Jira is a code smell

Fri, Oct 1, 2021 3-minute read

Good Project Managers are important. As an Application Programmer, they're your Interface to the rest of the organization. They're your API. Believe me, you want that interface between you and their managers, unless you like giving status updates and making projection reports to pass around.

In fairness to PMs, we engineers don't make it easy for them to do their jobs. Does this sound familiar?

PM: How long do you think that'll take?
Engineer: Oh, I don't know.
PM: Can you give me an estimate?
Engineer: Uh, a while.
PM: OK. I'll write "a while" on my report. I'm sure the CEO will love that.
Engineer: Fine. 2 months.
PM: Thanks!

Now, think of all the task management applications you've been asked to use. Each claims to be useful for engineers ("put all your requirements and future work in one place!"), but they're also marketed to PMs ("be able to tell your manager how long the engineers are going to take!").

Jira is one of these. It's awful. It's a code smell, and if you're interviewing at a company that says "we track everything in Jira!", ask a lot of follow-up questions to figure out if you genuinely want to work there.

Jira itself is… fine. In isolation, it's neither wonderful nor terrible. It just is, like a rock, tree, or slime mold. Its main feature — and what makes it potentially evil — is its immense configurability that makes it irresistible to the wrong kinds of Project Managers. A good PM will see it, tweak a couple of knobs, and start putting stories in it for the engineers to hack on. A bad PM will see it, embrace every configuration option available, and saddle Engineering with a 23 step status workflow where each story goes from "Inkling" to "Idea" to "Rough Draft" to "Planning Review Meeting 3" to "Code Complete" to "Ready for Testing" to "Testing" to "Tested" and eventually on to "Done", "Shipped", "Finished", "Announced", "Demoed", and then "T-Shirts". The bad PM will love this because they can give reports like "this sprint is 43.8% done and we're 97.53% likely to hit our target", and the engineers will hate this because they'll spend as much time updating story statuses as they do working. A good PM won't care about all that and will prefer to use something simpler.

A useful task manager will be somewhat opinionated. It will almost, but not quite, do what everyone wants, and will annoy everyone equally with the few things they think it does wrong. A tar pit of a task manager will claim to be everything to everyone after customization, meaning that a few people will think it's heavenly and everyone else will despise it with the heat of a thousand suns.

Jira is one of the bad ones. If you run across someone who adores it, tiptoe away quietly and quickly.