What’s the deal with Jira? Is it a bad thing, or the worst thing?

A small Twitter discussion has come about over the past few days, started by something that GeePaw Hill tweeted

A lot of companies do what they call “Scrum” or “Agile” which is actually a thing that should be called “Jira”. Sadly, the Jira methodology is catalytic to any incipient fearfulness it finds in its host. It turns wobbly teams into paralyzed and unhappy teams almost without fail.

Do check out his little thread. I agree with it. Somewhere in the Twitter tree, I said:

Jira is an example of a tool that is far easier to use badly than well. as such, i consider it harmful.

I included a link to one of my razor blades articles, all of which can be found here.

This morning, a bit more about Jira in particular. How is it dangerous? Is there a defense?

Razor Blades to Babies
I use the odious metaphor of giving razor blades to babies, not because of any investment in razor blades, or anything against babies. To the contrary: don’t give razor blades to babies.

The metaphor is intentionally cringy, because the things I mention in these articles are ideas or products that seem like they’d be good with “Agile” and that they’d make “Agile” better, but that are in fact quite likely to cause trouble rather than improve things.

Jira is razor blades to babies.

Communication within the Team
Within the team, Jira is a way of communicating without talking with each other. As such, it is inferior to any of the usual forms of person-to-person communication, such as being together, getting together over Zoom, or even talking on the phone. It is impersonal, and the written word offers only a fraction of the understanding we get from talking with each other human to human.

One might argue that Jira can contain more information, that might be forgotten during conversation. This is true, but working as a team isn’t really about information, it is about common understanding, which is hardly based in information at all. That said, if a team wanted to keep some useful information in Jira, that would seem acceptable, but the danger is that Jira will begin to be used as a communication hub, rather than an information library.

Jira almost always interferes with teamwork, even as it helps in a small way.

External Communication
I might be tolerant if a team used Jira internally. I could imagine coaching them to use it well, or talking them down off the Jira ledge over time. But when Jira becomes available to management and other stakeholders, it’s almost impossible to use it well.

Let me quote the Jira blurb itself: From agile boards, backlogs, roadmaps, reports, to integrations and add-ons you can plan, track, and manage all your agile software development projects from a single tool.

As we wrote in the Agile Manifesto decades ago, Working software is the primary measure of progress. Not boards, backlogs, roadmaps, and reports. Jira in the hands of management and other stakeholders essentially forces them to manage by proxy information. They look at how well we meet our predictions, how many defects we fix. They look at how Suzy is doing compared to Sal.

They should be looking at the product. They should be demanding to see a real product increment every week or two, and assessing that. That’s what they’re paying for, and that’s what they should be assessing.

Jira interferes with effective management while claiming that it helps.

My colleagues who are actively coaching teams report that the team’s use of Jira is almost always harmful, holding them back, reducing valuable communication, and generally not working out. Jira is razor blades to babies.

Yes, it’s possible to use it well. I fant’sy that I might use it well, but in my heart, I think I’d fall into the trap of using it more and more as a communication tool rather than an information repository, and then zing! I’ll have cut myself.

Bottom line, I’d avoid Jira if I possibly could. In my arguably expert opinion, its existence, its features, its entire purpose is strongly counter to the essence of Agile Software Development.

Jira delenda est.