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Atlassian Launches Project Portfolio Management Solution for JIRA

| by Steffen Opel Follow 3 Followers on Oct 28, 2014. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes |

Development and collaboration software vendor Atlassian launched JIRA Portfolio, an add-on for JIRA that "provides a single, accurate view for planning and managing initiatives across multiple teams and projects", at its annual user conference Summit.

JIRA Portfolio is a project portfolio management (PPM) solution that aims to "connect strategic goals to development reality" by answering "essential project planning questions at every level of your team". One of its core capabilities is an automatic scheduling mechanism that "continuously computes an optimized, realistic resource allocation and with that, forecasts release dates, resource utilization and bottlenecks".

It defaults to agile methodology and "the scheduling algorithm optimizes for finishing complete work items (stories) end-to-end first", but is designed to be framework agnostic and flexible enough to also support traditional processes.

Working with JIRA Portfolio starts by creating a plan, which is a top level container for backlog issues, available resources and releases. Plans are self-contained and independent from JIRA projects to support cross-team and cross-project use. This implies the need to put all resources that are to be balanced between projects and teams into one plan.

JIRA Portfolio plan roadmap

Within a plan, the backlog and global "to do-list" for upcoming releases comprises a three level hierarchy from initiatives over epics down to stories – main concepts and dimensions facilitated for the planning process are:

  • Initiatives (optional) – grouping of epics and stories into higher-level business initiatives that typically span multiple releases, i.e. longer running/larger projects on the roadmap
  • Themes – cross cutting non-time-oriented backlog categorization by strategic business goals focused on relative resource allocation, i.e. how much is spend on theme X vs. theme Y
  • Estimates and time budgets – currently time-based, i.e. defined in days/hours (story points are on the roadmap)
  • Releases, teams and member assignments – adjustment/recalculation of the automatically generated schedule
  • Dependencies –  control over the sequence in which items are scheduled
  • Teams and people – skills, weekly hours, availability and vacations
  • Releases – target dates, which can be either fixed or forecasted dynamically based on desired scope

InfoQ caught up with Anutthara Bharadwaj (Group Product Manager JIRA) about Atlassian’s latest product.

InfoQ: JIRA Portfolio taps into the project portfolio management (PPM) segment. What led to your decision to address this?

Anu: With JIRA Portfolio, we want to provide a simple, realistic and scalable way of doing planning on large teams. Today, JIRA is the source of truth for thousands of development teams, where they track their day to day development work. In the past year, more than ever, we'd heard from customers about their challenges of planning at scale. […] JIRA Portfolio is the solution for JIRA customers to plan and manage broader software initiatives across all levels of the organization.

InfoQ: Do you expect Portfolio to primarily appeal to existing JIRA users with growing project management needs, or do you also aim at the established Enterprise PPM market segment?

Anu: Naturally, existing users of JIRA have a clear and obvious case for starting to use Portfolio straight away.

Our goal with Portfolio is to enable all organizations with multiple teams to create higher level business plans that can directly connect to their development plans […]. As Atlassian, we want to support organizations with a complete stack of planning tools that covers the whole lifecycle from ideation to planning and development to delivery and ongoing support. We think the combination of JIRA and JIRA Portfolio will compel a lot of organizations to switch from their existing tools.

InfoQ: The product features "automatic scheduling and forecasting of releases, capacity planning and optimization" - can you tell us more about how this works?

Anu: We've indeed spent a significant amount of research time on our "secret sauce", the automatic scheduling algorithm. The whole idea is to tackle complexity within the algorithm, so that users are spared the […] effort to hand-schedule every item just to get a high level plan.

Imagine you have a long list of work items on the one end (with dependencies, requiring different skills of people to get them done, date constraints, etc.), and a set of teams and people on the other end, having different abilities and being available at different times. How do you […] get the highest priority items delivered the fastest? […] Our algorithm deals with several dimensions of the problem like skill sets, availability, dependencies between work items, start date constraints, multi-release stream orchestration and comes up with a great initial plan that you can tweak to arrive very quickly at a realistic plan you want to act on.

And, JIRA Portfolio schedules in real-time, so you can do "what-if" scenarios on the fly, adjust, and keep iterating.

InfoQ: One of your demos adds a developer to a project to save the slipped release date - does JIRA Portfolio take Brooks' law into account, which claims "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later"? 

Anu: Great question! No - we don't have an explicit "Apply Brook's law" flag. Portfolio is an aid for Agile teams to come up with an initial realistic plan and adapt to changes fast. Adapting to change is not always adding a new person […]. You need to choose the right way to react to change - be that adjusting scope of a project, rescheduling a release or anything else.

[…] First of all, in practice we recommend to model a ramp-up time for the new developer [and] reducing the availability of [assisting] team members. Additionally, there is a configurable setting for how many people can work in parallel on a user story. Combined with considering peoples' skills, this ensures that added capacity is not scheduled randomly and that you don't have a "50-people-can-deliver-a 50-mandays-project-in-a-day" type of schedule.

InfoQ: JIRA Portfolio leverages the JIRA API, does it offer an API itself?

Anu: We currently don't have a separate published API for JIRA Portfolio, but […] will be considering a number of potential integration points, including resource management (organization, functions/skills, vacations, costs) as well as retrieving schedule and progress information for customized reporting solutions.

InfoQ: Portfolio is currently available for JIRA Server, can we expect a JIRA Cloud edition soon?

Anu: We are looking to target availability of JIRA Portfolio Cloud early next year, around end of March.

InfoQ: Is Atlassian already using JIRA Portfolio internally? And what’s next on your roadmap?

Anu: Yes, absolutely! […] We have been learning a lot from our own use of Portfolio in terms of what works well and what we need to improve.

From the feedback we've received from customers so far, the upcoming roadmap items we are focused on currently are story point support for both planning and progress tracking, JIRA Portfolio Cloud availability, deeper integration with data in JIRA and JIRA Agile.

Anu welcomes follow up questions and feedback @anutthara.

JIRA Portfolio is available on the Atlassian Marketplace. The documentation also provides an automatic scheduling overview and a FAQ, including a dedicated scheduling FAQ. Support resources are offered via the Atlassian support portal. Feature requests and bug reports can also be submitted to the JIRA Portfolio project in Atlassian’s public issue tracker.

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Release concept problem by Erik Gollot

The problem with the concept of release in portfolio is that it is not linked with the concept of version in standard jira projects.
We deliver a release of an application represented by its jira project. Version are managed at application level, not project.

How can we deal with this with portfolio?

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