Things to Think about When Converting Forms to Jira

The first time I converted a paper form to an online form, I made my online form a perfect replica of its predecessor. I figured the team I was building the form for would appreciate my being faithful to their original and I wanted them to feel reassured that the transition to digital did not mean they had to abandon their processes.

Later I learned that there are several reasons you shouldn’t do that:

  • The form may not have been well designed in the first place.
  • Processes may have changed since the form was last updated.
  • Online forms allow us to use functionality that isn’t available for paper or PDF forms. We can make forms that are better for both the team that owns the form, and their customers/users.

Where to Start When Converting to Jira Forms/Screens

Instead of copying, gather the stakeholders and start from a blank slate. There are several things you should consider before creating your form:

  • Define the user
    Who is the customer/user who will be filling out the form? What are they trying to achieve? Is there information that you’ll be asking for that the customer may not know how to find? Or information that they may not want to provide? Are there parts of the current form that customers frequently get wrong? What do you know about your users language level (Are you creating the form in their native language? Are you using technical terms or jargon they may not be familiar with?) 
  • Decide what information you need to collect
    List the data points that need to be collected. Be willing to challenge the status quo. Since one of the principles of well-designed forms is minimalism, put every element (section, question, instruction) on trial for its life. If no one can justify why the data is needed, then ditch the question. 
  • Note which data points need to be collected from which users
    There’s a good chance that you don’t need to ask every user every question. Note which questions are associated with certain scenarios. You’ll use this information later to make some questions conditional, thereby making the form shorter and easier for users.
  • Decide when and where to place instructions
    Large blocks of text are annoying and often ignored by users. Move as much instruction as possible to the field level.
  • Identify validation and formatting needs
    Get clarity on what’s required and what’s optional. Find out if there are any business rules (choice options, spending limits, etc.) that should be built into the form. Also, find out if there are preferred formats for text fields. Consider whether any of the fields should have a default value.
  • Isolate the data points that will be queried/reported on
    While you’re still with the form’s stakeholders, find out which of the information points identified in step 2 will be used in queries and reports. Many data points are collected in order to provide a service, but are never queried. Sorting your data points into to camps will help you select the right field types and keep from creating unnecessary Jira custom fields.
  • Locate the form in the business process
    Where does the form fit in the workflow? Are there circumstance where the form should be automatically added to the issue? What should happen once the form is submitted? Is the form part of a compliance strategy?

Create Your Form/Screen in Jira

Now you’re ready to create you screen/form. Remember to:

  • Follow the rules of layout and flow to create a user-friendly form.
  • Avoid creating new Jira custom fields unless absolutely necessary.
    Be judicious about creating new Jira custom fields. An over-abundance of custom fields makes your Jira configuration complex and will eventually degrade Jira performance.  A new custom fields should not be created unless it:
    • Can be used by multiple projects
    • Will be queried and reported on
    • Does not duplicate Jira functionality or an existing custom field

Try to use other options such as a ProForma field, a field configuration, or a field context.

  • Make the most of the functionality offered by online forms.

By engaging in a careful discovery process and employing the rules of good form design, you can help teams maximize usability and efficiency as they bring their processes into Jira.

Other articles in this series:

Good Form Questions in Jira: Part 2 – Choice Questions & Conditional Logic

Questions and input fields are the heart of every form. In the previous article, we started digging in on the do’s and don’ts of creating good form questions. Now we’re going to take a closer look at a particular set of field types – choice questions.

The Power of Choice

There’s a lot to be said for choice questions. Choosing from a predetermined set of options is fast for the user. They don’t have to imagine what the possible answers might be, and they don’t have to spend their time typing.

If choice questions are good for the user, they’re awesome for the form owner and the database. They provide structured data that’s easy to aggregate, analyze and report on. They can also be used to trigger automation or conditional logic. As always, think about why you’re asking the question as you decide on field types, wording, and context.

Field Types for Choice Questions in Jira

There are multiple options for creating choice questions: Jira offers:

  • Checkboxes
  • Radio buttons
  • Select lists (single, multiple and cascading)
  • Picker fields (date, date and time, group(s), project, user(s), version(s).

ProForma includes:

  • Check boxes,
  • Radio buttons
  • Dropdown boxes
  • Pickers (date, time, date and time and user(s); ProForma also lets you create your own user picker fields by creating data connections that populate choice lists from an external source.

Determining which field type to use should be based on:

  • Whether you want users to select one option only (radio buttons, dropdown, single choice select list), or more than one option (checkboxes, multiple choice select lists).
  • Layout and available space on the form/screen – Radio buttons and checkboxes are fastest for users because they can see all of the choices at once, no extra clicks required. However, if you’re option list is excessively long, dropdown boxes let you save space on the screen.

Since choice questions already limit the user, when choosing field types it’s good practice to use the least restrictive option. Radio buttons, single select lists and dropdown boxes mean the user can only select one option. If there’s any possibility that the user would want to select more than one option, use check boxes or a multiple select list.

I use Chrome for work and Firefox for personal use, but the question only allows me to select one. The question should be narrowed (“Which browser do you use most often for work?”) or should be a check box field type to allow the user to select more than one option.

