What is Project Tracking?

A few primary objectives of Project Tracking are – to establish required processes to control project, to monitor project activities, measure the progress of the entire project, and to report on performance.

Project tracking is the process of establishing a baseline project Work Breakdown Structure, estimates, and scheduling criteria; then regularly collecting and entering project activity data (usually using project management software) and lastly, preparing progress reports for management review. Through this process of management reviews, the actual performance is measured against expected performance; analyzing any deviation, and evaluating areas for improvement in the future.

A structured project tracking and control process is a vital practice for software projects. It helps to establish an overall consent for monitoring the quality of each task being performed. Furthermore, such a process would also assist with scheduling and performance management.

The main beneficiaries of project tracking are Project Managers, the Project team and management. These are the entities involved in the project that would constantly require the statistical analysis of current project progress, performance, and activity in terms of efforts and time consumption. Tracking projects with software tools like Atlassian JIRA, allow for a consistent and regular measurement of project metrics for project management control and IT management communications. Project tracking can easily become a complex matter, therefore, using some form of project tracking software is highly recommended.

Software Development

Software development can be broken down into two main categories: IT application development and Product development. IT application development concentrates on solving customer business needs and has more to do with support functions and operations. This ensures continuous development. Product development, on the other hand, focuses on providing the customer with the required outcome/ product with concrete frameworks so that the customer can use it as an add on to the existing system or adopt it as a new system altogether. It is highly customized and extendable to specific customer need. In both of the above cases, a request for some work/ change is provided by the customer such as New feature, Enhancement/ Improvement and Bug/ Defect.

A project can be referred to as a one-time effort to concur a specific scope (typically set of New features, Enhancements/ Improvements and Bugs/ Defects), of course, in specific time. Every project or a venture has definite beginning and a definite ending. And managing this end-to-end venture is quite a difficult job if done manually.

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When, How long?… Who, How much?…What, Where, Why? … The Building blocks of Project … if managed tactfully can lead to victory of successful project completion! The above exchange of thoughts leads us to a conclusion that Project Tracking is very important, but at the same time is a tedious and sometimes painful process. Some may feel it as an added work of creating reports and analyzing things on such level. Yes it is! It is tedious, but when done manually!

The Project Tracking tools have proved to be bliss to all the project managers in this regard. I am sure Atlassian’s JIRA is one of these tools, and has justified itself in being a helping hand for project tracking.

Imagine a project manager going to each of its employee just to find out what he/she is working and are there any roadblocks that are refraining the further work; sounds ridiculous, right? Project tracking tools surely make our lives easy!

JIRA, a project management tracker, facilitates the team to plan, deliver projects ( build and launch new products or IT Applications). It definitely doesn’t point to only arranging the book-work, but it extends itself to provide us the facility of creating tasks and assigning them to the appropriate person, adding comments to the issues, attaching files, watching issues, estimating them and above all tracking them in our own way.

How does JIRA make it possible to traverse though the entire project span using tasks?

Every task (New feature, Enhancement/ Improvement and Bug/ Defect) in software project development, may it be IT application development or Product development, undergoes various stages. These stages include Requirement gather & analysis, Development, Unit testing, Integration testing, System testing and Production release.

Project Tracking can be achieved using any Project Management software, which automates the tracking of tasks, assignments, events and activities related to the project. JIRA is one such software for tracking all kinds of tasks, milestones and any other actionable items and has superior edge over the basic tools like MS Excel, Task Juggler,e-hour etc and other tools available in the market.

JIRA Issue-Types

As previously mentioned, an issue can be a bug, a task, new feature, user story, patch, hot fix, enhancement or can be any general context. These issue types can be prioritized from a low level issue to an issue that needs urgent attention. The prioritization of the issue can also be customized according to the project requirements. An issue will be present in a particular state of a workflow, where it can be in a ‘open’ stage, ‘In progress’ stage, ‘resolved’ stage or ‘closed’ stage. The various states are known as statuses of an Issue and can be resolved by marking it as ‘fixed’, ‘cannot reproduce’, ‘won’t fix’ etc.

Now that an issue has been created, the workflow for a particular issue is created by a set of ‘status’ and ‘transitions’ which are added, modified and deleted according to the project requirements. A status represents the state of an issue and transition provides the direction from one status to another. When the user opens a particular issue, they can find the status of the issue and available transitions from that status.

