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When Kasia Allen took over as head of Web Operations and PMO at her company's web marketing organization a few years ago, she found a process that incorporated different platforms – leading to way more work for everyone.
Major initiative planning took place in PowerPoint, but the actual execution would move over to Jira. When plans changed, someone would have to update the PowerPoint, then update the work in Jira — which of course meant that you couldn't be sure that everything was in sync.
What's more, the department used tools that didn't adapt to its process or priorities, forcing an organizational system that didn't match what was really happening.
“We needed a dynamic, single source of truth that gave the senior leaders and my team access to real-time, consistent data in one location,” Allen said. “Our solution also had to be incredibly flexible and reactive to reflect the way our teams work and constantly adapt to fluctuating priorities.”
Allen’s job entailed managing ongoing processes, setting priorities for the future, and working in an Agile development environment for front-end and back-end development.
When she first took on the job, the mix of PowerPoint in SharePoint, Jira and an additional Gantt app disconnected planning from execution, leading to inefficiencies in coordination.
PowerPoint was a great presentation tool, but it was static and needed to be manually updated as soon as anything changed. And with task execution happening in Jira, it couldn't act as a single repository for all project data. Meanwhile, the company used a Jira Gantt app for planning purposes as well — but Gantt put artificial restrictions on the department's planning process. For example, this Gantt app required specific start and end dates for tasks.
"It forced us to create pretend timelines for things — when a lot of times, a task just had to get done at some point in the quarter, with no specific date. Besides, we have ever-changing priorities. Something that is the most important thing today might be on the back burner tomorrow."
On the other hand, Jira was a "living, breathing thing" that could unite all parts of the process and — making it the single source of truth, where all data resided. Everyone could be confident that data was up to date, and it was flexible enough to better match the organization's processes. Visualization across projects was the missing piece.
A friend recommended Allen try Structure for Jira. When she called the Structure team, "I literally just described my situation and what I wanted to do and asked, 'Can you help me with this?' And the support team just walked me through it."
Working in Jira eliminated the planning/execution disconnect. Allen then looked for a solution that would help her plan and prioritize across Jira projects, and then organize all that information within a single view. Allen ultimately used a variety of Structure features to expand upon Jira's native capabilities.
"This was the game-changer," Allen said. She combined sprint planning across projects within Structure and changed effort estimates from time spent to story points. Allen used Jira Components for assigning teams, so she could get summaries of story points per sprint per team.
When story points are assigned to both QA and development efforts, those Jira Component summaries are automatically updated — previously, Allen had had to use JQL queries for each team, continuously refresh them to update everything, and export to an Excel spreadsheet to analyze team capacities and make adjustments.
After the change, the planning could be done within Jira + Structure, where Allen could add or remove story points and watch the entire project hierarchy automatically update.
Everyone — from a VP looking at a big-picture view, to the developer working on a Jira issue — can find the information relevant to them. The key is that everyone works off the same, most up-to-date information from a single source of truth — Jira. For example, they can see what items are assigned to a team or individual this quarter, or the state of dependent and predecessor tasks.
Allen added fields to each issue — instead of just seeing the assignee for each task, she created fields to record the name of the QA engineer, the content strategist, and the project manager related to each issue. Anyone who filters for their own issues (the "Mine" filter) can make sure they are not a blocker — a critically important point, as her workplace had teams across the globe. When they start their day, they can view their tasks with one click instead of doing a JQL query manually into Jira.
Structure Filters are highly useful for a variety of things: Allen used them to see who hadn't yet added their level of effort estimates, or to note which items were blocked, or to see which items should or shouldn't be in a particular sprint.
They proved useful for release planning as well. Allen tagged everything to a release and saw what issues were related — with one click, her team could view all the related items and have a much more productive discussion about everything related to an upcoming deployment.
The new system also builds upon Jira's flexibility, allowing the organization to create an adaptable hierarchy that reflects her teams' existing processes and issue hierarchies.
For example, when she first took the job, Allen tackled a massive backlog of tickets that had been stuck in limbo — in part because they were hard to categorize under the Gantt app they were using at the time. Every issue had to have a parent epic, but that wasn't universally true across all projects in the company.
"We don't always work in an Epic world…In our world, a singular issue or bug can be a huge priority. I need to visualize it, so previously we had to create a fake epic just to add it to the chart so it shows up in the sprint — it's just way too much overhead."
Structure allows for those one-off issues to have their place in the hierarchy, without the need for artificial categorizations.
Altogether, the changes freed up a tremendous amount of time for Allen and her team. Trying to connect the disjointed planning and execution process took up hours every week that is now available for more strategic work. Uptake within her organizational level was also not a struggle, Allen said, as more teams willingly joined the Jira system once they saw how much easier it was to coordinate work. And for Allen, it was all just a relief to depart from a clunky system to a streamlined one.
“As an uber-organized person, I have to see what’s going on, and this system put me in control."