Battling Jira Custom Field Bloat, Step by Step

“I have over 3,000 custom fields and everyone says I need to talk to you.”

That was one of the comments we heard at Atlassian Summit.  It’s true. ProForma is a great way to have all of the custom data, without the custom fields.  ProForma forms embed in Jira issues, allowing you to include all of the fields you need, without cluttering your Jira instance or degrading Jira’s performance.

We think simplified Jira administration, particularly with regard to custom fields, is one of the key benefits of using ProForma, and something we’ve discussed in previous articles:

However, talking to Jira Administrators at Summit made us realize that we’ve neglected a big part of the problem.  You don’t just need a way to limit the addition of new custom fields, you need a way to deal with the ones you already have.  So we’ll be focusing our upcoming content on how to deal with custom field bloat.  Once again, we’ll be teaming up with author and Jira super-user, Rachel Wright.  Rachel worked with us on a previous series of articles, which is now available as the Effective Jira Administration book. We’re looking forward to tapping into her expertise on managing Jira custom fields.  

ProForma Forms & Custom Fields for Jira

Cleaning up Jira Custom Field Bloat

Regardless of whether you’re using Cloud, Server or Data Center, our series will offer step by step guidance for:

  • Auditing
    Find out exactly what custom fields you have, what project(s) they’re in and if/how they are used.
  • Triage
    The next step will be to categorize your custom fields.  You’ll sort out how the custom fields were created (by an admin, an add-on, etc.), whether or not they’re duplicates, if they contain errors, and how they are used.  We’ll outline the process for sorting your custom fields into ones that stay, ones that go, and ones that get converted. 
  • Conversion
    Next, we’ll outline a process for converting needed fields to ProForma, for merging duplicate fields, fixing errors and for retiring fields that are no longer needed.
  • Documentation
    Finally, we’ll make sure that you’re left with an easily accessible map that will show which custom fields remain and which were converted to fields on ProForma forms.  Having this information at your finger tips will make it easier to respond to requests for new custom fields. 

The goal is that by the end of the process, your teams will still be able to collect all the data they need, but you’ll have your custom fields down to a manageable number.  (You get to decide what that number is.)

Next-gen Projects

For those of you using Jira Cloud, we’ll also discuss strategies for how to manage custom fields (and Jira administration in general) now that any user can create independent projects.  (If this makes you nervous, you’re not alone.)  We’ll focus on communication strategies and ways to educate users about best practices in Jira, with the aim of being “open”, without opening up a huge can of worms for Jira administrators.

Bringing FY2018 to a Successful Resolution in Jira

Everything must come to an end.  One could say that FY2018 is about to reach its resolution.  (I’ll let you decide if want to mark it off as Fixed, Won’t Fix or simply Done.)  The end of the year is a traditional time for stock-taking as we prepare for a fresh new start.  You can apply that to your Jira application as well.

Cleaning Up Your Jira Application

Use the end of the year as an opportunity to check for and clean out stagnant Jira assets.  Sometimes projects get abandoned instead of being properly closed out.  This can happen when the organization’s priorities change or when teams reorganize.  Sometimes an initiative that was tracked in Jira is completed and teams who are anxious to carry the momentum into the next project may forget to close out the previous one.

In the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook, Rachel Wright offers several ways to hunt down stagnant Jira projects.  You can use the Project Status worksheet, available in the ProForma template library, to comb through your projects and identify ones which should be archived. 

While you’re doing the high level assessment and clean up, you can encourage Project Leads to take a look at their active projects and see if any clean up needs to be done there. Rachel recommends checking for things such as:

  • Accurate and useful components (and component Leads)
  • Unreleased versions
  • Stagnant issues (haven’t been updated in x days)
  • Unassigned issues
  • A neglected backlog
  • An accurate listing of team members

This is also an opportunity to see if any adjustments (big or small) should be made to make the system more helpful.  Are the filters, boards and dashboards useful?  Could they be more useful if you made a few minor changes?  Does the project configuration still fit the team’s needs?  Are there any customizations that the team would like to have?  Any painful processes that could be eased with the addition of the right app/plugin? Now is a good time to take a look.

What You and Jira Accomplished this Year

Year end is also an opportunity to compile and analyze a few statistics on how Jira is used within your organization.  In fact, regular and thorough documentation will not only demonstrate how important Jira (and therefore the Jira support team) is to your organization, it will help you predict future needs. In addition to an Annual Report form,  Rachel has also created a Jira Use and Future Predictions worksheet which will help you document Jira usage over time.

Expanding Jira to Business Teams

While you’re making those predictions, consider whether Jira could benefit more teams in your organization.  Many companies use Jira or Jira Service Desk not only for software or IT support, but also to manage HR, finance and facilities related processes.

