Should you use a sub-task or not?

To sub-task or not to sub-task, that is the question

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of workflow and post-function configuration

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And just create a checklist.

If you'll pardon me for my poetic license, we can return to the topic for today: should you create sub-tasks or not?

And the answer is: it depends.

To start, the question itself is a bit of a false dichotomy. Creating sub-tasks or using a different method to track sub-sections of work in Jira is not a question of what is better or more efficient, but rather of what you are trying to achieve. Often it is determined by the complexity of your need, the type of work concerned, and how you will use the information you are tracking.

Asking yourself some questions about the tasks you are tracking can help:

Sub-task or checklist article.png


When to create sub-tasks

Sub-tasks bring with them all the features of Jira you know and appreciate that make it so powerful: affected and fix versions, components, workflows, permissions, assignees, not to mention priorities and statuses. If a task needs to be submitted for review by a manager, who may return the task to the employee for further work or send the task to someone else for different input, that's where those Jira features really help you manage the work to be done.

Sub-tasks are also linked to the parent issue, which means you can set up conditions on transitioning the parent issue based on the status of sub-tasks. Sub-tasks can easily be searched with JQL or used for reporting, and used with apps and integrations. When multiple team members are working on a task or story, sub-tasks are adapted to split the work up for each person while maintaining the link between the work of the individual and the overall objective to complete, such as a User Story. For example, if you are a Scrum Master coordinating a sprint, sub-tasks are essential to stay on top of progress towards the sprint goals and keep the team informed or any bottlenecks or blocking issues.

If you are looking for help controlling your processes, and even automating sub-task creation, the on premise (Server/Data Center) version of Jira app Elements Copy & Sync can help with operations that automatically create sub-tasks with important information copied over from parent to child task.


When to track tasks without sub-tasks

But if you want a quick and easy way to split the work in an issue into several steps or actions to take, sub-tasks may be overkill. Tracking work through a checklist in an issue is generally faster and easier to set up, and could be the perfect solution if you need to keep track of information but don't need to search or report on it. If team members need to follow a specific procedure for a certain type of issue, for example a bug fix, including a definition of done checklist in the issue helps maintain standards, but would be completely ill adapted to sub-tasks since just one assignee is concerned by the procedure. Using a checklist is generally more flexible, and doesn't require workflows, workflow schemes, or post-functions; you just check off the steps you need to do or information you need to collect.

Since checklists are not a native feature in Jira, you'll need an app like Elements Checklist  (available for Cloud, Server, & Data Center), which allows you to create multi-column checklists with attributes like select lists, dates, users, and calculations so you can create the structured checklist that meets the different needs of your Jira projects. 


How a service enterprise uses both

Let's take the example of a company that uses Jira to manage services it offers. Clients typically order an ensemble of services: Jira configuration or migration, training, or maintenance. Once the services to be rendered have been confirmed, the company needs to manage which employees will be assigned to each service. Perhaps a particularly large project will require several consultants to manage the configuration and migration of a database, different employees will provide training to the client, and still more employees will help with maintenance.

The details of work to be accomplished by each employee would best be detailed in a sub-task that can be assigned to the employee. That way the employee knows exactly what work has been assigned to them, they can move the issue through a workflow, and importantly the manager tracking the overall project for the client can keep track of all the sub-tasks linked to the order. And since the work is assigned through sub-tasks, the time spent can be tracked using an app like Tempo Planner.

But estimating the total to be billed (based on the daily rate of all employees involved in the ensemble of services) or tracking various steps of the project or people to consult that concern the entire package of services would best be suited to tracking by a smart grid checklist instead of a sub-task. In the parent issue tracking the order, the manager can use a checklist to keep track of what has been done and what remains to be done to organize all of the services to be rendered.


Sub-task or no, Elements apps can help you

Sub-tasks and checklists are not mutually exclusive, they simply meet different needs. And while Jira's out of the box features let you do a lot, sometimes an app can just help streamline everything.

For the company providing services, this could be automating the creation of sub-tasks for all the consultants who will work on the project, with each issue automatically populated with key information about the client. The on premise version (Server & Data Center) Elements Copy & Sync operations allow you to set up different field mappings based on the sub-task you need to create, so sub-tasks for consultants will have information on the company, and certain internal contacts, but sub-tasks for accounting or sales could have different field mappings.

And if you need to track tasks or steps within an issue, Elements Checklist provides structured checklists to help you manage your processes. The service enterprise could use this to estimate the total to be billed or track contract milestones. Elements Checklist is configured in Jira Project Settings , which means Jira Admin don't have to update a custom field, issue screen, or screen scheme; Jira Project Admins take care of their Elements Checklists for their team.


Hope that provides some clarity, or at least food for thought, on how to decide whether or not you create sub-tasks, as well as some apps that can help.


Andrew Laden
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November 7, 2019

Good article, though you may want to expand it to include using a linked issue instead of a subtask, and going over the differences between a sub task and a linked issue.

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Hermione Cloney
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December 29, 2021

Agree! At my company, we only ever used to use linked Issues, but now that subtasks have been introduced, there's a lot of confusion over when to use a linked issue versus a subtask. Some clarification/recommendations there would be great.

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Paul Gorans
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September 12, 2022

I have also found tasks (Sub Tasks in Jira) useful for new teams to plan how individuals will contribute to the completion of a story.   They are also helpful  to break the bad habit of assigning stories to an individual on a team.  

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John Partington May 23, 2023

task (linked) or subtask, that is the real question ...

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Thomas LUK June 27, 2023

One thing subtask is not very sufficient is that, you have mentioned if time spent is needed -> sub-task, but actually the timeline graph doesn't show the subtask. huh

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