Agile Portfolio Management using JIRA

The main focus of most business managers is to spend time with customers, refine the strategy and execute the strategy. There are multiple sources from where product ideas, new features, customer requests come in – during sales engagements, channel partners, field service, customer training, and engineering to name a few. In today’s digital world, there is no scarcity of ideas, but the key challenge lies in strategy and execution. Business executives are always looking for better tools and methodologies to analyze, prioritize and track their ideas. If there are too many ideas, the first steps is to filter out the ideas based on some basic parameters like alignment with business strategy, vision, mission, ROI, amount of competition etc. We don’t want to invest in something that our customers do not find value in or do not align with our business model. We do not want to invest in something which will not yield significant profits. We do not want to invest in something which someone has already built or there are too many existing players. So there are multiple trade-offs which business executives make to weigh which initiatives to add to their product or business portfolio. And its not like once a decision on a particular idea is made, the job is done. Customer needs/expectations are constantly changing, competition is constantly changing, the environment is constantly changing – businesses will only sustain if they manage these change well.

Portfolio Management, in the software industry, refers to the art of analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats around a new idea or application/product proposal. The portfolio may include new products, product features, internal processes / infrastructure improvements or client projects / commitments. As discussed above, there are various factors that influence the decisions taken at every turn in the road map. These decisions mostly fiddle with the “Business Value” of any portfolio or an idea. With such dynamism in the market, carrying out the portfolio management manually is a very tedious job. This surely needs to be just as flexible as the market is dynamic. In order to address this basic need of bringing agility to portfolio management, proper process becomes a necessity.

One main benefit using agile methodologies to handle these processes is the visibility attained at the portfolio level. Using Kanban boards you can easily track the status of your organization’s cross-project initiatives. Along with portfolio visibility, it also gives us the ability to quickly foresee areas of risk and drill-down into the details when needed.

There are various stages that a new idea/ feature or an initiative travels through. Assessment of the feature in terms of business value, cost etc. has to be done before it is approved for building it. In order to implement the feature, the road map may include several milestones. These milestones can be broken down into Epics, which are more granular. Further, these Epics can be tracked, monitored and worked upon so as to attain the success in developing the feature/ product. If we inspect on what the responsibilities of a Portfolio Manager are, then we can figure out their main tasks which may include: Propose new features, Business value assessment of features, Effort estimation of features, Prioritization of features, etc. The above tasks can be organized and tracked using JIRA for Portfolio Management. Lets have a look how can we achieve this, by having an insight to what JIRA has to offer for Portfolio Management.

Agile Portfolio Management with JIRA

As mentioned earlier, attaining agility, for Portfolio Management, can certainly make a Portfolio manager’s life easier. It can also ensure better visibility and control over the proposal and implementation of the various features/ products. The various offerings of JIRA and confluence make it possible to sail smoothly through Portfolio Management. Being Portfolio Manager, it is important to keep the stakeholders updated about the happenings and also to keep a keen tabs on the teams one is working with. The dynamism from the stakeholders has to be well absorbed by the working teams in organization. And to ensure this, JIRA Agile can help, because it enables your organization respond to change. It helps the higher management in organization when applied at correct scope.

Concepts/ Features
Features can be referred to as company initiatives that talk more about assessment, strategies that play a key role in implementing the initiatives. These features can be up-skilled by planning a definite workflow for them to ensure optimum visibility through out. The feature can be deconstructed into Epic, which are more precise as compared to features.

Imagine a portfolio manager gets an product idea or initiative and he/ she proposes the same to the designated authorities. What really happens next? How does this idea takes shape? What route it takes to reach out in the market?

I have a concept, will it materialize?

Often, the business owners, portfolio managers etc have concepts in their mind. The owners of the concepts are always curious and anxious about the fate of their concept. Certainly there are teams that make the concepts realistic and implementable. However, during this implementation process, JIRA enables the portfolio managers and business owners to keep themselves updated on the progress of the concept materialization.