Things to Consider When Creating Choice Questions

  • Make Sure Everyone Can Respond
    The limitation of choice questions, is that they are closed.  While this may be helpful to the form owner, it can be frustrating for the user. What if what they really want to choose isn’t listed as an option? One advantage of using ProForma is that it allows you to include an “Other” option, with an adjoining text field on your choice lists. Depending on how your question is phrased, it may be appropriate to offer options such as “I don’t know,” or “Not applicable”. The important thing is to make sure that your choices offer every user the opportunity to provide an honest answer.
  • Structure Your Rating Scales
    Choice questions are often formatted as rating scales (strongly agree > strongly disagree, etc.) to measure user’s opinions or satisfaction. Carefully consider if you want an even or odd number of options. An odd number of options gives the user a chance to be neutral, while an even number forces them to give an opinion. (If you’re not going to make the user give you an opinion, is it really worth including the question?)
    • Label each point in your scale with words, so users don’t have to take the extra mental step of translating numbers into another meaning. Scales should not be too large, and the increment (in meaning) between each point on a scale should be equal.
    • Points on a rating scale can either go from “lowest” to “highest” or vice versa. Scales are frequently structured with the most positive response listed first because users ofter select the first option they see. The important thing is to be consistent throughout your form.
  • Avoid Double-Barreled Questions
    Since the purpose of a form is to obtain structured data, it’s important that each question asks only one thing. This is especially true for choice questions. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bunch of easy-to-categorize answers and have no idea what they refer to. Customer satisfaction surveys that ask you to agree or disagree with statements like, “The agent I spoke to was friendly and knowledgeable,“  miss the mark. What if the agent I spoke to was kind, but clueless?
  • When a Choice Really Isn’t a Choice
    Sometimes we use choice questions when we’re really not offering the user a choice. The user has to say yes if they want to continue the process. In these cases, a checkbox is the correct field type since we are not excluding other options. In a previous article, I said that if you want users to read your instructions, you should avoid big blocks of text. The opposite is also true: If you want your users not to read something, make it long and full of jargon. John Oliver does a great job of describing how effective this is.

Choice Architecture

As with all form questions, you’ll want to use concise and unambiguous language. But creating good choice questions requires additional considerations. How you frame your questions can impact how users respond. This is called choice architecture. You may want to use it your advantage, or you may want to try to limit your influence to get a more “pure” response from your users. 

The Influence of Defaults

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether or not to include defaults. Defaults save time for the user. They also nudge the user in a certain direction. Users may perceive the default options as being recommended (after all, that’s what everyone else is choosing). In some cases, the default option may even be labeled as recommended. Even when logic doesn’t tell us to leave the default, inertia often does. We’re happy to avoid making a decision.

The most frequently cited examples of this mechanism at work are the differences in organ donation rates (cited in the first article of this series) add image and the use of “opting in” to get employees to contribute to retirement savings account. Parting with your organs, or your money, is a serious decision. Yet the evidence shows that many of us are happy to simply follow the default’s lead.

If you feel really confident that you know what the vast majority of users would want, use a default. If you want to encourage your users to make a certain choice, use a default. If you want to get more impartial data from your users, don’t use a default. Be cautious about offering a default for a required field. If the field is important enough to be required, you probably want your users to consider their answers, which they are less likely to do if a default is provided. 

Choice Order Changes Results

Even if you don’t use a default, some bias will be built into your choice questions simply because you have to list the options in some kind of order. Inundated with information, our brains have learned to scan, which means we’ll pay more attention to the first and the last item in a list.  In most cases, it’s sufficient to just put your choice options in some kind of logical order (lowest to highest, alphabetical, etc.). This makes it easy for the user to find the option they’re looking for. However, if you want to truly minimize the influence of the first/last bias, you need to randomize your choice options.

How Framing & Decoy Affects Impact Responses

How your question is perceived will be impacted by the words you choose. Here’s a example that frequently comes up when buying an airline ticket:

The words have been chosen carefully. Including the price of the flight reminds the user of the investment they’ve already made and makes the price of the insurance seem insignificant by comparison. The word “risk” also pushes the users towards buying the insurance.

In addition to wording, visual cues can be used to nudge a user to a certain choice.  Here’s an example from Atlassian.

The Cloud option has an eye-catching button, while Server is a simple text link. Cloud is also the option on the left, where we usually find buttons like Save and Publish, as opposed to the right where we often see Cancel.

Another common practice is to make an item seem more appealing in comparison with the other choices on the list. This strategy is commonly seen on eCommerce sites.  Personali™ offers this example from  Compared to the $1,000 camera, the $45 memory card seems cheap.  However, if the user were to search the site for memory cards, they’d find equivalent options at a much lower price.

Image courtesy of Personali

It should be noted that, as with the examples of organ donation and employee retirement contributions, these kinds of strategies can be used for the user’s benefit, or – as with the examples from Best Buy and Atlassian – to push a product. The important thing is to be aware that when you create choice questions, you can (and frequently are) building in a bias. Therefore, you need to structure and word your choice questions carefully.

Conditional Logic

Along with being fast and easy for the user, and producing nice clean data for you, choice questions allow you to use conditional logic. Conditional logic allows you to dynamically show or hide form questions based on a user’s response to a previous question. This allows you to:

  • Reduce cognitive overload for the user – the form looks less cluttered, less overwhelming.
  • Shorten the user’s path to completion – the user only sees the parts of the form that are relevant to them. There’s no confusion about which parts they are supposed to fill out.
  • Use one form for multiple, similar use cases.
  • Accommodate edge cases.

Let’s look at a few examples.

An HR department is using Jira Service Desk to manage Personnel Action Notifications.

When the form first loads it looks
like this:
Other questions appear depending on what items need to be changed.

Conditional logic is one of the biggest advantages electronic forms have over paper forms. It’s also one of the best things you can do to make your forms more user-friendly – especially customer-facing forms on the JSD portal.

The ability to create forms in Jira, without dozens of custom fields or complex configurations, makes Jira and JSD a viable options for non-tech teams.

In our next article, we’ll look at things you should consider when helping those teams (or any team) bring their existing forms into Jira.

