Thursday, October 20, 2016

JIRA Tip - Use Columns, Not Workflows

Before we started using JIRA, we had Kanban boards made of electrical tape on the walls. They had 4 columns: Backlog, In Progress, Done, and Done & Done. Three of those 4 columns were self-documenting, but the In Progress column had cards covered in post-it notes for what work was being done on it and who was doing that work.

When we moved to JIRA, the first thing we did was customise the board. By default, the standard scrum board comes with three columns (and corresponding statuses) - TODO, In Progress, and Done. We've expanded that to 5. We tried including extra statuses for each column, but JIRA couldn't visually transition between statuses on the same column.

As we set up statuses, we didn't put a workflow on them. Any card can be changed to any other status at any time.

One reason for this is that the kinds of tasks don't always have the same workflow. We need the flexibility to go from development to done, or go back from product owner review. The default catch-all In Progress does this well but lacks the explicit documenting of where the process is up to that we ate trying to achieve with the extra columns.

Another reason is that the columns are visually documenting of the general process. Moving the flow from left to right is natural, so it's done by convention and doesn't need to be forced.

The final reason is that all the people in the project are professionals, such that there's no need to constrain their use of the tool. JIRA is for the team to use as a guide to development, so it should be up to them how they make the best of it. There's just no need to constrain the team's agility.

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