12 Steps To Getting a Rock-Solid Agile Workflow

by Jasmin Iordanidis, Product Marketing Manager

24 Jan 2021

Product development without an agile workflow would be like building a house without a blueprint or defined roles on the construction team. No one knows what to do or who does what. 🤔

The result: time and energy wasted building a single house that would most likely reveal its darkest flaws over the years.

So, here’s what you need to know: Process increases efficiency. It also increases efficacy, customer satisfaction, and a better experience for the team members who take a part in the process.

Follow this how-to guide to building and implementing an agile workflow in Jira. In this article, we’ll cover what an agile workflow is and define the steps for its creation and its principles in depth.

The notion of workflow

The execution of a team's work is dictated by one or more processes. In other words, a process is a way the team gets to the finish line with deliverables. And if you're developing products with an agile framework, an agile workflow is a way to structure that process.

Generally, a workflow is made out of:

  • Activities, tasks, and steps
  • Roles
  • Work products
  • A few other things to help improve team collaboration and work execution

With such a structure, it gets easier:

  • To repeat the process
  • For team members to work with each other
  • To scale the process and the work itself

It seems like a workflow is so well-organized that teamwork would flow smoothly just because it exists. Well, that's not the case. In the next section, you'll learn that there's not a workflow for any team or project. Instead, there are one or more workflows that work for your team or your project.

Why there's no one-size-fits-all workflow

The size and maturity of teams have an impact on their workflows. Also, the type of project and both company culture and team culture influence the configuration of workflows. Bottom line: Your agile workflow will depend on many factors, and it’ll likely be unique.

You might, however, find online suggestions of workflows that prove to work with other companies. So, if you prefer, you might use those as a starting point for the definition of your own workflow. It might be the case that excluding some steps does the trick for you. On the other hand, you might define your own workflow from scratch.

Jira is a very versatile solution for workflow management that supports many different agile workflows.

With Jira, you may customize workflows to different company cultures or team cultures. In this context, culture means the way team members work with each other. In the same vein, a workflow expresses the dynamics of a team in one or more projects.

Now, if we're talking about Jira workflows, you should know what one of those contains.

What's a Jira workflow exactly?

A Jira workflow is an agile workflow built on top of and implemented with the help of Jira. It's a digital board that allows checking the statuses of work items. It may also send notifications when those items change status. You can also use your Jira board for Scrum meetings such as daily standups and sprint retrospectives.

You absolutely need to keep the statuses of ALL work items accurate. That means updating the status of each work item whenever and as soon as it changes.

Only an up-to-date agile workflow — and Jira board — fulfills its purpose and delivers benefit. It's an awesome tool for team members, Product Owners, and Scrum Masters to track work progress at all times.

Let's move on to our guide now. You'll find out, one tip at a time, how to become an agile workflow rockstar with the help of Jira.

Your guide for agile workflow in Jira

Start your engines! You're heading on a fabulous learning journey about the creation and management of agile workflows in Jira. Here are our best tips to make this process happen:

1. Start now

Agile workflow: Glow Up Your Time Starts Now GIF By BBC Three

Don't postpone getting your hands dirty with workflow definition.

Even if you start simple, just get started. Don't delude yourself into thinking that you'll succeed at agile if you start big. In fact, that could work against you and your project.

2. Don't overwork

Agile workflow: Season 3 Wall GIF

Don't spend weeks structuring, restructuring, and then restructuring your workflow some more.

Overworked workflows are hard to understand and much harder to implement and comply with. That would harm the basic principles of agile methodology.

With an overloaded workflow, you'd end with team members not knowing what to do and when to do it. Consequently, at the end of the sprint — or iteration — and project, no deliverables would be ready to roll out.

3. Don't forget about workflow stakeholders

You should account for roles that will somehow use the workflow you're defining. Whereas some will use it daily to get work done, others will use it only for some kind of management analysis.

You should understand with them what their workflow needs are. It'll take time, so you must be patient.

4. Understand the concept of ‘issue’ in Jira

In project management, an issue describes a problem for which there's no solution yet. Those issues come from risks to the project's development process and ultimate success. For instance, adding a functionality to the project scope — the issue — could come from the possibility of requirement changes — the risk.