Good Form Questions in Jira: Part 1

Questions, and the input fields that collect their answers, are the heart of every form. Getting your questions right, will mean getting your data right. Well designed questions also minimize frustration for the user. You’ll need to decide what field types to use, what context to provide, how to word your question and how much validation to include. Think about why you’re including each question. What data are you hoping to get? Then consider the user’s point of view. How should you create the question in order to make it easy for them to respond with the data you’re looking for?

Open vs Closed

Questions come in two general varieties, open and closed. Open questions (text fields) let the user type in what they want to tell you. Closed questions (check boxes, combo boxes, pickers and radio buttons, select lists) let the user choose an answer from options you provide.

They each have their advantages. Closed questions are good for users because they are easier to interpret and quick to fill out. They’re good for you because data comes into your database in nice categories, with consistent formatting. Data from closed questions is easy to aggregate and report on.

Open questions are more work for the user. They have to interpret what you’re asking, decide what they want to say, and then type it in.  However, open questions ensure that the user has a chance to say what they want to say. The user may be looking for an opportunity to tell you something you didn’t think to ask. While open questions don’t make for tidy reports, they allow users to provide information which can lead to disruption, innovation and continuous improvement. If your forms use purely closed questions, you may force the user and a service agent to comment back and forth in order to get important details.

Finding the right balance of open and closed questions will depend on the purpose of your form. Consider including at least one open question on your form. This could be an overview question up front – like the Description field in Jira – or an optional “Comments” field at the end. You can also mitigate the restrictiveness of closed questions by including an “Other” option. (We’ll dive deeper into closed questions in the next article.)

Asking Good Questions

Teachers are fond of saying that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I beg to differ. Stupid questions are questions that don’t ask what you want to know, or questions that try to ask too many things at once.

Whenever I call my credit card company I immediately get a follow-up email that asks:

The first part of the question indicates that they want to know if I’m happy with the customer service I received, but the second part of the question asks something completely different. The question is either:

  • Using the wrong metric to measure customer service;
  • Or, trying to ask two different things at once.

Personally, I would never choose or recommend a credit card based solely on customer service. Other factors – interest rates, cash back and annual fees play a big role.  Since I’m middle-aged my friends and family members have already found credit cards that work for them. Giving an honest answer to the question might reflect badly on a perfectly competent agent who took my call. The result is that, unless I received really bad service, I don’t answer the question.

Resist the temptation to use double-barreled questions as a strategy for keeping your forms short. Yes, you want to be brief. That’s why you’re only asking questions you really need the answers to. But if you lump two questions into one, you won’t know which part the user is answering. The agent and the user will have to exchange comments back and forth to clarify, and you’ll end up taking up more of the user’s time than you would have if you’d just included two questions in the first place.


How you word your questions matters.  Choosing unambiguous wording will mean reduced frustration for your users, and fewer errors in the data you receive. When writing form questions:

  • Know your audience
    The language you use should fit your audience. If your form is for the general public, remember that not everyone has the same literacy level.  Use plain language – short sentences and everyday words.

    What if the general public isn’t your audience? Reading through postings in the Atlassian Community, I notice that many participants are highly technical, but may not be native English speakers. Writing for this audience, I might choose a longer, more formal word that has a latin root (thus recognizable to speakers of other latin-based languages) over a shorter, more common word. It’s all about who you’re creating the form for.

  • Provide context
    Organizing your questions into logical sections will help provide context for the user. Depending on what you’re asking, that may or may not be enough context. Remember that the user doesn’t know what you know.

    Field level help text is a great opportunity to provide more context. Including an example can help the user understand what kind of response you’re looking for.
ProForma for Jira

Rachel Wright provides examples on her Custom Workflow Documentation form.

If you’re asking a question that can seem intrusive, tell the user why you’re asking and how the data will be used. 

Finally, if you’re asking for information the user may not know how to find, help them out. For example, tell them where to find a version number for their software or a serial number for their hardware. You can put this information directly in your field help text, or use your help text to point to another page with detailed instructions.

  • Use neutral words
    If you’re truly trying to get the user’s opinion, then strive for neutral wording. The words you choose can influence the answer, so avoid phrases that indicate what you think the correct answer should be. And if you’re wondering what leading questions look like, grab a political survey put out by a political party.

    You’ll also want to avoid using absolutes – words like all, always, never, etc.  Including an absolute means you will find the exceptions that prove the rules. You can improve your questions by simply deleting those words. 

Getting Text Fields Right

While text fields collect responses to “open” questions, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any control of the data you receive. Using appropriate field types, formatting and validation will ensure you get data you can use, while still allowing users the flexibility they need. 

Field Size and Type

Text fields are not one size fits all. When choosing the size of your text fields (two options in Jira, three options in ProForma) remember that the size of the field should be proportional to the amount of text you want the user to input.

Text fields also come in many varieties. Along with various sizes (single line, multiple line/paragraph), there are also number fields, email fields, url fields, etc.  These fields have been formatted and validated behind the scenes to ensure that the user can only enter certain kinds of information. Using the correct field type means better data that can be used for other functions later (perform calculations with number questions, export a spreadsheet of email addresses to make a contact list, etc.).

Pattern Matching

You can also create your own text field types using ProForma’s Regex feature. Regex allows you to create text patterns that the user’s input must match.  These can be simple or complex expressions, and are a great way for collecting properly formatted data. Regex patterns are often used for collecting:

  • Account numbers
  • Phone numbers
  • IP addresses
  • Currency amounts
  • References to ISO standards 
  • Serial numbers

Note that you’ll want to tell your users what patterns the field accepts. Use field level help (the Description property in ProForma) to provide instructions and examples.

ProForma for Jira


Finally, deploying validation rules – such as word/character limits and value limits for number fields – not only ensures clean data, it allows teams to build their business rules into their forms. As above, you can save time and frustration for your users by letting them know, either in the question itself or in the help text, what the limitations are.

