By Michael Bennette , Senior Program Manager for Nor1
At Nor1, we’ve been using a suite of Atlassian tools for nearly a year now. There were several reasons why Atlassian was selected, but here are a few:
- Current set of tools for bug tracking and an intranet site were limited for our needs of Engineering and our company.
- In Engineering, we use scrum and agile methods, which required a stronger set of tools.
- Ability to plan multiple releases, track the status of multiple projects, and for engineers and teams to see and update the work they are doing.
I would have to say that our transition to the Atlassian suite of Jira, GreenHopper, and Confluence; has taken much longer than expected. There is a bit of the learning curve and because Atlassian is flexible with customizations, there are several ways it can be used and there is no straight-forward method to use it. However, there are definitely certainly some limitations as well when trying to use it for multiple releases.
We are now ready to migrate to the latest releases of Atlassian, which comes with some partial excitement. We now have Jira 5.0, GreenHopper 5.9, and Confluence 4.1 installed and the next step is to migrate the data and move to using those new versions day-to-day.
After using Atlassian for a half year myself, here are some thoughts about it:
Pluses of Atlassian Tools:
- Ability to customize workflows: a workflow is usually not the same for different teams in how they operate. Different teams utilizing agile methods of Scrum, Scrum-ban, or Kanban all could use their own workflow.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: what’s the big deal, you may ask? I will easily admit that working with issues in Jira/GH is much too slow. If I want to add a story, add tasks, assign it, with estimates…people in sprint meetings start to yawn. In addition, even updating the “hours remaining” is time consuming so engineers rather go to happy hour than update their Jira hours. But Atlassian has very good keyboard shortcuts, it just needs to be known and used more. I was able to speed up the actions I want to do in Jira/GH by perhaps 50%. Your carpal tunnel hands would also appreciate the less work.
- One Stop Shop (almost): we can have all of our stories, tasks, devOps tickets, ideas, customer issues all located in one system or integrated Atlassian tools. If used correctly with the appropriate components and filters, it can be very powerful. Confluence is able to bring in data directly from Jira as well for additional visibility.
- JQL: it sounds like the good ol’ SQL because Jira Query Language pretty much is. If you ever took SQL 101, then it will come in handy when you have the ability to search or filter nearly anything with JQL. This is probably the only tool I’m aware of that has this ability.
- Lower Cost (or is it?): Atlassian tools could be a lower cost option. The licensing costs are a start up friendly price whether you want it hosted or for download only. Odd enough, you will see that in the challenges list as well.
Things to Improve for Jira/GH:
I have a laundry list of complaints, but here are a few and some may be resolved in the new versions. For those who are Atlassian users, please consider voting on it!
- Managing Multiple Releases or Projects: how can I manage projects in a release or multiple releases? This has been the major showstopper for me in the past but Atlassian promises an improvement with the rapid board. I’m curious to see if this will really help us scale or not.
- One screen to do it all: GH offers the Task or Rapid Board. However, making updates will still open separate screens, refresh the page, etc. It’s to the point that the scrum team is yawning or twiddling their thumbs. We need to be able to make updates within the screen such as new tasks, changing owners, updating estimates or hours remaining. Jira 5.0 / GH5.9 claims to have made some progress and Atlassian states that the Rapid Board will be the future for this.
- Having a separate field for a sprint: if GH is a scrum tool, what has taken so long in getting a specific field for a sprint? GH 5.9 states we will be able to sprint plan with sprints and take stories from one or more Jira projects. Let me try this out!
- Lack of a hierarchy structure: this was first raised 8 years ago…so our 700+ votes has done nothing and Atlassian needs to take advice from Nike and Just Do It. I am mainly looking at this for epics, story, and tasks; or for sub-components.
- Charts/Reports: What reports? Jira has nearly zippo reports. GH makes a measly attempt but they are slow, confusing, and has room to grow. The new screenshot in GH 5.9 does look cleaner.
- Capacity Planning: current method is to capacity plan by assignee. Really? I have to go through every single name to see set their capacity and see the hour totals – would be much faster to see each individual in one screen.
- Label Management: When I found out that you couldn’t change or merge labels, the usefulness of labels went from 60 mph to 0 in a matter of seconds.
- Costs to setup, host administer, or migrate: Initially, Atlassian tools seem like a bargain. That is, until you try to set it up and host it yourself. Need to install a new version? Prepare to hire an IT guy or pull yours off for while. Need to migrate from your older Atlassian version? Either shift resources away from your core competency or time to hire Atlassian consultants.
The Open Questions
As part of using Atlassian to the fullest, there are still many questions that are either posed to me or I ask myself:
- How can we ensure the tool won’t dictate process?
- How can we get more visibility to multiple projects for planning and timelines?
- How can we organize this enough so it will streamline our SDLC and not hinder it?
Regardless, we are eager to move to the newest versions. We do like the products and according to Atlassian, 18,000 other companies also like them. Every incremental release should have some new and neat features that Atlassian will be investing in. I do have to applaud Atlassian in that they are very open with their releases and enhancement requests and allow everyone to vote, comment, bicker, or complain on it. I can’t think of any other company who does that. Kudos to Atlassian for that.
Nor1 will continue to expand and our engineering teams will only grow larger and move faster. Hopefully the Atlassian suite will help us get there.