Issue hierarchy in Jira Software is a common point of confusion for new users, whether they're novices or seasoned agile veterans. Since confident utilization of work hierarchy is key to running effective development cycles, below, I'll cover how hierarchy works in Jira Software, and what its implications are for your work.
Issues are the basic unit of work in Jira Software and come in various types: story, task, bug, etc. There are two additional issue types - epic and subtask - that can possess a hierarchical relationship with the aforementioned standard issue types. Let's run through some quick definitions.
Alternatively stated, an epic can contain stories and stories can contain subtasks. So, hierarchically, imagine the overall relationship like this.
So what implication does hierarchy have on how you actually do your agile work? Let's cover this in two discreet topics: estimation and time tracking.
Estimation is the practice of sizing of your work and correlates to how you calculate your team's speed of work. In Jira Software, estimation occurs at the story level, which then rolls up into its parent epic.
You do not estimate at the subtask level.
Why? For Atlassian, in a well-rounded agile practice estimation should be sufficiently accurate that overall capacity will be understood without having to parse estimations at the subtask level. Subtask estimation leads to slowdown; agile is about speeding things up.
Time tracking in Jira, on the other hand, is a burndown of hours that will allow you to monitor progress against a unit of work. Tracking will typically possess a different value than estimation, i.e. you might estimate in story points but track in hours. One thing to note: in the case of tracking, you can establish original time estimates at the subtask level, the value of which will sum up into a parent story. However, tracking values will not roll up into epics.
For clarity's sake, here is the above diagram, again, with estimation in yellow and tracking in grey.
So, when you decide upon an estimation and tracking system, consider the above behaviors. What estimation and tracking statistics will you use? Do you want to track time or will you trust that work should be complete by cycle's end? While you're free to choose your own estimation and tracking statistics, separate statistics are preferable to make sure you aren't conflating the two metrics.
Matthew WongAtlassian Team
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