Expanding Jira to other business teams doesn’t have to be an administrative nightmare.  The simple addition of forms, available through the ProForma app, means that teams can customize their processes and collect exactly the data they need without requiring new issue types, hordes of custom fields, or special configurations.  You can actually simplify Jira administration even as you’re bringing more teams into Jira.

Jira Clean-up Time: How to Audit and Tidy Your Jira Instance

Depending on where you are in the world, you may be smack in the middle of spring – as in time for Spring Cleaning.  Even if it isn’t spring, it’s a good idea to occasionally audit your Jira installation, archive elements that aren’t being used and revisit your configuration to ensure that it’s optimized. Below are the basic steps you will need to perform a “Jira Clean-up.”

Jira Clean-up Step 1: Audit

The first step is taking stock of what you have.  To do this, start with the “System info” page and note the number of projects, issues, custom fields, workflows, etc.  Next, visit the Add-ons admin page and the admin area for each scheme and project asset.

Jira System Stats

Rachel Wright offers a worksheet for recording this information.  Alternatively, you could use a spreadsheet or create a form in ProForma. The important thing is that you will want to track the number of Jira assets over time. 

As you go through the admin pages, note assets that are unused (such as a field that doesn’t appear on any screens), duplicated (or perhaps similar enough in purpose that only one field is needed) or inactive.

Once you have a complete picture of your current application, you can set goals for your clean-up.  Along with removing assets that aren’t being used, goals could include reducing the number of workflows for easier support and reducing the number of custom fields for better performance.

Jira Clean-up Step 2: Archive

Before you begin pruning out unnecessary elements, backup and verify your data.  Also, make sure you have a rollback plan in case any of your changes cause unanticipated problems.

Elements

Go to the admin page for each element type and use the “identification” column to weed out unused items.  The Jira Strategy Admin Workbook includes detailed instructions for easily identifying unused elements.  In some cases (for example, if you are eliminating an issue type), you may need to migrate issues before deleting.

Deleting unused items is the first step.  Depending on your goals, you may also want to consolidate custom fields or workflows.  When consolidating fields, consider which field is more widely used, which has a better name, and which can be more easily deleted.  Again, you may need to migrate data before you can delete.

Projects

Jira Project Status in ProForma

Along with pruning down Jira elements, you should also check for stagnant projects.  Use the Jira Strategy Admin worksheet or the ProForma form to identify projects that have an inactive project lead, few issues or no recently created issues.

You have several options for dispatching completed or stagnant projects:

  • Prevent new issues from being created
  • Mark the projects as read only
  • Hide the project
  • Archive the project
  • Export the project

Rachel Wright describes the appropriate use, as well as the implementation steps, for each method in the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook.

Users

Finally, you need to address users who have left the organization.  Don’t users because you want to retain the history of their actions.  Rather, set departed users to “inactive.”  However, before doing so, Rachel recommends the following steps:

  • Move any not closed, assigned issues to the user’s supervisor
  • Move any not closed, reported issues to the user’s supervisor
  • Remove unshared custom dashboards, filters, filter subscriptions and boards
  • Remove favorite designations for dashboards
  • If a dashboard is used by others, move the dashboard to the supervisor or a generic user account
  • Remove favorite designations for filters
  • Move shared filters to the supervisor or a generic user account
  • Reassign project leads to the supervisor
  • Reassign component leads to the supervisor
  • Remove filter subscriptions
  • Remove draft workflows
  • Reassign agile boards to the supervisor
  • Check workflows for any auto assignment transition behaviors
  • Make the user account inactive

Making the time to regularly review and tidy up your application will make your ongoing admin duties easier and will keep your application clean, relevant and high-performing. 

Tips for Vetting Jira Apps and Plugins

Do you get sensory overload when you visit the Atlassian Marketplace?  The current plugin count shows over 1,600 offerings for Jira alone.  Too many choices can be paralyzing.  How can you identify which apps will be truly useful and worth the effort of maintaining?  What is the best strategy for vetting Jira apps?

A Process for Requesting Jira Apps & Plugins

Start by setting up a process by which teams can request an app.  At the very least teams need to provide the name of the app and the Marketplace URL.  Getting more information, like what the app does, why the team thinks they need it, and examples of how they will use it will give you a solid basis for making a decision. 

After you’ve had a chance to check the price and ensure that the app is compatible with the your Jira application, you’ll also want to confirm that leadership has approved the app and is willing to pay for it.  Also, check that the security team is on board with adding the plugin.