Following the advice above will help make your text questions easier for your users to understand and respond to. However, chances are good that most of the fields on your forms will be choice questions, so we’ll look into the best practices for creating choice questions in the next article.

Other articles in this series:

Layout and Flow: Creating User-Friendly Forms in Jira

There are two things we know for sure about forms – One: everyone fills out forms, and two: no one likes filling out forms.  With that in mind, your goal in designing the layout of your forms should be to help the user get through the form quickly and easily while providing accurate information.

With multiple options for label placement, help text placement, validation, action buttons and page layout – webforms provide multiple ways to pose questions to users. For the purpose of this article however, we’ll be focusing on Jira forms. We won’t get into the weeds about whether or not your labels should be above or to the left of your input fields, because Jira doesn’t offer options on all of those details.

Instead, we’ll focus on three big principles – minimalism, logical structure, and a clear path to completion – that will ensure your forms (Jira screens or ProForma forms) are as user-friendly as possible. Rather than thinking in terms of what information we need, we will look at the problem from the user’s point of view. Who are your users? What are they trying to achieve by filling out the form?

Let’s get started.

Principle 1: Minimalism

Less is more when it comes to forms. Our brains are subject to cognitive overload. If too much comes at us at once, we’re unable to process it. We don’t have the RAM. So keeping forms decluttered makes it easier for users to complete them.

Reduce the number of questions you ask

The first thing you can do to make sure your forms are as minimal as possible is to prune back the number of questions you ask. To ensure you’re only asking what you really need to know, either start from a blank slate, or – if you’re working from a template – put every question on trial by considering:

  • How is this information used?
  • Is it necessary in order to provide the user with what they want?
  • Do we already have this information somewhere else?
  • Can we use conditional logic to ensure that the questions is only shown to the right users?

If you don’t need the information, don’t ask for it.

Simplify the language of your question

You’ll also want to be minimal in how you ask your questions. We’ll be delving into the details of question types and wording in the next article. For now, suffice it to say that your question labels should be concise. Use just as many words as needed to avoid ambiguity. You’ll also want to be sure that the language you use fits your audience. If the form is for customers, use plain language. If it’s for technical users, you can use more technical language.

Keep the extras to a minimum

Finally, keep visual extras (color, images, etc.) to a minimum.  Color can be a good option for making important things standout, but only if there’s not too much of it. The same is true for icons.  Other than branding, only include images if they help clarify things for the users. Reserve red text for error and validation messages.

Atlassian has been working to reduce cognitive overload when viewing Jira issues…

Jira then…

Jira Server circa 2007

Jira now…

Jira Cloud circa 2019

Make optional questions, optional!

You can still pose optional questions. But if it’s not information you need to have to provide the service, then wait and ask it later. In Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, Luke Wroblewski cites research indicating that users are more willing to answer optional questions if they’re posed after the initial form has been completed. With ProForma, you can automatically add a supplementary form when the initial form is completed. Alternatively, you can create a customer satisfaction survey in Jira to collect more information (See page 19 of Rachel Wright’s Jira Strategy Admin Workbook for instructions on deploying a minimal customer satisfaction survey in your Jira support project.).

Principle 2: Logical Structure

Now that you’ve decided what needs to be included on your form, you have to decide how to arrange it. 

Your forms will be a lot more user-friendly if you think of them as one side of a conversation, rather than as a way to get info into your database.

Group questions into sections

A conversation usually starts with easy, non-intrusive questions. Questions in a conversation are grouped around larger topics, and they follow each other in a natural sequence. There are also natural breaks when a conversation shifts to a new topic. You can recreate that in your forms by grouping questions into sections, and by putting those sections – and their respective questions – in a logical order. This will provide context, making it easier for the user to understand what you’re asking for.

Keep introductory text to a minimum

Keep initial instructional text at the beginning of your form to a minimum. If it’s a big block of text users won’t read it anyway. Instead, provide general instructions in their corresponding sections, or better yet, use field-level help tips. Keeping the instructions close to the questions they refer to will eliminate confusion for the user.

There’s one important exception to this rule. It’s good to let people know up front what they will need, and if there are any eligibility criteria. Webforms also frequently include a “gateway” page or instruction section at the beginning for this purpose.  Here’s an example:

“What You’ll Need” pages and eligibility pages save users time. 
Image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

Use Pages, Tabs or Sections

Online forms often use multiple pages to organize the form into manageable parts. While we don’t have this capacity in Jira, you can organize questions onto different tabs. Similarly, ProForma lets you include multiple forms on an issue, making it easy to break up data collection into logical parts.

As above, if your form is embedded in a webpage, you can include a “thank you” page at the end that let’s the user know the form has been successfully submitted, and advises them about the next step in the process.

Principle 3: Clear Path to Completion

Since we know that no one likes to fill out forms, one thing we can do to lessen resistance and procrastination is to make it clear to the user how to get to the end. There are a few strategies you can use to illustrate a clear path to completion:


If your team publishes a lot of different forms, use a consistent style when it comes to format, grouping questions, and the overall structure of your forms. This will make the forms feel familiar, and therefore less intimidating to your users.

Be upfront 

If the user is going to need information that they’re not likely to have in their head, let them know upfront. Having to leave a task in progress to dig up needed info is frustrating for your users. It also provides a great opportunity for the user to abandon the process all together.

Easy to scan 

You can also help users know what to expect by putting section titles in title case. (Section titles are also an item where you may want to use color.) Drawing the eye to section titles makes it easy for users to scan, letting them know what kind of questions to expect.

