Jun 28

How to plan and execute your project with BigPicture

You’ve got a project ahead of you. A team of dedicated people is already waiting for tasks, the office is cozy, enough money to keep the initiative up and running reserved. The bosses and shareholders expect a lot. You better plan ahead and track things to keep everything under control. But how to proceed? Today we will have a look on how you can fully plan and execute your project in JIRA using nothing more than the BigPicture plugin from Atlassian Marketplace.

Protip: It is a good idea to map everything to sync with existing JIRA fields. By default, BigPicture uses only custom fields and link types, but you might want to use Time Tracking, Due Date and others, so that your plan instantly propagates to JIRA and all changes your team makes to the tasks are immediately picked up. This can be done in Add Ons->Gantt Configuration.

Planning phase

BigPicture consists of Programs. In order to start actual work, you need at least one Program. In this tutorial, we are focusing strictly on planning a single JIRA project, so we will go ahead and use the “Import existing project” option:

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We will skip the presets for now, and simply select our desired project.  Voila – our Program is now ready to rock.

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We will cover Programs in detail in the next article in this series, do not worry. For now, let’s focus on the fact that each Program has 4 modules in which you can do actual work. The Gantt, Resources, Roadmap and Risks. Where do we start?

High-level planning

That would be the Risks and Roadmap. The 2 modules allow you to very broadly plan your work, that you can later tweak in details on the Gantt and with Resources in mind. Granted, this is not a required order – it is fully possible to schedule high-level things on the Gantt chart, too, if so you prefer.

The Roadmap is a good place to start not only due to its high-level focus, but also because it features a quick start wizard that will set things up for you. For instance, the Teams you create with this very wizard will propagate to your Resources screen later on.

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Once a few teams are added and synchronization selected, the last step is to select the specific Sprints (unless you choose the manual, or no-sync mode, when this step does not exist).

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This will pull in all the tasks to their appropriate columns and make the broad (Sprint-based) schedule of your plan. The timeline at the top shows a bird’s eye estimate of your project. You now also have the teams ready and can assign tasks to Teams on the Roadmap for very high-level resource allocation. We will cover specific resource assignment in just a second.

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Protip: If you are not using JIRA Agile, you can select the Manual mode on Roadmap, or disregard it and go directly to…

Risky stuff

The Risk matrix module of BigPicture is a tool that allows you to prioritize and track selected tasks. For a task to appear on the matrix, it needs to meet a single requirement:  it has to have ANY values assigned to 2 custom fields installed with the plugin, Risk Consequence and Risk Probability. Once that’s done, your matrix is already set up and can be operated using simple drag and drop:

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There are 3 main approaches you can possibly take here:

  • Assign risk levels to selected existing tasks in your project to mark them
  • Assign different risk levels to every single task in the project and use filtering options to reduce clutter
  • Create new tasks, for example of issue type Risk

All of these are valid and depend only on your preference. We have decided to go with the first approach for the purpose of this demo. Regular checking of this screen is also a part of Execution.

Detailed planning

Things are broadly scheduled, assigned to teams and risks are clearly identified. Now it’s time for the fine-tweaking. The best tool for this is definitely our Gantt chart:

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Using drag and drop, you can quickly position elements, resize them and create dependencies – the latter will come in handy during Execution. Here you can go wild and meticulously set everything up to a single day. All the changes you make are synced into JIRA and the rest of our plugin, so no need to worry about discrepancies. Here you can also create a structure of your tasks for convenience and easier management of complex plans.

Protip; Do not worry if you are not using Waterfall models in your project. Our Gantt is fully synchronized with the Agile Roadmap module (which can affect your Sprints if so you desire). You can also add the Sprint and Story Points columns, and then group and sort by them for an Agile chart.

Protip #2; If you schedule things on the Gantt in such a way, that they break the initial high-level schedule (for instance, duration exceeds a task’s Sprint), a red calendar icon will appear on these tasks on Roadmap. Clicking it will align things automatically.

Resources

Finally, let’s see if our plan is realistic with Resources in mind. First, open the Administration menu and edit the working/non-working days and hours plans, then assign your users to them:

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The tasks also need to have effort that will be distributed across their duration – Original Estimate field in JIRA. All estimated tasks will appear on the Resources screen:

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You will notice that this is simply a different representation of the Gantt tasks. All non-working days are greyed-out for their specific resources, and the colored numbers are the total allocation of a resource for a given day. The color symbolizes how this allocation stacks against the workload plan we defined earlier, with red representing over allocation (so Mike is overloaded on Monday in our case).

All of your Teams are available in the upper-left corner to filter the data. If you need to fine-tune your Teams, open the top menu, and select Teams:

teamsThe unassigned tab at the bottom allows you to very quickly assign things to people on a single screen. You can also re-assign tasks between different resources to make sure that your plan is realistic and can be completed in time, as well as resize task – all of this with quick drag and drop. It is also recommended to visit this screen from time to time, which ties into Execution.

Baselining

Once everything is we highly recommend baselining the plan now to keep track of changes along the way. Click the main cog icon and select Create Baselines:

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Execution phase

There are 3 notable features you want for execution of your plan.  The first of them is auto-scheduling. The Gantt and Roadmap feature 4 types of visual links between tasks you can create (start-start, start-end, end-start, end-end). Each of these can be mapped to any issue link type in JIRA. A special feature called auto-scheduling guards these dependencies. If any of them is violated, your plan is automatically rescheduled to meet the criteria again. Once turned on, it is active for as long as you do not turn it off:

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The next cool feature is the ability to show the Critical Path. This allows you to track the most crucial tasks of the whole project on the fly, to regularly check how exactly they impact the duration of your whole initiative.

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Last but definitely not least is the baselines feature. Select “Show Baselines” under the eye icon. Now things will look much more interesting:

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The transparent phantoms of tasks are your initial plan. You can quickly compare what was delayed and by how much exactly. In the example above, our milestone and the tasks linked to it were delayed, and the whole project slid by more or less a month due to this.

Protip: As a side note, you will also note we have “Show markers” enabled. Markers are these vertical lines, on the screenshot we have one called “Meeting 6”. This is just a simple way of marking important days, and they are also visible on the Roadmap’s timeline.

Done!

That’s it! We have planned our whole project from a very broad schedule up to fine details, then checked the Critical Path, created the desired dependencies and tracked Baselines to compare actual vs planned states. It is important to note that very soon (next 2 months) BigPicture will get a new feature, called “Snapshots” – basically Baselines of the whole Program with the ability to save any number of them and revert/accept changes.

Coming soon: articles on reporting and advanced practices. Stay tuned!

About The Author

We're SoftwarePlant team. We're striving to make Jira, Trello, Google Calendar and 'you name it' task management software talk to each other, and at the speed of light. We will one day unite them all. When the dream comes true will you still need any 'uber-software', other than BigPicture, to manage projects?