recommended.


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.