Jira Align was engineered to connect enterprise strategy with team work execution. While there are many roles at play in agile at scale, the Product Manager is uniquely positioned at this intersection of strategy and work. They are responsible for balancing priorities, weighing capacity, and of course, addressing the demands of all key stakeholders (including customers). If that sounds overwhelming, that’s because it is.
Over the years at Jira Align, we designed robust functionality to enable the Product Managers’ role. In this article I’ll start by highlighting the key responsibilities of the Product organization along with their current challenges. Then, we’ll dive into how Jira Align helps PMs overcome these obstacles.
Let’s start with the big, hairy monster—roadmaps. Roadmaps are intended to facilitate organizational alignment around product vision and direction for an upcoming period of time. One lifecycle of a roadmap goes like this: the Product Manager prioritizes future work using research on customers, the market, state of the product, and development capacities > he or she builds a visual timeline of this work in a powerpoint slide > after some back and forth with key stakeholders, the roadmap is approved > everyone rallies around it > then it either disappears (filed away never to be seen again) OR it expires (two weeks into the plan, blockers arise and priorities change). Sound familiar?
Within Jira Align, we built the Live Roadmap to navigate these challenges. Product Managers use this digital tool for planning and monitoring.
When planning, PMs can create work items (themes, initiatives, features, and stories) directly on this visual, then drag and drop them across the timeline. Dozens of filters and data columns can be configured to create new views. Let’s say a Product Manager wants to inspect when work is planned to be finished for each strategic theme. Using the “Group By” functionality, they can easily organize the work by theme on the left-hand column. Other views include: work by objective, health, state, product, or owner.
The second use case, monitoring, is unique to Jira Align’s Live Roadmaps. Traditionally, PMs lacked the ability to monitor work when the roadmap was built in a static slideshow. In Jira Align, the work is consistently pulled in from team tools, providing PMs with a dynamic and up-to-date view on the health and progress of work. The visual is intuitive: colors of items are indicative of the work’s health (green = healthy) while the shading reflects the its progress (a fully-shaded bar = done).
The last note here is the Live Roadmap makes this work visible and accessible to all relevant stakeholders. This means no more digging around Product’s files for the most up-to-date roadmap.
Do you ever feel like you spend more time project managing instead of a product managing? If so, your feature backlog is likely not helping. Here’s why:
Like roadmaps, the feature backlog is a core component to the Product organization. It is the single source of truth for ongoing, planned, and even unplanned product work. Here, work is documented, sized, and prioritized for development teams. It is also the home for new ideas, even if they haven’t been fully fleshed out. Product Managers are responsible for maintaining a full, orderly backlog to support continuous delivery.
Here’s where it gets tricky: this is not a list of line items. These are large spreadsheets documenting everything from parent initiatives to acceptance criteria and dependencies to load of effort, status, and planned iteration. Grooming and prioritizing this data in Excel or another platform can quickly become unruly. If it is disconnected from work execution, then statuses, planned iteration, and assigned teams must be manually updated by PMs. And, if this backlog is disconnected from strategy, then PMs have to manually reprioritize features or even edit ties to parent themes and initiatives. As work and strategy continually change, these labor-intensive changes risk human error, crossed wires, or simply out-of-date content. The other option is to have a PM in that list every day, tracking down correct information and documenting changes—again, project managing instead of product managing.
Because all work is connected in Jira Align, much of this project management is handled in the backend, freeing up PMs time to dive back into product vision and strategy. As you can see in this example, this feature backlog is an itemized list with an easy drag-and-drop functionality for prioritization. Users can filter this list by Program, Strategic driver, Owner, or Process step for example. In addition, all columns shown in the grid are configurable. If size of a feature is important when prioritizing, a PM can choose to display WSJF, story points, or t-shirt sizes for each item.
One final highlight is the “Pull Rank” button in the header row of the backlog. Let’s assume strategy has changed and initiatives reprioritized. In Jira Align, the PM does not have to go in and manually re-order features accordingly. Rather, they can choose to “Pull Rank” to automatically rearrange features respective to their parent item’s new priority.
Product Managers own a plethora of work outside the backlog and roadmap. Because of their market and user research, the Product organization is responsible for defining product vision, along with user personas and even competitors. Jira Align provides space for these items. Product Managers can add Products with documentation on relevant personas and market competitors. Bringing this information into the platform centralizes the data so stakeholders across levels of scale can access it. More importantly though, Product Managers can tie this information to the work items. In doing so, one can create views like progress of work by persona or health of work by product.
While these pages highlight the key functionality for Product team, I encourage the PMs to not stop here. There is plenty more to explore in Jira Align from the Ideation Portal to Kanban boards and the Work Tree. As you continue to sit at the crossroads of strategy and work, arguably one of the busiest intersections in the enterprise, leverage these tools to better your agile efforts and propel the Product organization forward.
Due to recent challenges of most companies having to move to virtual and remote PI planning events, the Jira Align Solutions Architects wanted to start to capture some best practices and FAQ Table of...
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