Every concept will be taken further for implementation only when it is assessed and elaborated from the business perspective. The assessment of concept is done on many aspects such as, target users and number of customers, estimated revenue, relevance to the organization in many terms such as core company values, risk assessment, market statics and patterns etc.

The assessment of concept based on above parameters helps us derive the business value of the concept. This is a very crucial point in the workflow of the concept. This is the step where we gather all the required information in order to take decision whether the concept can be considered for further construction.

Once the concept is elaborated and selected by business owners, the concepts are loaded for construction. This is where the concept starts taking shape. Another dimension is introduced here, which takes us on the road of implementing the concept, i.e. “Implementation”. In order to continue monitoring the concept and keep up the tracebility, a concept/ feature is further dividing into Epics.


Epics can be any large area of work in a feature. It can be visualized as a collection of various tasks that would conclude to attain the objective of the Epic. It is very important to have a specific goal/ object to every Epic. These epics can act as the milestones in the road map of the feature.

Unlike features, Epics are scope bound and can attain the “Completed” state in their life cycle. One more interesting thing is that Epics can be cross team and involve multiple JIRA projects. Each epic can further be distributed in smaller user stories that can be delivered by the team.

JIRA Issue Types

JIRA provides a facility to handle different entities participating in the project and interacting with one another. These entities carry a set of characteristic of themselves. So, every issue type created in JIRA ensures that we can access the characteristics of that issue type through the JIRA ticket of that issue type.

For example, let us consider an Epic as one of my entities in a feature. An Epic can be described by its different properties such as Name, Status, Priority etc. Here, the custom fields of the issue type “Epic” can hold this information for us. Epics are easily searchable within JIRA using the filters on the “Issue Type”. So, from Portfolio Management point of view, the issue types such as “Feature”/ “Project” and/or “Epic” can be monitored.

JIRA Workflows

Workflows can be defined as the specific frame of discipline that an issue type follows. This particularly gives us freedom to create various issue types and mold their behavior as desired. Behaviors here mean the different transitions the issue type will undergo. These are nothing but the logical states any entity can have. These workflows can be associated with a specific issue type. Workflows play an important role to give a complete idea about the road-map of the feature or Epic.

For an issue type to jump from one logical state to another, a triggering action has to take place. This is nothing but “Transition”. So based on the entity and the transitions/ actions it will perform, workflow for the issue type can be derived.

Now a question may arise, how exactly these JIRA components help in Portfolio Management?

These JIRA components, when weaved together give a perfect platform for various features and Epics to be monitored from different aspects. At the Portfolio Management level, the development stories or tasks may not be monitored. But the Epics under which these tasks are being performed can be monitored efficiently.

JIRA Agile Boards

JIRA provides various Agile boards for monitoring purpose. These boards allow users to view the status of the different issue types under observation. We can configure different boards pertaining to issue types such as Feature, Epic etc. Each board will show the columns as per the workflow followed by that issue type. Every column will hold the issues with that particular status. A simple JQL can allow us to include or exclude the projects/ features/ Epics as desired.

This tracking with JIRA Agile boards can be carried out at different levels. There can be a Kanban board which enlists all the features. In another Kanban board we can have multiple project view, where epics across multiple teams can be tracked. Whereas, the development can be closely monitored using Scrum board or monitoring Epics at individual level.

There is no single best way to implement IT portfolio approach. Variety of approaches can applied as the methods are not set in stone and will need altering depending upon the individual circumstances of different organizations.

However, with JIRA at our service, we can rely on the power it provides us to track the Features through Epics, to back track the Features from Epics.

JIRA provides full traceability from portfolio-level epics to development-level tasks, providing all the contextual information required – upstream or down – to connect the dots and remain focused on the feature road map with correct priorities.

It helps if you align your strategic initiatives with resources, agile teams and projects to ensure on-time delivery. It also helps teams to visualize the bigger picture of what they’re working on by understanding how stories and tasks relate to strategic initiatives or features proposed.

Have any questions about portfolio management or Atlassian tools? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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