Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jira for agile projects? Get GreenHopper

I previously blogged about trying to use Atlassian Jira as an agile project management tool. My current client already uses Jira across multiple projects and they are reluctant to change tools or spend for new tools. We use Jira "versions" to define iterations. Jira items without a "Fix for version" are part of the product backlog. We installed the free Jira plug-in Custom Issue Order which lets you set the absolute order (rank) of items in a list. Here's a screen shot of it in action, with the "Rank" column added.

We also installed the free Agile Velocity Tracking plug-in.

So far, I must say I'm not particularly happy with the results. It works, but I find myself yearning for a tool that was truly designed to accomodate agile development. Some specific things I don't like:

  • I can't drag and drop items to change list order. As a product manager, I'm frequently re-ordering the backlog and it needs to be fast and painless. With the Custome Issue Order plug-in, you have to move an item one position up or down, or type in it's new rank, but either way the page refreshes each time. With a Jira server on the opposite side of the planet, the latency is killing me.
  • If the backlog is too long, each user must customize the page size to be able to view all items in the list. When it's split between pages, you can't move an item from one page to another.
  • Suppose the team is starting iteration 3.0.2 (2nd iteration toward release of V3), and a defect is reported on V2.1 that must be fixed in a V2.2 release. You can't include this defect in the 3.0.2 iteration backlog because it's based on Jira's "fix for version" 3.0.2, and this item will be fixed in Jira version 2.2. So you have to manage these items separately.
  • You can't "collapse" a single story to show/hide it's subtasks in the list. This is a feature of ScrumWorks that I really like.
  • The agile velocity tracking plug-in isn't very intuitive. It might be more useful after our project has more iterations completed, but for now the data isn't very helpful.
  • No burndown chart. We tried a free plug-in from Laughing Panda but couldn't get it to work. The closest things Jira has is the progress bar: go to Reports -- Versions -- (a specific version) and you get a graphic like this:
The burndown chart is far more useful since it clearly communicates the estimated work remaining (in hours) and the trend line for completing it by the end of the iteration.

My recommendation for co-located teams is still to use a physical task board. If you have a distributed team, or you've tried the task board and have specific reasons for moving to an electronic tool, then I'd recommend Jira + GreenHopper, ScrumWorks, XPlanner, or the free editions of Rally or VersionOne. When I first wrote this post, I hadn't yet tried GreenHopper, but now I have, and it's a great tool. Read about it here.


Mike said...

Your post caught my attention when you said you wanted a truly Agile Development Tool. If you are delivering process centric web business applications OutSystems Agile Platform is amazing and they have integrated management tools to boot. You can find a free trial at

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad, my company develops a tool called Silver Catalyst which is specific to Agile Software Development. It's currently in beta and free to use. Do check it out - - we would love to hear your feedback

Unknown said...

Has your friend checked out the latest release of Greenhopper? You can see the features in a demo here:
Over 700 JIRA customers have have purchased this plugin to JIRA and found that it resolves the specific issues that you mentioned. Give it a free 30 day trial at and decide for yourself whether it meets your requirements.

Unknown said...

ScrumDesk provides a good board imitation, reports are placed on one page or on SideView, so BurnDown or Up charts are easy accessible.

Newer v.4 supports prioritization ased on business value and risk. Development of paralel versions is supported too.

wei said...

Hi Brad, I am currently trying Jira and GreenHopper (the one month trial version). Comparing with Xplanner (We used before),
what I like most it is :
1. Issue Burn-down chart and story point burn-down chart. We gave up "Time-tracking" to emphasize more on delivery.

2. GreenHopper integrated with Jira. I can track the bugs and features in one place.

3. Multiple levels of version. This is useful when the team size is large and divided into smaller sub-teams.

And What I am not satisfied with are:
1. No build-in story point. I have to creat custom field for story point which does not aggregate form sub-tasks to story level. Thus, we do not do task level estimation (only estimate for storys).



Unknown said...

I am just ramping up on Jira for Agile. Our bug tracking is on Jira and thought this would make it easier to integrate bugs into the backlog.

I noticed that there are several comments about big stories with subtasks. I have been calling these Epics, and was wondering if jira "components" would work for tracking sub-task grouping.

Brad Swanson said...

Regading Jira components as a substitute for "epics" - that would be a workaround, but I don't think a very good one. Jira components don't have a "status" as far as I know, so it would be difficult to know when you have completed all the stories (jira issues) for a component/epic. Maybe a custom report could make it easy to figure out? The other drawback I see is that I don't think Jira components can be prioritized in any way. I may be wrong on this - I don't have a Jira instance up in front of me as I'm writing this, so I welcome any feedback if my assumptions are wrong.


Unknown said...

Hi Brad,

We're about two weeks to releasing our hosted solution Serena Agile on Demand. The product was designed from the ground up for Agile/SCRUM, and is probably the most configurable tool out there (with simple defaults of course). I'm the User Experience designer and Information Architect for the product. If you have any interest, I'd love to have you try out the preview and get your feedback, good or bad. (mostly good, I hope!). Feel free to contact me, as we're hungry for opinions. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

GreenHopper 4.0 and JIRA 4.0 were released last week and both provide Starter Licenses enabling teams of up to ten to use the products for just $10. If you have not looked at either products recently you may wish to revisit both products. GreenHopper will enable you to schedule the backlog using drag and drop and will provide velocity tracking which your client was seeking.

You can find a list of the new features in both products here:
- GreenHopper

I would love to get any feedback you have on the most recent releases.

Thanks Brad.

Nicholas Muldoon

Product Manager - GreenHopper

Brad Swanson said...

I've updated this post since I originally wrote it. I now have quite a bit of experience with GreenHopper, and it's a great tool - a must-have if you're using Jira on an agile project. See this post for a review of GreenHopper.

Ananthu said...

Is there anyway to have burndown charts in Greenhopper or in Agile Gadget for ReleasedVersions. If not, can you point me to any resource where the changes have been done to code to display the burndown charts for released Versions.

Brad Swanson said...

The burndown charts for released versions are under the "Released Board", which you'll find in the same menu where the planning board and task board are. (I'm using Jira v4.3 and greenhopper v5.6)

Florian said...

Hi Brad,

I think GreenHopper is a must if you like to work agile with JIRA. But there are some advanced plug ins, which are worth a look as well. For example the User Story Map plug in on JIRA JIRA is an improved planning board which allows to show all appropriate stories and epics at a glance.