Easy Jira Project Management with Kanban

by Caitlin Mackie, Graduate Marketing Coordinator

28 Jan 2021

Scrum isn't the only agile software development methodology out there. 😲 If you're not familiar with Kanban, we promise we’re not going rogue — Kanban is agile. And, Jira project management tools make organizing a Kanban team really simple.

Kanban originates from Lean principles and focuses on eliminating waste and evaluating processes throughout the entire project lifecycle rather than just at the end. The key fundamentals of Lean are purpose, process, and people. Sounds pretty agile, doesn't it?

Jira project management tools help you get off to a great start with Kanban. You can use the default Jira boards or go crazy with customizations. It’s up to you and your team.

If you're not sure whether Kanban or Scrum is right for your company, keep reading. We'll give you some information to help you decide. We'll also share some tips on how to use Jira project management tools to keep your work organized and your team productive.

Which is best: Scrum or Kanban?

Both. Or, neither. Scrum and Kanban are both effective methodologies for developing software. Which is best for your organization is a better way to ask the question. The answer depends on the kind of work or project types assigned to your team.

Scrum is generally recommended when:

  • Your project is relatively stable, meaning you can go a few weeks without a major change in requirements, features, or general product direction.
  • The majority of your team's work items are complex features or significant product updates rather than small tweaks, bug fixes, or reactionary work from external feedback.
  • You can plan your work a few weeks in advance, generally without significant changes in scope or requirements.
  • You have a cross-functional team, willing and able to tackle work as a team rather than individually.

If the following sounds more like your software development team, you should consider Kanban:

  • Your work is dynamic with frequent changes in priority.
  • You're normally working on small updates, bug fixes, or responding to customer demands.
  • Your team resources are shared across multiple projects or products.
  • Most of your team members work independently because you generally don't need to collaborate.

Finally, you should consider Waterfall 😲 if:

  • Your work is predictable or repetitious (annual updates or regularly scheduled upgrades).
  • You're 100% familiar with the work, the technology, and the desired outcome.
  • There's little chance of scope or requirement changes.
  • There is an absolute path from start to finish required by legal or regulatory compliance standards.

Look, we love agile as much as anyone. But we don't let our passion for Scrum and Kanban get in the way of creating the best possible work environment for our teams. The best software methodology and process is the one that best suits your team.

How to get started with a Kanban project in Jira

Atlassian created a great platform to help Jira users manage Kanban teams. Step 1 is choosing the Kanban template when you create your new project. Easy peasy. 🤓

Next, you'll want to set up your Kanban workflow. Jira creates a default workflow for you: Backlog, Selected for Development, In Progress, and Done. The default works great for a lot of teams, but if you want to customize it, click the dot menu in the upper right corner and click “Board Settings.”

The board settings let you go nuts customizing:

  • Columns and quick filters
  • Swimlanes and card colors
  • Card and issue detail views
  • Prioritization ranks
  • Working days
  • Integrating the board with a roadmap.

One of the goals of Kanban is to help isolate areas in your process in real-time that are slowing down the delivery of work. Keep this in mind as you think about each step in your process and decide which steps need a column in the workflow.

To keep from having 20 columns on your board, consider combining related steps or grouping sequential steps that typically happen very quickly.

Let’s talk about WIP limits

Now that you have built your Kanban board, it’s time to set WIP limits. (That's work-in-progress for the novices.) WIP limits restrict you from overloading a stage in the workflow with too much work.

Let's talk about the purpose of a WIP limit. WIP limits help your team stay focused on a single task at a time so they can complete it, deploy it, and move on to the next task.

A lot of items in progress tend to distract people. They work on one task for a little while, then switch to another task, finishing neither and deploying nothing. 😕 That's called context-switching, and it'll suck the life out of your productivity.

WIP limits also show you bottlenecks in your process. Depending on your workflow, you may see work stacking up in In Progress for a particular team member but nothing is moving to Done. You need to figure out why.

If your workflow is more specific, you may see a work overload for the database team while nothing is In Progress for your front-end developer.

WIP limits won’t solve these problems, but they do let you know when you have a problem so you can dig in and figure out a solution.

Tips for using card colors and swimlanes

Agile project management for a Kanban team is all about keeping the team productive without getting in their way, reporting on overall status, anticipating issues, and problem-solving. Card colors and swimlanes give project managers at-a-glance insight into key team metrics.

Card colors and swimlanes represent specific issue attributes or they can represent query results or assignees. We like to think of the card colors as more detailed issue-tracking data, while swimlanes give us a higher-level picture of the whole body of work.

Regardless of how you like to organize your work, consider the flexibility with assigning queries to your swimlanes or card colors. Following are some ideas to query by:

  • Type of work: UX, design, front-end, database, etc.
  • Label: Create team- or project-specific labels.
  • Components: Divide your project into sections and assign each section a component.
  • Effort and time-tracking: Anticipate throughput by at-a-glance efforts by work item.
  • Business value or reporter: Get organized by stakeholder or business unit.
  • Custom fields: View user segment or another custom field that is meaningful to your company.

Kanban and Jira boards can support various project management processes, from project plan to workflow management to stakeholder communications. You just have to explore what's available and get creative with your Jira customizations.

Get organized with Jira project management tools

Regardless of your agile methodology preference, effective project organization and oversight are almost impossible without some kind of project management software. But let's be honest — the last thing your team or organization needs is another tool.

Your software developers love using Jira software. 🤟 You can configure Jira workflows and customizations to meet even the pickiest project management needs with just a little effort. You'll save time and the hassle of integrating an external product or worse - manually pulling project data together for your reporting and stakeholder communications.

The Atlassian Marketplace is a great source to find add-ons for even more functionality to handle your task management and project team needs. Easy Agile created two apps specifically to help project managers: Easy Agile Story Maps and Easy Agile Programs.

Our Easy Agile Story Maps app has drag-and-drop functionality, theme swimlanes, marketing event, and milestone indicators. We don’t want to brag, but we think it’s the simplest, most flexible Jira roadmap tool on the market.

View team swimlanes, track cross-team dependencies, and keep your focus at the program level with Epic- and Feature-only views with our Programs app.

Whether you're supporting a Kanban or Scrum team, building roadmaps, sprint planning, and planning program increments in Jira just got easier!

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