How to Prioritize Work in Jira

Illustration of two people looking at an agile board deciding how to prioritize their tasks

The key to the success of any project is knowing which tasks to prioritize first and which can be held back till later. But how do you correctly prioritize work in Jira? When urgent Jira issues come in, do you drop what you’re doing, or do you attempt to speed up so you can quickly finish what you’re on? And how do you track and maintain progress to ensure everyone is on the same page?

Correct prioritization in Jira can improve team efficiency, make workloads manageable, and reduce wasted time. So let’s explore how you can do this.

Prioritize Jira issues consistently

By default, issues in Jira can have one of five priority levels: Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest. You set this just by creating or opening an issue and clicking on the Priority dropdown. If you don’t select a priority when you create an issue, Jira will set it at Medium, which an admin can change later.

But how do you define those priorities? And how do you know everyone is using the same definitions when they prioritize their own and/or other people’s work? If one issue appears high-priority to one person but low or medium to another, it will lead to inconsistent catagorization and prioritization of work, and in turn to confusion and inefficiency.

So, how do you objectively decide what’s what so that you can prioritize work in Jira consistently?

If you’re a service team working to a service-level agreement, which stipulates time frames for resolving different types of issues, this will help create clear definitions of your priority levels. But business teams like marketing, HR, and finance will need to create their own system. This could involve documenting when and why certain types of issues should take priority over others, or by reviewing them case by case at planning meetings.

Don’t underestimate the value of triaging issues together as a team, especially for new projects. It helps build a mutual and foundational understanding of the team’s values and goals. Over time, as the team’s understanding and culture matures, prioritization becomes a much quicker job and may not always require a meeting (hey, we’d all love fewer meetings!).

When working out how to prioritize work in Jira, here are a few of the questions you and your team should ask:

  1. What value will you bring to the team or organization by completing the issue?
  2. Is there an external deadline that makes the issue urgent?
  3. Is the issue blocking another issue from being done?
  4. How will the team/project/wider organization be impacted if the issue is not worked on now?

Customize Jira priorities

Jira’s built-in priorities cover a wide range of scenarios, but you may find that they don’t quite cover yours. In which case, you may want to create some custom priority fields instead. Assuming you have the relevant permissions in Jira, you can create your own priorities by way of the following steps:

  1. Go to Administration > Issues and select Priorities
  2. Now choose Add priority level
  3. Enter a name and a description for your new priority. The description can be helpful for providing context and other details to users who have permission to manage priorities.
  4. Select an icon to represent the priority. 
  5. Choose a color for the priority, either from the color chart or by entering the appropriate HTML.
  6. Now select Add, and your priority will be ready to use and available from the Priority dropdown menu.

To associate priorities with particular projects, you can 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. You want to avoid redundancies and unnecessary complexity in your workflow and ensure you prioritize work in Jira in a way that is most effective.

Use flags to highlight blocked Jira issues

Screenshot of Jira backlog showing a flagged issue

If something is preventing a task from being completed, you want to highlight it ASAP, so that all team members are aware of blockers that may 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 click the ellipsis (…) in the top right corner. Select Add flag, (or Remove flag to take it off again). Alternatively, you can right-click the issue on your board then choose Add flag from there.

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

Use reporting to prioritize work in Jira

The sheer amount of data that Jira spits out can be overwhelming. It’s a hugely powerful tool, and if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself wading through a never-ending tide of epics, stories, and a growing backlog. And prioritization becomes daunting, if not impossible, if all you look at is a bottomless list of issues.

Prioritizing effectively in Jira means looking at overviews of your team’s progress, overviews that are best achieved by collating all the data into graphs and charts. That way, you and your team can get an instant insight into the bigger picture. And you know what they say about pictures speaking louder than words.

This is where reporting comes in. Jira has some basic reporting functionality out of the box that lets you make a handful of useful graphs and charts. But Jira offers very little in the way of custom reporting, so users often find they can’t display or access the data they want to easily.

However, thanks to the extensibility of Jira, there are many ways of adding extra reporting functionality to your instance. Business intelligence solutions like EazyBI, Tableau, and PowerBI allow you to generate every kind of report possible, but are sometimes so expensive and/or complex that they alienate and exclude all but the most technically minded people. In the end you’re left with only one or two experts within a company to operate them. 

The ideal solution is one that balances features with accessibility, like Custom Charts for Jira, which is a data visualization tool for reporting on Jira dashboards, targeted at all users. The interface is designed to be easy to operate, so even novices can make an informative and customized chart or graph in a few clicks. Without prior training and know-how, you can change colors, filters, labels, and chart types, and visualize your data how you wish. At the same time, Custom Charts for Jira has enough underlying power that more experienced users can further hone and focus their charts using custom JQL or saved filters. 

With 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. You can make bar charts, pie charts, tile charts, funnel charts, and more. You also have the ability to quickly drill down into the details using a dynamic issue searcher that comes with Custom Charts, the Simple Search gadget (for those who want to avoid using JQL!).

Presenting information about your workflows using good data visualization enables you and your stakeholders to better understand what’s going on and make more informed decisions about the prioritization of work.

Custom Charts for Jira Reports screenshot to Jira Dashboard Gadgets

Try the Atlassian playbook

If you need more advice and guidance on how to prioritize work in Jira, check out the Atlassian Team Playbook. This extensive library of self-guided workshops is a valuable resource for any teams struggling to find the best working methodologies for their business. If you’re a business team looking to create a system for prioritizing Jira issues consistently, you might want to try the Allthethings Prioritization Matrix. This hour-long workshop is designed to help teams visualize the priority of their projects compared to work requested by other teams.

However you choose to address the challenge of prioritization, it’s important to understand that any time spent on it is an investment: what you put in now can save your teams a significant amount of time and effort later. Above all else you should aim for consistency, and reporting solutions like Custom Charts for Jira can facilitate this by giving you quick, visual overviews of outstanding issues, team progress, and workloads.

Find out more about all the things you can do with Custom Charts for Jira, or you can check out other Old Street apps on the Atlassian Marketplace.

Morgan is a Seattle born and raised lover of rain and software, particularly software that isn’t a pain in the bum (like some Atlassian tools can be). This is why she’s a Custom Charts for Jira superfan and jumped at the chance to contribute to the solution herself. She specializes in Agile, Scaled Agile, and ITIL in the Atlassian app space, loves a cross-country road trip, and is on a mission to find the cutest coffee shop in every town she visits.