Jira - Beyond the hate of task tracking software

| 2 min read

I've been saying "I hate Jira" several times. In meetings, in emails, probably even on Twitter. I'm far from being alone, and it has pretty much become an industry wide sentiment (or even a joke). I wanted to take some time to elaborate a bit about what this means.

An important thing first - having used Asana, Clickup and a couple of others, most critisism about Jira (mine & the one I read) is not really about Jira but about a category of software - Task Tracking software - that Jira has just become the embodiment of (a testament to Atlassian impressive success in the area). So replace "Jira" by any other task tracking software you use if you want.

Now why do people "hate" Jira? Well first as developers we love ranting about software - even better when it's about software we have to use (versus software we pick).

My current feeling (after some introspection) is that it's not really the software I despise - mostly what it represents.

Jira is all about creating a system of "tasks" that can be assigned to people and then completed. It's not about "tasks" - it's about "things that need to be done" - about work organisation - and work organisation is messy.

It's messy because we need it but it never really feels good. Even when I work alone, if I don't have a system of tasks, I'm not sure what I'm doing. I need to plan a bit (else I'll forget things when I need to pick them up again), and if I want a remote chance to achieve something in a set amount of time, I need to split the work up. I need to be able to track my progress. It's already hard to do it for myself:

  • Too coarse and it becomes "finish project A" which is never moving, so give a feeling of no progress
  • Too detailed and it becomes a myriad of super small things possibly with no clear output - and I loose the big picture

It's even worse when this is done with a team - even assuming the best collaboration, writing tasks for someone else is complicated - it's all about communicating intent without going too far on the "step by step". After all, if I have every step figured out in a development task, I'm probably well advanced anyway (and the person I give the work to may have a different approach that may be as good or better).

It's messy because it's a vain attempt at putting complex and uncertain human collaboration efforts (ie: projects) in clean well separated boxes that could be "ticked" as done - something that we know is not really possible but that we need anyway.

So we settle for the middleway - an imperfect representation of our work, whose shortcomings are obvious and being humans, we rant or complain about the tool because that's the easiest piece to criticize (plus the tool ego will survive).

In a way - the complains are part of the way that system works. I've been "the Jira guy" at several companies already - because despite all the flaws, I still think we are better with a task tracker than without one - as long as we can complain about it.

Opinions? Let me know on LinkedIn!