No one denies that JIRA has taken over the developer space. The verdict is nearly universal: Most developers want to use JIRA only. That’s fine, but without understanding the role it plays within the context of your entire value stream network, your organization has likely not crafted the most efficient value stream.
JIRA plays a critical role within any complex value stream—and using JIRA to its fullest along with the other critical aspects of your value stream is the key to delivering software faster and achieving the software results you sought.
But developers encompass only one role that is required to build complex software. And, as fabulous as JIRA is for developers, it is often not the tool of choice for the many other roles involved in building software, i.e., product managers, product analysts and test engineers. Even salespeople are part of your value stream.
Fundamentally, we need to recognize and understand that delivering software requires careful orchestration between a large network of people with different roles who have the need for different tools. But we need the overarching value stream of information passing within that network to work together seamlessly. The information flowing through the network needs to be connected and traceable in an automated way. This really boils down to identifying the “centers of criticality” with the associated artifacts and architecting your value stream network accordingly.
JIRA, Centers of Criticality and the Value Stream
What are “centers of criticality” in software delivery value streams? They are the artifacts and associated tools that represent the primary connectors of business value to the manifestation of that business value. To be more specific, when the business asks for some new functionality, it is represented as one or more artifacts, typically either requirements, features or epics (sometimes all three). Those artifacts act as the “glue” for all of the other key information from which to “hang off.” You want the tests that run, the change sets and code reviews, the defects, the builds … all of that information should be tied to the requirements/features/epics. And those “glue” artifacts also need to be tied to the originating business initiative or program. Thus, tools that operate on those types of artifacts really are your “centers of criticality.”
And that is where JIRA comes into play quite significantly. It acts as the touchpoint—the center of criticality—between what the developer should build, tied to the actual artifacts that constitute the end working software, as well as tied to the originating business needs.
Consider the familiar example of when a salesperson hears from customers that they really want a new feature. As a result, she wants to tie this net new ask to the opportunity—and be able to track via Salesforce whether the customers are going to get that new feature request anytime soon.
And here’s a good value stream for it: The request is entered into Salesforce and naturally tied to the customer account. That request should flow to the product management tool in use, which in some cases might be JIRA, but often, especially at large organizations, is a more purpose-built product management, portfolio management or requirements management tool. At that point, the request that originated in Salesforce is reviewed and determined to be three different features. Once the company decides it wants to build them, those features then flow into JIRA as epics. From the epic in JIRA, the development team begins to create the stories and tasks necessary to build the feature, then connects the change sets and tests and defects to those stories and tasks.
As a result, without any manual effort, the team has created a dynamic network of artifacts that provide full traceability from the very beginning of a customer requesting something through to its final delivery seamlessly. JIRA plays that critical touchpoint role of “what” should be built to the actual bits and bytes of the resulting software.
Now consider a different example. You’ve released the next version of your application and all is going smoothly. Support uses ServiceNow, or one of the many IT service management (ITSM) tools that exist. Your support team is the originator of much of the follow-on work that happens regarding applications. Tickets originate with ITSM tools—but they, too, need to be connected to the resulting defect that requires attention. So, you need a seamless flow of tickets and incidents from the ITSM tool to the resulting defects that must reside in JIRA. And those defects need to be associated to the stories and epics that were affected. They also reside in JIRA.
Both examples exemplify the importance of “centers of criticality,” with JIRA being one of those centers of criticality. In a complex value stream network, JIRA plays that crucial role of being the touchpoint between bits and bytes and business value. But, without flowing information to and from JIRA from the other tools in the value stream, you are left with a broken value stream without real, accurate, automated knowledge of what and why you are building something. Because knowing if you’ve delivered business value comes from understanding the provenance of what you are building. It might be how many customers (internal or external) had asked for the 20 features that were delivered last release. Or how many customers were not going to renew your software if those features weren’t there. Or even how many new opportunities you can follow up on to say that what they’ve asked for is now in your product.
Building complex software that truly meets business needs necessitates that there will be an equally complex underlying value stream network that will only be efficient and effective if it is architected from the ground up with careful consideration of the critical artifacts and tools that need to be connected. JIRA is very clearly one of those tools. So, embrace JIRA being the heartbeat for developers—and know that by crafting your end-to-end value stream network with JIRA as one of the “centers of criticality” you can have an efficient, fully connected and fully traceable value stream. Happy connecting!