However, in Jira, an issue doesn't necessarily represent a problem. Rather, it represents a piece of work that teams must complete. For instance, a Jira issue can be a task or a helpdesk ticket.

With software development, a Jira issue may symbolize more specific concepts such as:

  • Product features and functionality that the development team must implement
  • Bugs that must be solved

5. Know the pieces of the puzzle

In Jira, a workflow has four types of components:

  • Status. This indicates the position of an issue in the workflow. It can be an open — or unresolved — status or a closed — or resolved — status.
  • Transition. This defines how an issue changes status, and it can be either uni or bidirectional. You can create more or fewer constraints depending on how statuses change. You can even define that only certain people or certain roles can change an issue from one specific status to another.
  • Assignee. This is the person responsible for an issue.
  • Resolution. This describes why an issue went from open to closed statuses. Additionally, it should only stick to an issue while it’s resolved.

In software teams or projects, it's common to find statuses such as:

  • "To Do" for issues yet to start
  • "In Progress" for issues that the team already started to tackle
  • "Code Review" for completed coding tasks that need a review
  • "Quality Assurance" for completed issues that require testing by a team of testers
  • "Done" for completed, reviewed, and tested work

When a code review is successful, the work is done. In this example, the code review's success is a transition from the status "Code Review" to the status "Done." And the resolution would be the reason why the code review failed.

Finally, you can set up transitions with:

  • Conditions. They prevent an inadequate role from changing the status of an issue.
  • Validators. These ensure a transition only occurs under certain circumstances. If not, the transition doesn't happen.
  • Post functions. They describe actions on issues besides changing their status, and you can automate them. For instance, remove the resolution from a resolved issue before changing its status back to unresolved. Another example would be to remove the assignee from that issue.
  • Properties. These are characteristics of transitions. For example, one characteristic could be to only show resolutions relevant to the type of issue.

6. Define ‘done’

Agile workflow: Danny DeVito Done GIF

Every team is unique. It’s made up of different people, different habits, and different experiences with technology and methods. Different ways of getting work done. This means you need to define what “work done” means to your team or your project.

For instance, you need to answer the following questions for your team or project:

  • What status should a product or a feature have when it’s approved to launch or release?
  • What should your team members do to get each work product to that status?
  • Who should make decisions — such as approvals — along the way, which decisions, and at which points?
  • Who declares work as done?

7. Customize Jira default workflow

Remember that you could use Jira to customize workflows to different ways of working as a team? Here’s how to do it:

Step #1: Define your workflow's statuses and transitions in Jira workflow designer.

You may go with Jira default Scrum or Kanban workflow — Jira classic templates — or make some changes to it. Alternatively, you may choose the Jira simplified Scrum workflow, which is adequate for reasonably basic requirements.

The simplified version of the Scrum workflow contains:

  • Three statuses: "To Do", "In Progress", and "Done"
  • Two transitions: from "To Do" to "In Progress" and from "In Progress" to "Done"
  • Four columns to organize issues distributed across boards: "Backlog," "Selected for Development," "In Progress," and "Done"

Step #2: Build your workflow by adding components to the simplified Scrum workflow.

To track issue progress in agile development, you might add statuses such as "Code Review" and "Quality Assurance." And, you might add a validator to the transition from "Code Review" to "Done" to force that you need a successful code review to mark “Done.”

In addition, you might include approval stages in the workflow such as "Awaiting QA." These stages are prior to those in which an issue is closed or changes to a closed status.

Step #3: Nail the visual presentation of the diagram.

Once you finish tailoring the workflow to your team or project, make sure that the diagram is visually readable. That's essential when sharing the diagram with stakeholders for feedback. You should collect feedback from at least one representative of each kind of stakeholder.

An interesting feature of Jira is the workflow lets you give visual highlight of issues. This lets you see where the issue is in the workflow according to its status. Just open the issue and click on the "View Workflow" button next to the issue's status.