Vertical alignment 

Finally, unless you’re asking for information that demands to be in a grid (e.g. budgets), keep your input fields in a straight vertical line. This makes it easy for the eye to see how to get to the end of the form. The path to completion is like a literal path – if it’s straight you can see where you’re going. If it’s full a switch backs it’s hard to know where you’re going or when you’ll get there.

“Switch backs” image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

“Literal path” image courtesy of Rosenfeld Media

Creating a clear path to completion, using a logical structure and being as minimal as possible will make your forms more user-friendly and reduce the time needed to complete them. This will improve the quality of the data you receive. Of course, the real nitty-gritty detail of getting good data depends on asking good questions. We’ll dive into the details of form questions in the next article.

Other articles in this series:

Form Design in Jira Matters

Let’s just admit it. Forms aren’t sexy. They aren’t exciting or innovative. Few people would call them fun. They are, however, important and few business tools have proven to be as enduring. 

The move from paper to electronic forms, and then to online forms solved a lot of problems. We no longer have to contend with illegible hand-writing and necessary fields that were left blank. But the advent of online forms also presents a challenge. How can we best use the tools we have – validation, conditional logic, auto-formatting – to truly optimize our forms so that teams get the information they need and users have a painless, possibly even pleasant, experience?

Forms and screens that serve as electronic forms (I’ll be using the terms forms and screens interchangeably) are more than just vehicles for data collection. They are the first step that gets the ball rolling on most business processes. They are also one of the primary ways we interact with our internal and external customers. And they are a mechanism for influencing (whether we want to or not) human behavior. Combining forms with a powerful workflow engine like Jira is a great way to get work done. Ensure that your Jira forms are well-designed and you’ll do more than get work done. You’ll save resources, improve relationships and influence user actions in the right direction.

Your Jira Forms Drive Data Quality

We create forms for collecting data, and the quality of the form will go along way towards determining the quality of the data. With the creation of every issue type and every request type, you are making decisions – which fields to include on which screens, what order to list the fields in, what justifies the creation of a new custom field – that will impact the quality of data you receive. In turn, getting better data will allow you to:

  • Provide better, faster service – Imagine if all of your Jira Service Desk agents could provide one-touch service, receiving all of the information they need on the initial request and responding to the customer to let them know that issue has been resolved. There’s no going back and forth to collect the missing pieces. No digging through comment chains, no trying to parse out multiple data points that have been lumped together in a description field – all of the needed data is there, where agents can find it. Requests move through the queue faster, pleasing customers and allowing agents to focus on higher value work.
  • Refine your processes – We often create our processes to accommodate the limitations of what we know or what our software can do. Jira is super flexible, but configuration can become complex.  Using well-designed forms that embed in Jira issues allows you to reduce the number of issue types (the work of capturing specific pieces of data is shifted from the issue to the form), simplify workflows (use checklists instead of additional statuses or subtasks) and prune back that jungle of Jira custom fields. Your Jira instance becomes less complex,  and your Jira administrator less burdened. Shifting from custom fields to form fields will also improve Jira performance. 
  • In JSD, being able to easily create portal forms tailored to capture the information needed for each request type allows you to better organize your queues, channeling work to the agent best equipped to handle the request.
  • Enhance Compliance – Forms can serve as a record, capturing and preserving data from different sources, at different points in time, enhancing compliance and accountability. A well-designed form will make it easy to provide management with useful reports, and auditors with the information they need. Adding multiple copies of a well-designed form to a Jira issue allows you to see not only the current state of an issue, but also the discoveries that have been made along the way.
  • Improve the Bottom Line – What is the cost of bad data? How much time do service agents, Jira users and customers loose searching for information that’s hard to find, invalid or missing? Include a field to capture a document version number on a form and the agent can glean the data at a glance. Obtaining the same information through a comment can cost hours, as the request sits, waiting for the customer to come back with needed data. Later, when the agent goes to retrieve the information combing through a comment chain can be like going down a rabbit hole. Better forms lead to better productivity.

Forms are the Basis of Relationships

A form can be the start of a beautiful friendship. Or not. When you consider how many business processes start with a user filling a form, it’s amazing that more attention isn’t given to form design as part of managing customer relations.

Most business processes start with a form. That means that the form is often your one and only chance to make a first impression.  In some cases, government bureaucracies come to mind, a form or forms may be the only way customers interact with an organization. If the forms are bad, the relationship won’t be good. Bad forms can result in users postponing, abandoning and sometimes bypassing key processes.

On the other hand, well-designed, intuitive, user-friendly forms can reduce friction, build rapport and help set appropriate expectations. The improved service that results from good data collection will inspire confidence. Your forms build your reputation and promote your brand.

Form Design Influences Behavior

How we design our forms – the words we choose, the presence or absence of default values, the order of choice options – influence users decisions. If that sounds far fetched consider the image below illustrating organ donation enrollment in Europe.

Source: Why BI?

The stark difference between the rates for the countries listed on the left and those listed on the right isn’t due to culture or religion. It’s the difference between opting in and opting out. Want to increase employee participation your retirement contribution program? Change the form? Want to see more customers opt for a higher value product? Change the form.

We’ll be discussing how you can use wording, question framing, defaults and choice architecture to influence user choices in a future article. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, that’s manipulative. I don’t want to do that,” we’ll also discuss how you can mitigate the influence of your questions on users choices (though it’s not possible to be 100% neutral).

Where Do We Go From Here?

Once you’re convinced that form design matters, what’s the next step? Start by reframing how you think about the form process.

The Behavioral Economics Team of the Australian Government recently introduced the WISER framework for form design. It lays out specific steps to go through in identifying the form’s audience, providing appropriate instructions, using a clear layout, etc.

Source: FORM-A-PALOOZA 2019

There are two big things you should notice about the WISER framework.  First, the framework focuses on the user’s point of view. Who are the users? Why should they complete the form? What information will they need? What language will they understand?

