New JIRA users often run into a predictable set of problems when they jump in to build a workflow. If you are new to JIRA, I encourage you to get some training before you move beyond learning and start pushing workflows to users. If you want to get going quickly, here are some guidelines that can help
- Starting with a custom workflow. Before you do this, set up a project and send real work through the default workflow. By doing this you will gain an understanding of what workflows do and more importantly, what they do not do. Jumping into a custom workflow guarantees starting over at some point.
- Dead ends in the workflow. It is not unusual to create a status that transitions responsibility for the item out of your organization. An item can sit there for quite a while, but make a path to return. There should never be a status in your workflow (including closed) that has a transition in but not out.
- The opposite extreme to dead ends is when every status can lead to every other status. This is often a new JIRA user’s response to the frustration of a poorly designed workflow. This is a cop out, take the time to understand the work and build a workflow to support it. Think through your workflow and build a natural path that covers the primary use case. Work has a purpose and is not scattered, your workflow should reflect this.
- Confusing statuses and transitions. First, a status is, as named, a state. It is a resting point in the path through the workflow. A transition is a move between two states and represents specific actions. Second, here are some analogies that might help: Statuses are to transitions like nouns are to verbs or cities are to highways.
- Reverse paths are very important to users. Even if it does not make sense from a workflow perspective, users will make mistakes and move an item forward accidentally. Give them a quick, easy way to fix it, unless you want to be fielding a series of requests to manually move items between statuses. Always make a way out for a user that accidentally clicks a transition.
- Once you learn how to build restrictions on transitions use them sparingly. This is a common mistake in many areas of IT. Over-restriction ruins what might be a positive user experience.
- Minimization is important. It is very common for new workflow designers to lay out statuses where an item will never land for more than a few minutes. Take a look at your workflow, and unless it is a critical point to log, do not make a status of this type. I use the following rule: if an item will never spend the night in a status, the status should not exist. If you have a status that is really important and the user must take action, consider making it a field on a screen that pops during a transition.
JIRA is an enterprise class application and as such requires a certain level of training to be effective. Find a mentor who has used JIRA extensively, take a look at any of the online training resources available. If you would like a quick formal training that will get you running, you could consider our class at http://jirabootcamp.com. If you would like a deep sequence of training on specific topics, Atlassian has some great courses available here.