How to Prioritize Work in Jira

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The key to the success of any project is knowing which tasks to prioritize first and which can be held back until later. When Jira issues come in that need fixing urgently, do you drop what you’re doing or do you attempt to speed up and quickly finish what you’re on? And how do you ensure everyone is on the same page, in terms of how to track and maintain progress? Well, if you know how to correctly prioritize work in Jira, you can easily maximize the efficiency of your teams, making workloads manageable and reducing wasted time. 

Prioritize Jira Issues Consistently

By default, issues in Jira can have one of five priority levels: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest. You can easily set this by opening up a particular issue and then selecting it under ‘Priority’. Just click on the current priority level to open up a dropdown menu of the available priorities.

But how do you actually define the different priority levels? And if more than one person is responsible for prioritizing work in Jira, how do we know everyone is using the same definitions? For all you know, your Medium issue might be your colleague’s High priority issue. 

If you’re working to a defined SLA, then you’ll likely have clear definitions to ensure consistency, and you’ll prioritise work in Jira according to the criteria of that document. If, however, you don’t have any formal method to determine the urgency of incoming tasks, then you can quickly find issues being categorised inconsistently, which is confusing and inefficient. It is recommended, therefore, to agree and adopt some kind of system for identifying and categorising issues, so they’re prioritised consistently and tasks are completed in a meaningful and efficient order. This should be clearly documented so your entire team can refer back to it as needed.

If it is practical to do so, assign priorities to issues as soon as they come in. This will ensure that new but urgent tasks can be attended to as quickly as possible, and it will give you more time to reschedule less pressing issues. 

Customize Jira Priorities

Jira’s built-in priorities no doubt cover a wide range of scenarios, but you may find that your team would benefit from using customised priority fields instead. Assuming you have the relevant permissions within Jira, you can create your own priorities using the following steps:

  1. Head to Administration > Issues and select ‘Priorities’. 
  2. Now choose ‘Add priority’. 
  3. Enter a name for your new priority, as well as a description. 
  4. Select an icon to represent the priority. 
  5. You can now pick a colour for the priority, either from the colour chart or by entering the appropriate HTML.
  6. Now select Add, and your priority will be ready to use. 

To associate priorities with particular projects, add them to a priority scheme and then link that scheme to your project. 

If you do set up your own priorities, be wary of adding too many and/or making them too vague. It is generally advisable to reduce unnecessary complexity, as this helps to avoid redundancies in your workflow and ensures that you prioritise work in Jira in a way that is most effective.

Use Flags To Highlight Blocked Jira Issues

Flagged Jira Issues 8.0

If something is preventing a task from being completed, it is beneficial to highlight it as soon as possible, so all team members are aware of blockers that may potentially impact their own work or which they may be able to assist with.  

A simple way to draw attention to blocked issues in Jira is to add a flag, which highlights the issue in yellow in locations such as the backlog and the Jira Kanban board. It also replaces the priority icon with a flag icon. 

To flag an issue, open it and then click the cog to open a dropdown menu. Select ‘Add flag’, (‘Remove flag’ to take it off again). Alternatively, you can right-click an issue and then choose ‘Add flag’ from the context menu. If you want to leave a comment on the issue as well, you can select ‘Add flag and comment’.  

As well as being a quick, visual way to spot blockers, flagged issues can also be searched for with a simple bit of JQL: Flagged = Impediment.

Use Reporting to Prioritize Work in Jira

The sheer amount of data that Jira can spit out can, quite frankly, be overwhelming. It’s a hugely powerful tool, and if you’re not careful, you can find yourself wading through a seemingly never-ending tide of epics, stories and a growing backlog. If you want to see the bigger picture, to get a clearer understanding of your team’s work processes and so you can better prioritize work in Jira, you’d be better served by collating data into relevant graphs and tables. That’s where reporting comes in. 

Out of the box, Jira has some basic reporting functionality, with the ability to make various graphs and charts. Unfortunately, they are severely lacking when it comes to customized Jira reporting, so users often find they can’t quite create the charts they want or access the data in them in a user-friendly manner. 

The good news is that thanks to the extensibility of Jira, there are many ways of adding extra functionality to Jira data visualization reporting features, including high-end business intelligence solutions. However, many of them are hugely expensive or so complex that they alienate and exclude all but the most technically minded people, typically leaving only one or two experts within a company to operate them. 

For many organisations, the ideal solution is one that balances features with accessibility. That’s why Old Street Solutions built Custom Charts for Jira. Its interface is designed to be easy to operate, so even novices can quickly bring up informative charts and start customising them. With just a few clicks, they can set up colours, filters and chart types exactly how they wish. At the same time, Custom Chart for Jira has enough underlying power that more experienced users can further define their charts and tables, using custom JQL or saved filters. 

With the help of Custom Charts, users and project managers can see, at a glance, everything from the number and severity of outstanding issues to how much time has been spent dealing with blockers. They can access pie charts, bar graphs and more, with the ability to quickly drill down from the macro level into the details using the Custom Charts – Simple Search gadget.

By presenting information about your workflows through these charts, you and any other stakeholders can begin to better understand the data held within them. This will enable you to make more informed decisions about how you prioritize work in Jira.

Custom Charts for Jira Reports screenshot to Jira Dashboard Gadgets

Try The Atlassian Playbook

Finally, if you’re looking for more advice about how to prioritize work in Jira, you could certainly do worse than checking out the Atlassian Team Playbook. This extensive library of self-guided workshops is a valuable resource for any teams that are struggling to find the best working methodologies for their business. You might, for example, try the Allthethings Prioritization Matrix play, an hour-long workshop designed to help you team visualise the priority of their projects compared to work requested by other teams. 

However you choose to address the challenge of prioritisation, it’s important to understand that any time you spend on it is an investment: what you put in now can potentially save your teams significantly more time and effort later. As stated at the start of this post, you should aim for consistency, above all else, but you can greatly enhance the effectiveness of your work methodology by using reporting solutions like Custom Charts for Jira. 

For more information about Custom Charts for Jira or any other Atlassian add-ons from Old Street Solutions, check them out on the Atlassian Marketplace.

Tom Harris Jira Reporting Old Street

Former Atlassian User Group London Leader. Experienced Atlassian Certified Consultant specialising in automating Jira Service Desk and simplifying Jira for non-technical teams. Expertise in improving real-time reporting and charts for Confluence and Jira.