JIRA Workflows:

JIRA implements these issue-type life cycles, commonly referred as “Workflows”. The best part here is that these workflows can be customized as per the needs of our project. JIRA is basically used to track issues which can be a bug, a task, new feature, user story, patch, hot fix, enhancement or can be any general context. Each issue-type can have their own workflow. And this feature of JIRA project tracking tool makes it popular across various disciplines. These components such as bug/ enhancement maps to an issue in JIRA.

Every issue in JIRA follows a certain workflow to reach its completion state. In simpler words, a JIRA workflow provides a step by step guide for a particular task.

Now that a particular JIRA workflow has been created, it will contain many tasks assigned to various employees. The live tracking of these tasks can be obtained by the management through a visual representation in board format (Kanban / Scrum), where these boards can also be customized as per the need of traceability. Various other reports can also be generated by the help of macros in Confluence (Atlassian Confluence, a tool that serves as the content repository for JIRA, that is closely linked with JIRA).

With JIRA, there are a lot of options to work with in terms of the interface and customizing the dashboard to fit your needs. A customized dashboard will be helpful to you (and your team members) in being able to manage the issues assigned to you, more easily.

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Once automated, the customized JIRA workflow disciplines the proceedings of associated project.

Project Tracking Challenges

One of the keys to succeeding with a software project management tracking tool is to use it for planning ahead. An upcoming event can be planned by creating JIRA issues, or tasks, around updates or revisions that will need to take place on your end. You can create placeholder issues and start outlining the tasks before they are even assigned. This will help you and your team members know what’s coming down the pipeline. Along with this vision for few lanes down the lines, JIRA also allows us to be flexible enough to keep things on hold and accommodate high priority issues/ tasks, like hot-fixes. If we pen down the most burdensome challenges for any software project we arrive to the following list: Scope of project & goal assessment, Estimations – time resources etc, Priorities & Risks, Dependencies, and Documentation – Project emails, excel sheets etc.

Just give a thought that, if any of these challenges isn’t handled with care, what it leads to? Yes, it leads to ambiguity, lack of transparency. And for a project’s successful acquirement, visibility in the project working is very essential.

If you see keenly, we really cannot prioritize these as each one of them is as important as other. Failing in tracking any of these can lead to undesired results of the project. Sometimes, rectification goes beyond our control and project lands nowhere.

Project tracking tools help us to forge these four pillars of the project to establish a clear boulevard of our project leading to successful finish-line. Let’s see how can JIRA help us here –

Scope of project management & goal assessment:

It is important to decide upon the definite sphere of offering by a project. If a manager fails to measure the elasticity of the project, the scope of project looses its viscosity i.e. either it turns out to be a project with quite a rigid boundaries or a boundless venture spilling beyond confines.

JIRA can help here by allowing manager to create the required number of stories that are well thought out beforehand. Even the assignment can be done according to the capacity of the individual team member working for the project. For users of JIRA Agile, scrum boards are available. JIRA offers a facility to decide the scope of any project by creating definite epics under it. For small scale projects, a single epic can serve the purpose. The important feature here is that every epic would be loaded with precise stories and sub-tasks. These epics can be assigned to the capable Product Owner/ Scrum Master and the subsequent stories will act as the Product Backlog for the scrum team and would be further assigned to scrum team members. Here, every epic/ story acts as a milestone in itself.

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So the entire project development becomes the a dot to dot trail making! Create perfect milestones… Connect each dot correctly with next … and the project success is guaranteed!

Estimations:

In order for every project to be successful, it has to be well estimated in terms of resources, number of working hours required, infrastructure and costing. JIRA allows you to estimate at a very particulate level, such as sub-tasks. This gives a clear picture of how much time each small task takes and what adds up to the total time & effort estimations of the project. While creating epics, stories and even sub-task a manager can mention the estimated time for each of this. Also, the due-date by which the task needs to be completed can be mentioned. This facilitates the project manager to monitor the progress of the overall project, and the further reporting is made easier.

