Recently I was asked to investigate BigPicture, an addon for Jira, and assess the value it could provide to a software project.
After an investigation of the tools was complete, it made sense to publish the results so others could benefit from the research.
The Big Picture
BigPicture is a Jira Add-On that provides high-level project oversight of work completed in Jira through multiple lenses.
A user can choose to apply a number of modules to manage a body of work called a Program, which is then broken up into Program Increments (like phases) by default or Iterations (with a feature called Agile Schedule).
When a Program is created, a user defines the Program scope by adding Projects, Boards, Filters; then refines the results with a JQL filter.
There are 8 modules available in BigPicture, each providing a unique piece of functionality to the tool: Gantt, Scope, Board, Roadmap, Resources, Team, Risks and Reports.
If configured for use, Gantt is the default module which displays in BigPicture.
It allows users to manage tasks using a Task View that visualises work in a task hierarchy (similar to Jira Plans) and visually displays the tasks in the corresponding Gantt View.
The Gantt View can use drag and drop functionality and map the dependencies between tasks. It’s also the place to perfect the presentation of the Gantt chart and do some last minute refinements to estimates.
Below are a list of other relevant features:
Multiple different perspectives (effectively views) of the Task View can be configured to display the fields which are applicable to the user. Different users may want to see different information about tasks.
Task Mode (aka Scheduling)
There are 3 modes you can use to control the way tasks are scheduled on the Gantt chart:
- Automatic (Parent Task start and end dates will always encompass the dates of children)
- Manual (Users determine the the start and end date of child tasks)
- Lock (which prevents a task from being moved)
Unlike Jira Plans, BigPicture does not auto-schedule items for you, but gives you the tools to do the scheduling yourself.
Dependencies can either be Soft (a relationship between tasks with no actual change to scheduling) or Strong (a relationship which affects scheduling).
The 4 Strong Dependencies are:
- End-To-Start (a task can’t start until another task ends)
- End-To-End (a task is only complete when another task is complete)
- Start-To-Start (a task cannot start until another task starts)
- Start-To-End (a task can cannot finish until another task begins)
A simpler version of scheduling is known as ASAP scheduling, which allows users to setup tasks that need to occur sequentially (Start-To-End), with the option to add a Lag Time between them.
It is a simpler approach to scheduling which applies to specific tasks, which can be used alongside broader scheduling functionality.
Agile Scheduling is about scheduling iterations within a program increment as opposed to scheduling tasks. It is similar to creating sprints within Jira.
When arranging tasks on the Gantt chart, the projected vs actual start and end dates of tasks can be tracked and visualised. This is known as baselining, which helps you visualise when you planned to start a task compared to when you actually started a task.
Custom Fields Management
BigPicture allows users to utilise existing custom fields from Jira issues. They can be visualised in Gantt, Scope and Board and there is some potential for automation. The fields which provide the Start Date, End Date and Progress (Time) can also be configured in the Admin options.
Sorting and Grouping
Both views can have tasks sorted and grouped.
A scope view is essentially the Task View on the Gantt module, except it uses inline editing and provides more room to view additional fields.
This is the ideal place to enter estimates for the Program (although the Gantt module could also be used, the Gantt module’s focuses more on presentation of work to an audience).
A number of datapoints can be accessed in Scope View, such as:
- Original Estimate
- Remaining Estimate
- Time Spent (each containing a numeric field and progress bar)
- % of tasks completed
This is also the place where releases can be managed. Unlike Jira Plans, BigPicture doesn’t embed releases inside the tool apart from using fields on a task. Program Increments and Iterations may handle 1 or many releases.
The Board View takes the Tasks within a program increment/iteration, then visualises them and the dependencies between them. It also provides a view of tasks not assigned to any project increment/iteration (the backlog).
Tasks can exist inside a backlog and are moved into individual program increments. This is the ideal place in BigPicture to conduct iteration planning.
The Board also offers a number of synchronisation options inside Jira, which can be found here.
This view gives you a picture of the capacity of individuals or a team over time. Tasks are assigned to individual users which determines their individual capacity and overall team capacity within a program increment/iteration.
Capacity can be determined through Original Estimate, Remaining Estimate or Story Points (it can be adjusted at the top of the screen as required). Their allocated and worked capacity is indicated by an indicator that turns orange or green based on capacity.
The skills of users can also be specified for individual team members, and the capacity of a particular skill across program increment/iterations can also be visualised.
BigPicture has a simplified roadmap view which aims to align the objectives of Program Increments/Iterations with the goals of the implementation team.
Each objective can have the Probable Business Value (the expected amount of value the objective provides to the business) and the Actual Business Value (how much it actually provided).
When a Program Increment/Iteration is not In Progress, it will be in a Forecasting state (before In Progress and Closed), meaning only the Probable Business Value of objectives will be editable.
Teams represent a real-world team and come with 2 scopes: Program (exclusive to a Program) or Global (usable across any Program). Each individual member can have their start and end date specified, as well as their skills and availability.
This data can then be applied to the Resources and Board modules, for capacity planning, sprint planning and backlog management.
Skill capacity can also be visualised in the Resources module.
The Risks module is a way to document and visualise risks.
Risks can exist for specified ranges and are displayed in 2 ways — matrix and table. A heatmap option is offered on the matrix which changes colour of tickets in accordance with their place on the matrix.
Risks can exist for specified date ranges.
The Reports Module is a way to analyse and visualise data in a dashboard. Here users can scope the dashboard to the Current Program, the Current/Previous/Next Program Increment or the Current/Previous/Next Iteration.
They can also receive live updates of the data by clicking “Auto-refresh”.
In the Enterprise license, users can add their own charts using custom fields from Jira and BigPicture, as well as control the amount of reports and layout on the screen. Reports can either be a bar, line or pie chart.
If a user doesn’t have BigPicture Enterprise, they are given access to 5 default reports:
- Status per Assignee
- Issue Type per Status
- Fix Versions per Status
- Assignee per Status
- Priority per Assignee
Each of these gives a fairly good insight into the progress of a project.
Comparing BigPicture and Jira Plans
BigPicture offers significantly more functionality than Jira Plans and has a stronger focus on project reporting and governance, allowing users to visualise objectives, risks and a highly configurable Gantt chart.
I believe this is the core value proposition for BigPicture.
That said, it tries to be an all-encompassing project management tool, offering it’s own board, backlog management, sprint management and reporting capabilities. Project increments could even be substituted with epics and Jira releases.
Although some people may prefer an integrated approach to project management, modules such as the Board and Reporting seem redundant when compared to Jira’s equivalent implementation of those features.
Jira Plans also offers more automation, forecasting capabilities through automatic scheduling and scenario planning.
BigPicture and Jira Plans could both be used to deliver a project, potentially as a hybrid solution, although both have different means of making that happen.
While Jira Plans and the Jira product are more concerned with project implementation, BigPicture aims to give users an all-encompassing view of a project and present it effectively.