8. Rely on Jira reports for progress tracking

Jira provides two useful reports for tracking the team's work progress on a sprint:

  • The Burndown Chart, which shows:
  • The amount of work left to do in a sprint
  • The work that team members are executing at the moment
  • The distribution of work throughout the sprint
  • Whether issues fit into the sprint and the effort estimation was adequate
  • The Sprint Report, which includes:
  • The Burndown Chart
  • A list of open and closed issues for that sprint
  • Extra work added to the sprint

As with any other report, Jira reports allow you to reason about success and failure. In this case, it's the success and failure of each sprint in terms of:

Most importantly, you can use Jira reports for the continuous improvement of those aspects and preventing problems such as:

  • Too much work for a sprint
  • Rushing work
  • Sudden changes in priorities

A Jira workflow comes in handy when detecting outliers in the development process such as:

  • A large number of open issues
  • Frequent issue reopening
  • A high number of unplanned issues added to the sprint

Being able to detect these problems is extremely valuable in that it helps avoid a massive sprint failure.

9. Share information

Pink Compartir GIF By Beldent_Argentina

People at your company who aren't members of your team might need information from your workflow. So, take that into consideration when defining your team or project's workflow.

Those people might need to know about:

  • The amount of completed work
  • The product backlog dimension when compared to team performance
  • The number of open and closed issues or the number of issues in a specific status
  • The average issue completion time
  • The average number of issues that take too long or experience bottlenecks, which means not moving forward at specific statuses such as "Quality Assurance"

10. Keep it simple

Periodt A House Divided GIF By UMC

⚠️It can be tempting to create issue statuses while moving issues through the workflow, but don't do it! Each additional status adds more transitions and all their customized characteristics.

❌If your workflow already allows you to assess the sprint and feed your stakeholders with valuable information, that's just perfect. You don't need to add more issue statuses to it.

✔️Add extra issue statuses only when you have no other option. For instance, when different teams need to track work in different stages of development, you might need different statuses.

11. Limit work in progress

You may determine a specific limit to the number of issues in a specific status. When doing so, you should make sure all the team has enough work at each workflow status.

Plus, you should ensure that the limits you introduce into the workflow don't exceed the team's capacity. If you don't, the team will need to prioritize and you may not want that to happen.

Team performance should increase if you set the right work-in-progress limits. 🤗

12. Prepare to scale up

Agile teams should be small. Nevertheless, an agile workflow should cope with an increase in the number of people working with it. This means no one should notice if an increase takes place.

Here are some golden rules for scaling agile workflows:

  • Agree on agile practices for workflow definition and minimize customization when multiple teams working on their own projects must collaborate.
  • Different teams working on the same project should use the same workflow, or things could get messy.
  • Teams should compromise when defining a common workflow. However, that's when teams build workflows based on multiple past successful experiences.

What else can you do?

Whenever you hear about workflows, it’s a sign that the work’s execution is being structured. It's also a sign of a long way ahead, but the outcome will be awesome if you:

  • Follow the 12 rules above
  • Choose a flexible issue tracker in terms of workflow customization, such as Jira
  • Complement the issue tracker with the right apps

Don't force your team or project to comply with a tool. 😨 Rather, do the exact opposite! Choose the tool that allows you to build and implement the right workflow for your context.

That will increase throughput and workflow compliance levels, which is exactly what you want when creating a workflow.

Keep your agile approach strong — streamline, discuss, and iterate. These are the keywords for building and implementing an agile workflow, so don't forget them for a single second! As a result, you'll avoid:

  • Complicating the workflow when it's not absolutely necessary
  • Disregarding the pains of stakeholders and team members have when using or viewing the workflow
  • Having an outdated workflow that's no longer adequate for both the company culture and the team culture

Kick your agile workflow up a notch

Easy Agile User Story Maps app for Jira helps you with building and implementing a Scrum workflow in Jira. It allows you to:

  • Visualize what the team will deliver and when by arranging user stories into sprint swimlanes
  • Prioritize user stories in each sprint by ordering them inside the respective sprint swimlane
  • Get and analyze sprint statistics at a glance to ensure that the team's capacity isn't exceeded
  • Register effort estimation in user stories.

Try our apps for Jira to optimize your agile workflow.

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