Priorities & Risks:

Every small milestone in the project has to be prioritized well so as to eliminate the havoc created by inter dependencies between the tasks. Each sprint can include the high priority tasks at the particular time of sprint planning. This makes the job of scrum master easier as the priorities associated with each task are wisely speculated. Every well prioritized task reduces the risk incurred,thus reducing the overall risk to the project. One can always re-prioritize the user stories within the epic or may be epics for that matter to meet the customer’s rapid change in requirements, thus offering the flexible approach required for being agile. Priority and ordering of tasks is important in every software project may it be IT application development or product development. The small chunks of the work need to be performed in a definite order, sometimes parallel, to ensure flawless delivery. From the list of tasks, the manager can prioritize a few and load them in the sprint as per the client requirements and overall priority of tasks. JIRA even provides us with a facility to rank the tickets. So, while planning the sprint, a scrum master can rank the tickets and give the plan to scrum team so as to avoid any ambiguity in priorities of the tasks assigned to them.

Dependencies:

This particular aspect has always been the reason of disputes leading to grievance. If any task has dependencies on other teams or team member or even another issue, JIRA gives a facility to link that ticket to the existing task. The links in JIRA highlight the “Type of dependency”. This encourages the transparency in working and completing tasks. Also, it is easy for the team member to reach out to the appropriate or true owner of the issue/ ticket in order to arrive to the solution. By linking a ticket to another ticket, the dependency on the other ticket can be clearly stated. This surely advocates the reasons for delay in completion of any task due to particular dependency on another task.

Project Documentation:

Any software project has a some way of communicating within the project. May it be sharing requirements, communication with clients, within team members etc. The overhead of documentation has to be carried. JIRA, however, takes this burden of maintaining the list of emails, excel sheets etc. by providing the facilities like “Comments” section for every ticket, facility to link Confluence pages to JIRA ticket, facility to attach images, other JIRA tickets, thus ensuring back traceability.

Customization of Dashboards:

Software projects are comprised of many small components. If we think on JIRA terms, it can be a collection of various Epics/ User stories etc. Any individual participating in completion of the project would need to monitor the JIRA entities at any point of time. For this necessity, JIRA provides a watch window called “Dashboards”. These dashboards are highly customizable and user friendly. They are the dynamic reports onscreen for the individual as he/ she wants.

Generating reports:

Report generation is a tedious, time consuming yet important tasks in project management. JIRA comes to help here as well by making available its features like Agile boards/ Scrum boards for “live generation” of reports ensuring the latest status of the project at any given point.

The management can also create the reports to analyze the time spent by teams and to detect any impediments. This is implemented by time tracking which is yet another important activity in a project. Smooth operations and success of your project also depends upon the how strong the reporting is. It helps in gaining insight to the health, progress and overall status of project that prove to be essential guide to diagnose the project at various stages.

In JIRA, the user has to provide a stipulated time frame for task completion. Time logging is automatically recorded while working on a particular issue or task. This also helps in establishing the efficiency of team thus giving better visibility in terms of effort estimation.

Users of JIRA Agile have access to boards one can make use of like – Scrum board, Kanban board, Burn down charts, Sprint reports, Velocity charts are few of them.

Scrum boards – A tabular display of issues from one or more projects, in a flexible way of viewing, managing and reporting on work in progress for teams that work in sprints.

Kanban boards

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Much like scrum boards, offering a flexible way of viewing, managing and reporting on work in progress for teams that focus on managing and constraining their work-in-progress.

Burndown charts

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Displays a comparison graph of the actual and estimated amount of work to be done in a sprint.

Sprint Reports

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Displays the list of issues in each sprint. It is useful for Sprint Retrospective meeting, and also for mid-sprint progress checks.

Velocity Charts

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Shows the amount of work delivered in each sprint, empowers you to predict the amount of work the team can complete in future sprints.

One might get a feeling that JIRA supports only the Agile way of production / application development. But JIRA also caters to the traditional way of IT application development and Product development. However, the best recommendation is to practice Agile methodology with JIRA to achieve great visibility into project tracking. JIRA allows users to have a good visibility over the project tickets, that follow specific workflows, which can be achieved through various Agile boards, and dashboards. Moreover the reporting tools help us to have impressive and user friendly presentation of the JIRA issues from various aspects.

You should also find add-ons or plug-ins, like time sheet tracking tools, charts, reports or other applications that are compatible with your version of JIRA and use them as needed. A little more exploration within your project management tools and you will realize that JIRA is capable of helping you a lot more than you realize!