Hmm… you need a process for placing requests with specific pieces of information from the requestor; a way for an agent to add more information to that request; and a mechanism for recording management approval – sounds like a job for ProForma and Jira Service Desk!

What to Ask When Vetting Jira Apps & Plugins

Questions to consider when deciding whether or not to install a Jira app might include:

  • Does the app/plugin duplicate functionality that is already available, but underutilized in Jira?
  • How much will the app/plugin be used?  How frequently?  By how many users?  How many teams?  In how many projects?
  • Does the app/plugin allow you to leverage Jira, making Jira relevant and useful for more teams?
  • Does it come from a trusted source?
  • Is the app/plugin a good value compared to other solutions for resolving the problem?
  • Does the app/plugin provider offer adequate support?

Teams requesting new apps are doing so because they believe the app will resolve a specific problem or pain point.  New apps, however, also impact the Jira Administrator and Jira Support Team.  Every app will add another layer to manage.  However, some apps may actually relieve some of the Jira Administrators pain points as well (too many custom fields, too many custom workflows, etc.)  An app is of greater value if it’s useful for both teams (and different types of teams) and Jira support staff.

App Vetting Request in ProForma

App Vetting Tracking in ProForma

Best Practices for Installing Apps

Having developed a process for vetting Jira apps, next you will want to test the new apps before deploying them into production. In her excellent resource, the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook, Rachel Wright outlines a clear procedure for testing new apps.  She also provides a packet of worksheets which can be used for vetting, installing and announcing new Jira apps.

Jira Plugin and Add-on Vetting Procedure

Jira Plugin and Add-on Announcement

Something to Consider

While you’re looking at Jira apps, we hope you’ll check out ProForma Custom Forms & Fields for Jira.  ProForma makes it easy to create forms that embed in Jira issues, allowing you to add all of the process-specific fields you need.  Since every field added to a form is a field you don’t need to add to the issue, ProForma can greatly reduce the need for custom fields. Forms are also the key to leveraging Jira’s flexibility to serve more teams.  HR can create forms to track the data they need in Jira and Marketing can create forms to track the data they need.  You’ll be making Jira admin easier even as you bring more teams into Jira.

Too Much of a Good Thing: Alternatives to Jira Custom Fields

Customizing Jira for Business Teams

Jira is a great tool for business teams because it’s so easy to customize.  After all, the information a software team needs to track will be different from the information an HR team needs to track.  You can create custom fields to collect information that doesn’t fit in standard Jira fields, but be careful lest you fall into a murky swamp of slow performance and more custom fields than you care to manage.  In fact, Atlassian has identified the number of custom fields as the attribute which has the highest impact on the speed of the most common Jira actions.

Related:  Watch Atlassian’s Five Secrets of JIRA Performance at Scale

Wondering if you’ve got too many custom fields already?  According to Rachel Wright, author of the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook, load time of your screens and your custom field admin page are good indicators.  Also, note how long your custom field admin page scrolls.

What should you do if you’re committed to limiting the number of custom fields, but still want to take advantage Jira’s flexibility?  Who should decide when a new custom field is justified?  And what should the criteria be for that decision?

Start by putting a process in place that project leads can use for requesting a new custom field.  Use the ProForma process template or the Strategy for Jira worksheet to gather information such as the proposed field’s purpose, type, screen schema and any needed validation rules.

Then consider the following questions:

  • Will the new field be used by multiple projects?
  • Will you query issues based on this field?
  • Will you run a report of all the values in this field?
  • Will the field duplicate an existing field?  (Rachel recommends publishing a list of existing custom fields and their uses to encourage users to make the most of what’s already there rather than requesting new fields.)
  • Will it duplicate core Jira functionality?

If you determine that a new custom field is indeed needed, pay special attention to creating it with the correct field type, as this cannot be changed later.  Having the requestor provide examples of the data the field will hold will help ensure that you select the correct field type.  (Or maybe you can suggest a better way to track the info altogether!)  Give the new field a generic name so that it can be used by more than one project.

Alternatives to Jira Custom Fields

Saying “no” to creating a new custom field, doesn’t mean you have to say no to giving users what they need.  You have a couple of other options for collecting the same data:

  • Use a standard field for a custom purpose
    Standard Jira fields can be manipulated to collect different data for different projects. For example, the Jira field “Labels” can be used in different ways by different teams.  A marketing team using Jira to track their production of marketing assets could use the Labels field to record the marketing campaign an asset is associated with.  The same field might be used in a different project, by the facilities team, to record locations.  You can use a field configuration to set a project-specific description of what should be recorded in the field, thereby prompting users to put in the right information.
  • Adapt an already existing custom field
    One custom field with two contexts

    Field contexts can be used to make an existing custom field serve different functions in different projects.  Field contexts allow you to set a default value and a defined options list for the field within a given project and with a given issue type.  For instance, you could create a custom field called “category”.  The HR team might use this field to store employment status and might have four options (full time, part time, intern, contractor) to select from, with “full time” set as the default value.  The finance team could use the same field in their project, but the options could be set to record different payment methods (EFT, check, purchase order, etc.)