Second, the framework tells us to test and repeat. You wouldn’t adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude towards developing software, so don’t do that with your forms either. Form design needs to be iterative.

Keep those things in mind as we move forward. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a deep dive into form design, discussing the details of form layout, good questions, and things to think about form-wise when you bring an existing process into Jira for the first time. Then we’ll bring in our friend and Jira super-user, Rachel Wright, to discuss how you can apply these concepts in Jira.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming articles in the series:

Jira Next Gen-Projects: From the User’s Point of View

I’ll admit that I didn’t expect to like next-gen projects, Atlassian’s answer to making Jira more simple, and creating self-contained projects that won’t impact the performance of your entire Jira instance. First off, I felt vaguely resentful of the timing – just as I’m finally figuring out the complexities of Jira, they come out with a “Dummies” version.  Second, I’m not a drag-and-drop type of person. I learn through language, by hearing and reading. I tend to find tools built for visual learners to be imprecise and a bit annoying. But I decided to put my reservations aside and create a next-gen project. Here’s what I found.

The Great Things About Jira Next-Gen Projects

Set up was fast and easy.  I had mapped out my project on paper so it was pretty quick to set up the issue types I wanted.  I added and ordered the fields I needed right there as I was creating the issue types, creating custom fields and adding choices to my dropdowns – all on one easy screen and with no schemes to worry about. 

I set up my screens at the same time that I created my first issues. Again, it was simple and intuitive. I simply clicked on Configure Fields on the Issue Create screen and now all of the fields I wanted are there.

These are two big advantages of next-gen projects. Set-up was simple and it’s really, really nice to know that I can create a project specific to my needs, without worrying that I’ll screw things up for everyone else.

And the Risks…

Time will tell if those two advantages also turn out to be the biggest disadvantages of next-gen projects.  While setting up the next-gen project was certainly easy, I wonder if the simplicity itself may cause users to miss out on something. When you wade through issue type schemes, field configuration schemes, etc. you are getting the benefit of learning from those who have gone before you. Seeing the fields that are used in other projects may trigger you to think about aspects of your project that had slipped your mind, aspects that may not be relevant to you, but are crucial to other users. I’m curious to see if, as my project evolves and I make needed adjustments, it will end up looking a lot like one of the default schemes.

While it’s nice to be able to create a project knowing that you won’t mess up what anyone else is doing, it also implies a higher level of responsibility. If this is my standalone project, with my issue types and my custom fields, then it’s my job to get them right and to clean up the mess when I get them wrong. It will also be my job to deal with maintenance – to keep the project clean, to make needed changes, to clean up the data when garbage gets entered. Simplified maintenance is one of the key advantages of shared schemes. It will be interesting to see, as use of next-gen projects grows, if maintenance becomes an issue. Atlassian has said that they will soon be providing the ability to extract next-gen project settings into their own template, and link two or more projects’ settings together. (However, they also say that if you want to share configurations, it’s best to go with a “classic” project.)

The other limitations of next-gen projects relate to them being new. Atlassian has published their roadmap, letting us know when features we’re used to using in traditional projects will become available for next-gen projects. App developers will also need time to catch up. For instance, ProForma – which allows you to create forms that embed in Jira issues – does not yet work for next-gen projects. I think I’ll create an issue for that.

Keeping It Clean: Containing Jira Custom Field Growth

You did it!  You auditeddeleted, merged and substituted and now your Jira instance only has the custom fields it should have.  Congratulations – that was hard work!  Pat yourself on the back, eat some chocolate, do whatever you do to celebrate.  Then take a deep breath and get ready to go to work again, because now that you’ve got your Jira instance nice and clean, you need to take a few steps to keep it that way.

The good news is that custom field clean-up isn’t like laundry, where you never really get it all done.  Once you’ve cleaned up your instance you can put processes in place to keep it that way.

When to Create a New Jira Custom Field

There are times when creating new custom fields is justifiable, but you want to make sure it’s really necessary before you create one.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Is it needed?  In tech, we’re often tempted to do things just because we can. That’s not a good enough reason to create a custom field.  When users request a new field, ask them for the business case for collecting that piece of data. 
  • Does the data need to be in its own Jira field?  Will this data be queried or reported on later?  If not, could you just as easily capture it as a ProForma form field?  Or prompt users to include it in the Jira description field?

  • Would the field be used by different teams across the organization?  Jira assets should be shared whenever possible.  Making usability across multiple teams one of your criteria will help contain custom field expansion. 
  • Is there a Jira system field that you can use?  Make use of existing options. Teams can set their own protocols for what to include in a summary field versus a description field, or create a project-specific plan for how they will use the label field, etc.  Encourage users to use what’s there before asking for more.

In order to have the above information whenever a new field is requested, you’re going to want to implement a process for requesting new custom fields.  ProForma offers a template that users can use for requesting custom fields and Rachel Wright offers a new custom field request worksheet

In the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook, Rachel also recommends publishing a list of currently available custom fields.  This encourages users to look and see what’s already there before requesting something new.

Custom Fields and Next-Gen Projects

Note that these processes assume that you’re working the old-fashioned way, with traditional, classic, old school Jira projects.  If you’re using Cloud, then you may have empowered your users to create “Next-gen” projects. Next-gen projects are pretty new and it’s fair to say that the jury is still out.  The idea is that users will be empowered to create their own projects, issue types and custom fields.  These projects are self-contained and the inevitable balloon of new custom fields should not impact Jira performance. However, there’s nothing to prevent users from making errors such as misspellings and incorrect field types – errors which they may, or may not know how to clean up.

