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Complete guide to Jira workflows


Katarzyna Dorosz-Zurkowska - 6 August 2019 - 0 comments

One of the most powerful features of Atlassian’s Jira is workflow customization. Formalized workflows help teams to streamline their processes, identify bottlenecks, and ensure that no tasks are forgotten.

Teams that want to make the most of Jira need to take a closer look at the wealth of its workflow capabilities.

In this article, I show you why creating a new workflow in Jira is a good idea and how to customize it to match your team’s processes. 

1. What are Jira workflows?

Jira workflows model your team’s processes and allow team members to progress tasks in your project. 

Here’s an example of a basic workflow:

  • You create an issue that reflects a new task. This issue will have a “To Do” status.”
  • Once the work begins, you can mark the issue as “In progress.”
  • When the task is finished, you can mark it as “Done.” And that’s the end of the workflow.

Jira includes a selection of built-in workflows to help teams deliver better results, faster:

Workflows in Jira model your organizational processes and allow you to progress tasks in the 

  • Task management – this is a simple workflow designed for teams to get tasks done as quickly as possible. 
  • Project management – this is a more complex workflow that includes “In progress” status to help teams mark tasks accurately.  
  • Process management – an even more complicated workflow that contains multiple statuses and resolutions, reflecting the complexity of the project development process.

These default workflows are helpful, but creating a custom Jira workflow is what takes teams to the next level. 

But before you do that, let’s take a closer look at the essential components of a Jira workflow.

2. What are workflows made of?

Jira workflows contain four main building blocks: statuses, transitions, assignees, and resolutions. All these elements come in handy for teams that want to know who is doing what, and what needs to happen next.  

Here’s a detailed breakdown of all the workflow elements:

Status

The status reflects the state an issue is in, for example, “To Do,” “In Progress,” or “Done.” Naturally, an issue can have the only status at a time.

Note that statuses can represent a stage, but also an activity. For example, “Under Review” can represent a stage that comprises of several different activities. If you split them up, your team will end up with a more complex workflow – and that can become problematic on its own, but also when you attempt to transfer it between teams and departments. 

Assignee

The assignee is the person to which an issue is assigned. They’re responsible for the completion of a given task within the issue. The assignee may change between different statuses. Once the task is complete, the assignee can be removed. Assigning issues in Jira is an art in itself, and it’s a good idea to discuss assigning practices in your team to keep everyone on the same page. 

Transition

A transition refers to the one-way connection that connects two statuses. For example, you can add a transition called “Submit for Review” between the status “In Progress” and “Under Review.” Moreover, you can set conditions for when a transition can be made and who can do it. For instance, you can enable only the project administrator to move an issue past the “Under Review” status. Transitions can notify specific people when changes are made to the issue. 

Resolution

In Jira, the resolution is the final state of an issue. Depending on the situation, it can be “Done,” “Fixed,” or “Not Fixed.” If you want to reopen a resolved item, you first need to clear the resolution. Otherwise, the issue will appear as complete. 

3. Why do teams need customized workflows?

Workflows bring teams many benefits. For example, you don’t need to notify a colleague manually to let them know that a task is available for them. Jira workflows track, log, and notify team members automatically. 

But by customizing workflows, your team will be able to achieve so much more with Jira. Creating a new Jira workflow allows adapting this incredibly powerful project management tool to exactly how your team works. 

Here’s why your team needs custom workflows:

Reflect your process

Jira’s standard workflows are useful, but projects may require more than moving the issue from “To Do” to “In Progress” and “Done.” For example, if a given work needs to be approved before it’s completed, you may need to add other statuses to reflect this: “Awaiting Approval,” “Review In Progress” and, finally, “Review Complete.”

Accommodate diverse teams

Diversity of teams is another reason why workflow customization is worth your time. Jira is used by teams of all kind: software development, finance, or HR. And they all can benefit a lot from having their specific work patterns built into Jira.  

Accurate logging

Another perk of customizing your workflows is that you can be sure all information is logged correctly in the system. 

4. How to create a new workflow

Now that you know why customizing a workflow for your team is a good idea, let’s see how you can do that:

To create a new workflow, you’ll need to use the Jira workflow designer. To do that, you’ll need Jira Administrator permissions. The tool allows editing the layout of your workflow, as well as the progress path of statuses and transitions.

When building your custom workflow, take advantage of these elements:

  • Status – the status describes the stage at which the issue is located in your workflow.
  • Resolution – this shows why the issue is no longer displayed as active (for example, because it was completed).
  • Conditions – use this feature to control who can carry out a transition.
  • Validators – this function allows transitions to occur when users provide specific information.
  • Post functions – you can set post functions that make additional changes to issues together with transitions; for example, it can remove a resolution when one of your team members reopens an issue.
  • Triggers – this handy feature automatically activates transitions when specific events take place. For example, when a user submits code for review, the issue is automatically set from “In Progress” to “Under Review.”
  • Workflow properties – in this section, you can set certain properties for transitions. For example, you can set your workflow to only display resolutions that are relevant to the specific issue type.
  • Workflow schemes – this part determines the association between a workflow and issue type.

5. Common mistakes to avoid 

Creating custom workflows for your team is a smart move, but there are a few things you need to remember about to make your new workflow a success.

Here are some common mistakes you should avoid when customizing workflows:

  • Stop focusing on details – you may be tempted to break any task down into as many parts as possible to formalize your workflow. But this is a mistake. Your workflow needs to be effective, not detailed. You don’t need to create a new status that just duplicates functionalities. 
  • Over-customization – once you set your Jira workflows apart and update them regularly to reflect the changes in your team, you can be sure that they evolve in different directions. At some point, a team using divergent workflows will find it very difficult to collaborate. You won’t be able to move projects or issues between teams. Manage customization with a big picture in mind.
  • Communication disconnect – if many teams at your company customize their workflows and develop different naming conventions, the cross-team collaboration will be challenging. When members migrate to new teams, the learning curve will be steeper as well. Avoid over-customization of your workflows and keep everyone on the same page about how team workflows are changing. 
  • Avoid customizing in a vacuum – admins who took their time to customize a workflow might later discover that teams aren’t actually using the statuses as they should. Admins need to talk to users and map out workflows upon previous consultations with team members. That’s how you make sure that your customized workflow fulfills the requirements of the team.

6. Best practices for testing workflows

Here are some tips to help you create a workflow that takes your team to the next level:

  • Clear communication – let your team know that you’ll be customizing their workflow. Be open to the input from team members and include them in the planning phase. 
  • Test different use cases before designing your workflow – think about how issues will move through the system and what information your team needs to be successful. 
  • Validate the new workflow – carry out a dry run of the live workflow once it’s built. Gather the representatives of different stakeholders together and manually run through every workflow step, together with its statuses and escalations. That way, you’ll make sure that it works according to the specification and collect valuable feedback.
  • Provide documentation for the changes before launch – that helps a lot if you’re working at scale. Offer team members clear video tutorials and workshop sessions to make them familiar with the new workflow. A knowledge base can be helpful. 
  • Launch your workflow – if you think your job is done, you’re wrong. Be sure to track process deviations, and once you discover any issues, review your workflow to find out the origins of these disconnections. 

Key takeaway

The impact of workflows on teamwork is undeniable. If you customize your Jira workflow to match the unique requirements of your team, you’ll set it on a clear path to success. Also, don’t forget to audit the process regularly to make sure that teams are progressing through your workflow correctly. 

Are you looking for a team of Jira experts to help you create the best workflow for your team? Get in touch with us; we help organizations make the most of Atlassian products.

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