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Need Jira and ADO in one Team-of-Teams / Program? There's an app for that :-)

A customer recently asked...

"My team-of-teams is composed on Jira teams and Azure DevOps (ADO) teams. Is it possible to represent these teams as working together in Jira Align?"

If you're familiar with the connector in Jira Align, the answer goes something like this...

"No, all teams in a team-of teams / program need to be using either Jira or ADO...the connector cannot support both."

You might think this is where our story ends...but it's only the beginning! The customer really needed to represent both tools working together within the same team-of-teams in Jira Align, so we took on the challenge to help unleash the potential for our customers team-of-teams...and found an answer! With a little MacGyver tinkering, we found using the Jira Marketplace App TFS4Jira Azure DevOps Integration, the customer was finally able to (almost) seamlessly manage work across multiple tools in a single space - that space was Jira Align!

Screen Shot 2021-06-09 at 9.10.58 AM.png

Continue reading to learn what we did, the positives and negatives we found, and the learnings we experienced. 

 


 

The Setup

The customer in question presented their Jira Align implementation team with a problem. The second group to be onboarded to Jira Align would have four (4) Jira teams (one project / one board per team), but also consisted of two (2) teams using Azure DevOps (ADO) to manage their work. The reason for the separation of tooling had to do with how the teams were managing their code, and ultimately the customer did not want to dictate the development tools used by their teams. They asked us to find a way to allow the six (6) teams in total to be represented in Jira Align as a single team-of-teams (also called a program). Although Jira Align has a Jira Connector and an ADO Connector, it is not advised to enable both on the same team-of-teams / program as data could become misaligned (e.g. what would happen if I linked a Jira Story to an ADO Feature in Jira Align...nothing good that's for sure!). 

The Answer

In order to maintain the integrity of data, we decided the best approach would be to replicate the ADO data into Jira, and then sync the changes from Jira into Jira Align. This allowed for changes to be applied across multiple Jira projects (e.g. linking Stories to Features/Jira Epics) while still keeping the ADO data in sync (data daisy-chaining). After looking at a couple options, we landed on the Jira Marketplace App TFS4Jira Azure DevOps Integration.

How it Works

Once the app was installed in Jira, it acted very similar to the Jira and ADO Connectors for Jira Align. As you would expected, you need to establish field mapping between Jira and ADO (what's the "Epic Link field" or "what's the Story Point field"). Once field mapping is established, establish a Jira Project and Jira Board for each ADO team, and map the ADO team to the Jira Project. You'll also need to map the workflows, users, and other data points needed. Needless to say, there are a lot of options during these steps to set up the synchronization. Once you have things mapped, you can then begin the synchronization process to pull data from ADO into Jira. There is a handy log that shows you any synchronization issues along the way (see below). 

Screen Shot 2021-05-04 at 7.06.18 AM.png

At this point you are beginning to sync changes from ADO to Jira, but what if you want to sync changes from Jira to ADO? Within the app you can establish what kind of bi-directional syncing you'd like to use...

Screen Shot 2021-05-04 at 7.06.46 AM.png

Congratulations! You now have data synchronization between ADO and Jira. Changes made in either system will replicate, including work items, sprints, story points, etc. Now all you need to do is sync the Jira Project and Jira Board into Jira Align (using the standard steps found in the Jira Integration Guide) and you will now experience bi-directionality syncing between Jira Align < > Jira < > ADO!

Positives

There are a number of positives when it comes to using an app like TFS4Jira Azure DevOps Integration. The ones we gravitated towards were things like...

  • Teams don't need to move to and learn a new team tool (e.g. moving from ADO to Jira) but still get the benefits of cross-team visibility in Jira Align.
  • Data synchronizes bi-directionality between ADO to Jira, and then Jira to Jira Align seamlessly (every ~2 minutes the two connectors will run, pushing changes made in Jira Align to Jira to ADO...and then back again!).
  • Similar to work item links being added to Jira from Jira Align (to give you a direct link to the Jira Align object), the app will do the same thing by placing a comment on the ADO object with a link to the Jira issue. Super handy!
    Screen Shot 2021-06-09 at 10.11.38 AM.png

Negatives

People like to say there's no such thing a free lunch, and they are right. The TFS4Jira Azure DevOps Integration apps doesn't solve for everything. There were a couple things we tripped over while using the app that we want to ensure you know...

  • To ensure that the Assignee on an object in ADO doesn't get overwritten (or moved to unassigned), each ADO user needs to be a Jira user too. This means that ADO users need to have a Jira license and be associated with the Jira project being mapped (even if they never log into Jira) to ensure Jira doesn't overwrite the Assignee field with a default user value. 
  • Data synchronization issues between Jira and ADO will appear in Jira, but not Jira Align. We experienced an issue where a field wasn't mapped properly between Jira and ADO. From Jira Align we were seeing overall changes come through and thought "hey, everything looks good" but in fact there was data missing. Jira Align will only know if there are synchronization issues between Jira and Jira Align, so make sure to regularly check the synchronization log in the TFS4Jira Azure DevOps Integration app to ensure data between Jira and ADO is updating as expected. 

Overall Learnings

Ultimately we solved the customers problem and were able to represent their entire team-of-teams together in Jira Align, which was awesome!!! There are a couple additional learnings I want you to take away from this story...

First, even though teams can have the freedom of tooling, that doesn't mean they don't have to align on process. Things like a common sprint cadence (regardless of tooling) is needed to ensure teams properly stay aligned. Process is agnostic of tooling, and no tooling will solve for a lack of process.

Next, if you use a app like TFS4Jira Azure DevOps integration, only map the data from ADO to Jira that you need for Jira Align. Jira is only acting as a pass through at this point for these ADO teams, so map only what is needed to bridge the gap into Jira Align and back. Additionally, it's highly recommended to use the same workflow in ADO that is being used in Jira (this goes back to learning #1 on process) - having the same workflow will help reduce the risk of synchronization issues.

Finally, just like any data you try to copy across multiple systems, each time data replicates the risk of the data experiencing synchronization issues will grow. Would I recommend that all customers simply use an app like this vs. migrating all teams to the same team tool (e.g. Jira, ADO)...absolutely not. There is something psychological present...a feeling of team building and community...when everyone is using the same tooling. Do your best to align on one team tool if possible.

When it's not possible though (or maybe not possible right now), there are apps like this to help you out!

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