So what are our recommendations for managing custom fields in Next-gen projects?  First, the new project capabilities are configurable.  The default setting is “anyone,” but you can decide which groups to grant this power to.  Once you do decide, give these newly empowered users some training, which should include when to and when not to create a new custom field. Initially, alternatives may be more limited for Next-gen projects than for classic Jira projects.  Like many Jira apps, ProForma doesn’t yet work with Next-gen projects, but as use of Next-gen projects expands, options will too.

Will be exploring the possibilities and impact of Next-gen projects in upcoming articles.  In the meantime, enjoy hanging out in your nice clean Jira instance!

Reducing Jira Custom Fields through Substitution

One of the principle advantages of using ProForma – the app that lets you create forms that embed in Jira issues – is that it allows teams to collect customized data without needing Jira custom fields.  In the previous article in our series on reducing custom fields, we discussed how to delete, hide and merge custom fields.  In this article, we’ll explore the fourth option – substituting a form field for a Jira custom field. 

When to Use

This is the solution that provides the best of both worlds.  You get to have the data without having the custom field.  That being said, there are some limitations you need to consider before implementing this solution.

Limited Search Capability

Currently, fields on ProForma forms are not searchable in Jira.  There are two ways you can work around this.  For fields that are frequently queried and reported on, you can link a form field to a Jira field.  This allows you to collect the data in one place and still have access via JQL queries and Jira reports.  However, this doesn’t help as far as reducing fields.

The other option is to download a spreadsheet of forms responses and search there.

We are working on creating functionality which will allow you to link multiple form fields to one Jira field (for instance, the description field). This will allow teams to collect and view the information in a structured manner, while still having the data available for searching in Jira.  We anticipate releasing this functionality in early 2019.

Conversion Process

The other thing to keep in mind is that the conversion process (described below) is not for wimps!  We recognize that it’s a bit labor intensive and we are working to develop an automated process.  (For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you triage incoming requests for new custom fields and use form fields in lieu of custom fields as much as possible.)

Preparing the People

Reassure users that they will still have the data.  If users are new to ProForma, you want to show them how ProForma is used on another project in order to reduce their concerns.  You’ll encounter less resistance if users understand that they’re not losing any data.

Second, knowing that the conversion is a bit involved, you should prepare your users to be patient.  You will also want to work closely with Project Admins – letting them do some of the tasks (such as building the forms) – especially if you’re substituting fields across multiple projects.

How to Do It

1. Build a form that includes the target fields.  Each field has the option of being linked to a Jira field.  Be sure to create a field for each custom field that you wish to eliminate.  For each of these fields, use the Link Jira Field option to link the form field to the existing Jira custom field.  Note that you may want to link other fields as well.  For instance, it’s very useful to have a “What’s the problem?” field link to the Jira summary field.

  • The form can include as many fields as needed (not just the fields that are being converted).  Create forms that will be useful for the team after the conversion process is complete.
  • You may be able to get a head start by modifying a form from the ProForma template library.
  • Organize fields into logical sections.  Add instructions.  Use ProForma features such as validation, conditional logic and field-level hints/descriptions to make your forms as user-friendly and useful as possible.

2. Once the form has been built, you will need to add the form to all of the relevant issues.  Depending on your situation, this could be every issue in the project, or only those issues that have data in the custom fields you’re converting.  Currently, add ProForma forms to issues has to be done manually.

3. Next you need to go through and open each form and check that the contents are correct.  The target form fields should contain the data from the custom fields.  Save and Submit the form on each issue.  Note that the data doesn’t get locked into ProForma until the form has been submitted.

The data from the custom field is now present on both the custom field and the form.  Be sure to click Submit to lock the data in the form.

4. Now return to the form builder and open the form.  Go to each of the form fields associated with a custom field you want to eliminate and unlink the Jira field. Remember to Save.

5. The populated form field is now independent of the Jira custom field.  To verify that you have completed the process, run a JQL query for  [custom field] NOT EMPTY.  Then download a form response spreadsheet and compare the results.

6. Once you’ve confirmed that the forms contain the custom field contents, you can delete the custom field following the directions here.

We recognize that this is a labor intensive process and we are working to develop an automated process for converting fields in large projects. Please contact ThinkTilt if you would like to be notified when that functionality is released.

**Note that the process described above is for traditional Jira projects (Business, Service Desk or Software).  ProForma is not yet fully functional with Next-gen projects.

Deleting, Hiding & Merging Jira Custom Fields

Congratulations!  You’ve audited your Jira custom fields and even decided on which methods you’ll use to reduce them.  So now it’s time to get started. In this article, we’ll provide the steps for three of the options:  deleting, hiding, and merging Jira custom fields.  For each option, we’ll not only look at the steps for execution, we’ll also discuss when you should use it and how you should prepare users for the change.

Let the pruning begin!

Deleting Jira Custom Fields

When to Use

Don’t do this lightly.  Deleting fields will also delete the data they hold and this act cannot be undone.  Therefore, this method is best reserved for fields that were created, but never used (a scenario that occurs more often than one might think), or in cases where the data has been moved to another field.

Preparing the People

Users will not react kindly to having something they feel they need removed.  So check first to see if anyone is using the field.  If they are, provided a substitute (we’ll discuss how to do this in the next post) or a work-around before deleting the field.  You’re a hero when you give users functionality, but a devil when you take it away.

How to Do It

  1. Select Jira settings > Issues
  2. Under Fields, select Custom Fields
  3. Find the custom field and click the gear icon
  4. Click Delete to remove the custom field and any information entered in the field from all issues.

Hiding Jira Custom Fields

When to Use

Although this method doesn’t truly reduce the number of custom fields in your instance, it does allow you to declutter your screens.  This is a good method to use for custom fields that were used in the past and contain data that you don’t want to use, but are not (or rarely) used now.

