Feature Planning with Jira Software and VisualScript

VisualScript feature planning
Evan Golden

By Evan Golden

June 3, 2020

Feature planning is critical to the development of products in Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). These Features are broken up into Stories for development teams to build. The development of Stories results in the deployment of Features, and the completion of Features provides value through solutions for the customer.

The foundation of this process is Product Management scoping and prioritizing the Features. Product managers must also understand dependencies, and ultimately plan for what will be developed and when. To accomplish all this, teams will often rely on one or more applications. One of the applications commonly used for Feature planning and development is Jira Software.

Organizing Features and Stories for the Agile Release Train with Jira

With Jira, teams create one or more projects to organize their Features and Stories. For example, a team can create a single Jira project for the Agile Release Train (ART) that houses all of these work items as Jira issues.

Agile Release Train

Using Jira, your Features will be Jira Epics. Epics are a special issue type in Jira that are containers for your Stories, as well as all other work items that are directly linked to it. All of the Epics live in a Program Backlog. This is simply a Kanban board in Jira, and it is used to track the development of Features by an Agile Release Train.

Kanban board

These Epics are broken down into Stories that are assigned to teams and are stored in team backlogs. In Jira, these are scrum boards. Each team will have its own board, and teams are differentiated by the Component or a custom field. The board allows for the Stories to be assigned to sprints and program increments. In Jira, program increments are usually represented by the fixVersion field.

Jira backlog

As you can see, Jira has all of the tools to organize the data for feature planning. However, Jira doesn't have an easy way to generate visual reports that are needed for planning. This makes it hard to formulate data driven decisions when planning Feature development throughout the next few program increments.

Reporting on Feature Planning with Roadmaps

VisualScript is a reporting solution for the entire Atlassian stack available in the marketplace. It has built-in reports that support SAFe® that you can add as Jira dashboard gadgets and Confluence page macros. A few of these reports include roadmaps and dependency reports.

VisualScript has two different roadmaps that are available out of the box for Feature planning, which are the Product Roadmap and the Feature Roadmap.

Product Roadmap

The Product Roadmap is used to show which Features teams will work on in one or more program increments.

Product roadmap

The swim lanes you see in the report represent the teams, and each card represents a Feature (Epic). If the Epic has Stories that are assigned to the program increment, it is in the report. It will span the timeframe that is directly related to the sprints that Epic has Stories assigned to. Also, if the Epic has Stories that are assigned to multiple teams or program increments, it will show up multiple times in the report.

Feature Roadmap

The Feature Roadmap visualizes one or more teams working on a Feature (Epic) in a single program increment.

Feature roadmap

Each shape represents a Feature (Epic), and shows the team(s) assigned to the Stories linked to the Feature. The report also shows the dependencies between the different Features. When the expanded view on the bottom right of each shape is clicked a detailed grid of the Stories is displayed.

Feature planning stories

These two roadmaps help visualize the data that is created in Jira. As data is updated, so are the reports on refresh. Using one, or both, of these reports fill a much needed gap in a teams Feature planning.

Understanding Dependencies

One thing that is still missing is getting a really good understanding of the dependencies between the Stories of an individual Feature. As a team is planning, knowing the dependencies can help with prioritizing Features and make better, data-driven decisions.

An Epic Dependency report is a utility report built-in to VisualScript that shows all of the Stories linked to an Epic and their individual dependencies.

Epic Dependency Report

The center row represents the Stories linked to the Epic. The bottom row includes the Stories that are being blocked by the linked Story, and the top row includes the Stories that are blocking the linked Story.

In summary, Feature planning is critical to the development of valuable solutions for customers. Jira is a great tool for organizing the work and tracking the execution of it. A challenge, which requires a marketplace application like VisualScript, is generating visual reports needed to make those data-driven decisions. Reports like the Product Roadmap, the Feature Roadmap, and the Epic Dependency Report work well together to aid teams in Feature Planning. Together these reports can be used as sources of truth for planning out Features and also for monitoring status of Feature and Story development.