DB Station & Service, a division of national German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, is working with the German government on a multi-million-euro renovation and modernization program to make its train stations more beautiful, accessible, and comfortable. Custom Charts for Jira is helping make it happen.
Germany has a pretty good reputation when it comes to its trains and train stations. In 2018, Deutsche Bahn came second in a comparison of 16 leading European rail companies for on-board services. And in 2020, five of its train stations snagged a place in the top 10 in a European-wide ranking.
But DB Station & Service knows there’s always room for improvement. This is why at stations all across the country it has been replacing roofs, adding benches, repainting walls, and making accessibility enhancements such as step-free access and tactile guidance systems for the blind. The company works hard to ensure its stations don’t look or feel out of place in their communities, updating them to reflect the evolving faces of the cities they’re part of.
In 2021, DB Station & Service started using Jira to manage the program. Before that, the landscape was rather more spreadsheet-shaped…
Surely not. You’re actually managing everything with… Excel?!
This was the reaction of Matthias Lambertz, coordinator for railway stations and locations for North Rhine-Westphalia in Western Germany, when he transferred from DB Fernverkehr (long-haul traffic) last summer. His former team used Jira for software projects, so he was familiar with the platform. But his new team in DB Station & Service were still using Microsoft Excel for almost every aspect of their investment projects.
Initially, Matthias was forced to revert to Excel to fit in. Longing for Jira, he tried to simulate a Kanban-style workflow in his Excel spreadsheets, with status columns and statuses for “in progress” and “done”. It worked as well as you’d expect (i.e. not very).
When the investment program was extended to this year, Matthias had a conversation with incoming project leader Markus Hock. He said that they could not go on using Excel, particularly as all seven rail regions in Germany had their own Excel-based solutions, which needed aligning with the overall project steering of DB Station & Service. Fortunately, Markus had seen Jira before and was keen to implement it, and Matthias had a test instance of Jira that he could introduce the team to. The DB Station & Service IT department were quick to agree that the things they wanted to do were best done by Jira.
Jira Trek: The Search for Charts
While his team set off on a journey into Jira, Matthias began a search for add-ons that could visualize Jira data in charts. He needed to find something simple, not too expensive, and most importantly, capable of charting with numbers. Many of the built-in Jira charts and reports just count issues, but DB Station & Service needed to track financials, for example, the amount of budget being assigned to contracts.
A search of Google, and later the Atlassian Marketplace, brought up two options: EazyBI and Custom Charts for Jira. Another division of Deutsche Bahn was already using EazyBI, so Matthias spoke to them. He realized pretty quick that EazyBI would be too much for the majority of the 500 users in DB Station & Service. He also spoke with the people due to be hosting their Jira, who said that installing EazyBI would be too complex.
“EazyBI does a lot of fancy things – which most of my users don’t need,” says Matthias. “The learning curve is high so I knew I wouldn’t get my users interested in doing basic charts and diagrams with it. They just wouldn’t have used it. Plus, one license for EazyBI costs 500 USD so it would have been a lot of money for nothing. It’s one of the reasons Custom Charts for Jira was a much better fit.”
Matthias and his team started testing Custom Charts for Jira in January 2021. For them, the good thing about the tool is that you can build your reports right there in Jira, rather than in an external platform (like EazyBI). Also, Matthias’s team are able to do the configurations for their charts on their own because of how easy and intuitive Custom Charts is to use.
“We like Custom Charts’ modern look, too,” adds Matthias. “The pie charts in native Jira look like they were made in 1996. The style of Custom Charts is very appealing, very light and colorful. When we present our line graphs to management, it’s nice to have something good-looking to show them.”
Even though Matthias was impressed, there were two things missing in Custom Charts that DB Station & Service was going to need…
Commas and cumulations
Germany and many other countries do decimal and thousands separators the other way around to most English-speaking countries. So instead of €5,603.48, Germans would write €5.603,48.
When Matthias first looked into using Custom Charts, there was no capacity for changing the way numbers were formatted. For a while, he and his users made do without their usual separators, but very large numbers soon became a challenge. Matthias came to us and we looked into it. We subsequently added an option to the settings in Custom Charts to specify how you want numbers displayed.
Matthias’s next request was a little more complicated.
The most common use of a line chart within Custom Charts is for a Created Versus Resolved Issues report. But of course, tracking issues is not the focus here. DB Station & Service sets dates for completing requirements, drafting technical descriptions, assigning jobs, starting building, and finishing building. On all these dates, a certain amount of budget needs to be assigned. DB Station & Service creates estimates for how much budget will be required for each milestone and wanted to be able to track these against the real costs in Jira.
Custom Charts could generate a line chart showing the estimated and actual totals on those dates, like in the chart below. But the problem with this chart is that it doesn’t tell the company how much it’s spending over time. Nor does it help it identify how much it has left. For that, DB Station & Service needed to see a running, cumulative total.
Again, Matthias got in touch citing cumulative costs as one of their key needs. It was as soon as we added this feature that DB Station & Service decided to roll out Custom Charts to all 500 users. Now all users can create charts that look like the one below, and see how much they are spending over time.
So many possibilities
For DB Station & Service, cutting the Excel cord and moving to a centralized platform was a resoundingly positive move. Matthias says that most users have embraced Jira and Custom Charts with gusto, and are using them extensively. DB Station & Service now has a very good overview of how much it’s spending and how far it has progressed with the renovation program.
“Everybody’s working more efficiently since they stopped using Excel,” says Matthias. “But that, I guess, was a given. Excel isn’t a project management tool and Jira is. The whole company has better visibility now that all the data is in a central platform and it’s so easy to report on. No one needs to go searching through multiple spreadsheets to find out what’s going on. Users search directly in Jira, set up notifications based on filters to stay informed, and use Custom Charts to visualize the status of projects. Nothing gets forgotten because we have so many possibilities for seeing what we have to do. And the faster we do our work, the faster we improve our stations.”
Christopher is a self-confessed nerd who’d probably take the cake on Mastermind if Star Trek: Voyager was his specialist subject. He writes fiction about time travel, conspiracies and aliens; loves roller coasters, hiking and Christmas; and hates carpet, rom-coms and anything with chilli in it. He’s written extensively for technology companies and Atlassian partners and specializes in translating complicated technical concepts, specs and jargon into readable, benefits-driven copy that casual readers will understand.