  • Use a ProForma form
    Another option is to collect the information on a form.  Forms are an easy way for business teams to collect exactly the information they need without requiring changes and customizations to your Jira configuration.  Teams can design, build and deploy forms that gather data structured to their needs and validated with their business rules.  Many of the data points required to fulfill a request don’t need to be queried or reported on.  For those that do, the ProForma form builder makes it easy to “pipe” information from a form field to a Jira field.
Piping For Data Jira Fields in ProForma

Finding the balance that allows you to maximize Jira’s flexibility without sacrificing performance is a key consideration when expanding Jira to business teams.  ProForma can help.

Who’s in Charge? Jira Governance for Business Teams

Getting off to the right start is always the best way to go.  It’s not always reality.  We usually inherit things – business processes, Jira applications, our parents’ bad habits, etc.  In her excellent resource, the Jira Strategy Admin Workbook, Rachel Wright recommends starting out by creating a Jira Advisory Board.  If you’re starting from scratch, this is a great first step.  If you’re already using Jira, now might be the time to put your Board in place, especially if you’re considering expanding Jira to other teams in your organization.

Different organizations have different ways of governing their processes. Rachel recommends that the role of the Advisory Board include:

  • Deciding what customizations to create and support in order to strike a balance between giving teams what they need and maintaining a manageable, high-performing application.
  • Setting standards for privacy, security, and storage and handling sensitive information.
  • Developing a process for providing support for teams’ Jira projects.
  • Determining what a successful Jira application looks like.  What metrics will define success?

Who Should be on the Advisory Board?

When you consider how powerful and mission critical Jira can be for your organization, it’s clear that it shouldn’t be directed by just one person.  But who else should be on your Board?  Rachel recommends a group of about five people including:

  • An end user – techy-minded or not
  • A Jira Administrator who understands the application’s capabilities
  • A Project Manager, Business Analyst or Strategist – basically a process-oriented person
  • A high level manager or VP who’s ultimately responsible for the work that gets done in Jira
  • A wildcard member to keep everyone on task

Consider having your end user or your wildcard member come from a non-technical business team.

Why Create a Jira Advisory Board Now?

You’re probably thinking, we’ve managed this long without a Board, why do we need one now?  If that’s the case, one of two things is probably happening.  Either your Jira Administrator is handling everything on their own, trying to please everybody, and relying on their own knowledge for deciding what should and shouldn’t be implemented.  Or you do have a group of people who work together to set standards and support Jira users – you just don’t think of them as an Advisory Board.

If you don’t already have one, the moment of expanding Jira to business teams is an excellent time to establish a Board.  Here’s why you need one now, even if you didn’t think you needed one before:

  • Expanding Jira to business teams will mean more requests for customizations; more custom fields, more screen schemes, more configurations.  With each request, you will need to decide if it’s worth creating and supporting the new asset or whether an existing field, scheme or configuration can be shared.  You’ll come to better decisions if you include multiple points of view.
  • You’ll also be collecting more sensitive information.  Consider all the personal information HR keeps on employees.  You need a policy to determine what kinds of sensitive information can be stored in Jira. Expanding to business teams also means you’re inheriting all of the privacy and security standards that apply to those teams.  Again, you don’t want to be deciding how to navigate that alone.
  • Finally, teams may be skeptical as to how well a solution developed for IT can address their needs.  That’s understandable.  We’re all experts in our own areas.  Having an Advisory Board that includes non-techies will help people feel more assured that their needs will be considered.

Easily Convert Business Teams to Jira

Expanding Jira to business teams is a great opportunity to bring a tool you already know, love and support to wider use in your organization.  Teams from Finance to HR will love handling their requests in Jira, being able to measure and predict their workload using Jira’s reporting and knowing that their backsides are covered with Jira’s end to end traceability.

Along with making sure business teams’ conversion to Jira is done right (the reason you’re setting up that Advisory Board), it would also be nice to have it done easily.  This is where ProForma Forms & Templates for Jira can help.  ProForma offers a template library and an easy to use form builder that puts teams in control of collecting exactly the information they require, without the need for custom fields, screens and configurations.  You may actually find yourself doing less Jira admin even as you bring more teams into Jira.

You can help your business teams have it all:  a great tool, a well-governed application and an easy conversion.