You can also hide fields as an intermediary step before deleting them.  Hide the field, wait a week or two to see if users miss it, and if not, then delete the field.

Preparing the People

Most of the time when you use this method it will be for fields that were important in the past, but are no longer in use.  Check with the Project Admins to confirm that this is the case.

Note that if you’re told, “Oh no, we need that field!” but suspect otherwise, you can query for [custom field] NOT EMPTY and then sort by last updated date to see how frequently and how recently the field has been used.

How to Do It

To hide a Jira custom field go to Project > Project Settings > Fields.  Find the custom field and click Screens.  Click Remove.

Merging Jira Custom Fields

When to Use

In the rush to create what we need, we often forget to check if it’s already there.  Your audit may reveal that multiple custom fields have been created which essentially do the same thing.  In this case, you should select the one best option (correct field type and most generic name) and merge the other fields into it.

Preparing the People

The key in this case is communication.  You simply need to let people know that the field they formerly used (XYZ Project Start Date) has now been renamed (Start Date).  You can use an announcement banner (available on the System admin menu) to communicate with all of your users.

How to Do It

  1. Add the new (correct) field to all relevant issue type(s).
  2. Run a query to return all of the Jira issues you wish to update (all issues in which have data in the old/incorrect field).
  3. Adjust the columns to show the summary, issue key, the old/incorrect custom field, and the new/correct custom field.
  4. Click Export Excel CSV (current fields).
  5. In your CSV file, remove any unnecessary columns, and everything but the header and data rows.  (The export may add extra rows of footer/header content).  This is also a good opportunity to “clean up” your data – fix misspellings, etc.
  6. Now go to the Jira Administration menu and select Jira Settings > System.
  7. Select External System Import (under the Import and Export heading) in the left hand navigation bar.
  8. Select CSV.
  9. Click on the Choose File button and browse to your CSV file.  Click Next.
  10. Select your project.  Note that you can also add an email suffix and adjust the date format on this screen.  Click Next.
  11. Map your fields including the issue key, summary and the relevant custom fields:
    1. Issue Key (CSV field) > Issue Key (Jira field)
    2. Summary (CSV field) > Summary (Jira field)
    3. Old/incorrect custom field (CSV field) > New/correct (Jira field)
  12. Click Next.  Jira will make the update and indicate the result.
  13. You can repeat your original search to see the data from the old/incorrect field is now populating the new/correct field.
  14. Follow the instructions above for deleting the old field.

Stay Tuned

The next article in this series will describe how you can substitute a ProForma form field for a Jira custom field.  It’s the perfect solution for times when teams need the data, but don’t need to query or report on it.

Time to Decide: What to do with all those Jira Custom Fields

In a previous article, Rachel Wright outlined a process for auditing Jira custom fields.  If you’ve completed this process, you now have an idea of all of the custom fields in your Jira instance.  Finding out what you have is an important first step.  Next you need to decide what to do with them.

If you haven’t already, log your information into a spreadsheet, a Confluence page or use the free Jira Custom Field Audit worksheet.  At a minimum, you will want to collect the following information:

  • Name – The name of the Jira custom field
  • Type – Knowing the field type can be useful in determining if the field can be merged
  • Description – What the field is for
  • Created by – Was the field created by Jira, by a person or by a plugin/app?
  • Used by – Who is or has used this field?  Which Jira projects?
  • Currently in use – Is anyone using the field now?

I found all my custom fields.  Now what do I do with them?

Follow the recommendations Rachel describes, or try the SQL queries provided by Atlassian.  Once you’ve filled in the above information, you need to take the next step – engaging with Project Admins, business owners and other users to find out if and how the fields is being used, and to determine if another solution might work just as well or better.  Ask questions such as:

  • How do you use the data in this field?
  • Do you query the field? (You can verify this by checking to see if the fields is included in any filters.)
  • Do you report on the field?
  • Does anyone remember how you handled this data point before you had the custom field?

As you talk to business owners, users and project admins, it’s important to be clear that your aim is not to take needed functionality away from them. There are many ways to reduce custom fields without losing current functionality.  After you’ve completed your research and your conversations with business owners, you can recommend one of the following options for each custom field:

  • Keep it
  • Merge it with another Jira custom field
  • Substitute it with a field on ProForma form
  • Aggregate it with other data into one field
  • Retire it
  • Delete it

We’ll discuss how to do each of those things in a future article.  For now focus on deciding what the future of each of your custom fields should be.

When to Use Each Option

Keep it
Don’t change a thing.  The field is necessary just as it is.

Merge it with another Jira custom field
Your Jira instance may have accumulated multiple custom fields that are essentially the same (for instance, multiple sets of start and end dates). These can be safely merged together into one field that has a generic name.

Substitute it with a field on ProForma form
Many data points are needed in order to handle a request (service desk projects), or track information that is important, but rarely queried or reported on.  You can still collect specific, structured information without custom fields, by collecting the data on a form.

Aggregate it with other data into one field
Aggregating is another good option for data that is collected for purpose of providing a service, background info, etc., but that is only occasionally queried or reported on.  This involves collecting the data on a structured form, then storing the data from multiple form fields in one Jira field.

Hide it
You can hide custom fields that were used in the past, but are no longer necessary.  This allows you to preserve the data while decluttering your screens.

Delete it
Delete fields that are not being used and that do not contain any data that needs to be preserved.  It’s recommended that you not delete custom fields that were created by Jira (and in many cases Jira won’t let you).

Add a Recommendation column to your spreadsheet and log the selected option for each field.  You now have a plan for each of your custom fields. Watch for the next article in this series, where will discuss exactly how to apply the above options.

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