Team 21 - Atlassian expands Jira to manage work for business teams, not just IT

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 28, 2021
Atlassian opens its Team '21 event today with the launch of Jira Work Management, aimed at business teams

Atlassian Team21 Mike Cannon-Brookes
Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO, Atlassian (Team21 screengrab)

Best known for tools that help development and IT teams manage projects and issues, Atlassian today launches a new general-purpose version of its Jira work management product, designed for business users beyond the technology realm. Called simply Jira Work Management, the new version adds business-friendly templates, along with new views such as calendar, timeline and spreadsheet-style lists, and loses some of the developer-specific features of the original Jira Software. It is available immediately and is free-of-charge to all existing Jira customers.

The move reflects rising adoption of Jira outside the IT domain in recent years, which has accelerated in the past year along with the explosion of distributed work during the pandemic lockdown. Usage has expanded to teams in product management, marketing, operations, finance, HR and elsewhere. As Cameron Deatsch, Atlassian's Chief Revenue Officer, explains:

Rewind the last 12 months, everyone had to basically figure out how to work differently. All this stuff where I could yell at [someone] across the desk to get this done and [someone else] over here to get this process done, all that management of work had to change, all these little workflows and processes we took for granted.

We saw people going to Jira — not designed for a lot of these use cases — but to customize workflows, reporting and so on, for things that have nothing to do with software development or IT. And when we actually surveyed our customer base, over half our users in Jira today are non-technical. They do not report into a software development or IT organization.

Another factor in the adoption of digital teamwork tools is the rising need for rapid internal communication and collaboration to respond promptly to customer needs. Again, the pandemic has accelerated this effect, with digital channels carrying more of the customer relationship in lieu of in-person contact. This has driven the need to join up work across an organization, in particular between the teams that build and run digital capabilities and the business functions that rely on them. Deatsch continues:

That connection between what we're building and what we're actually communicating now to our customers has to be a very, very tight linkage. And then support teams as well ...

Every business out there, with probably a few small exceptions, is fundamentally changing how they're delivering value to their customers by using technology ...

If we can make that interface between those technical and non-technical teams, the right balance of strength and power with easy enough to use, then we believe we can spread Atlassian usage across the entire organization.

What's different about Jira Work Management

The main changes in Jira Work Management compared to existing versions are in the user experience, while the underlying data model and other infrastructure elements remain the same. New features include:

  • Five new ways to view projects and tasks. List view uses the familiar row-and-column format of the spreadsheet, with in-line editing. There's also a calendar view, a Gannt-style timeline view, and a Trello-like board view. The fifth view is a form that can be used to enter work requests or other items.
  • Business project templates. A library of over 20 different templates provides a quick start for projects in functions such as marketing, design, HR or finance. They include context-specific configurations and workflows — for example, the recruitment template has 'candidate' as its default issue type.
  • Business language. Software engineering terms such as 'story', 'bug' and 'epic' have been hidden away, replaced by 'task', 'asset' and so on, while the left navigation highlights relevant business functionality instead of software-specific functions.
  • Automation and integration. There's a new business automation library of pre-defined rules. Automations can connect outside of Jira to third-party teamwork tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and email providers. The common Jira architecture also makes it easy to consolidate, share and monitor workflows across the various Jira products in use within an organization.

Having business and technical teams all managing their work on the same underlying Jira platform will help organizations streamline shared processes and get more insight into overall workflows, says the company. Deatsch elaborates:

We have search across all of our products. We have at-mentions and user identity and team structures used across all of our products. We have reporting across all of our products. We have automation across all of our products.

What that means is, regardless of what team you are, or specialist tool you need to manage your work, that we make it easy for you to expand to other teams, because we have these common interfaces. But more importantly, connect those teams with different types of teams and their work across the board ... If we can provide that glue across your entire organization, that's where the real magic happens.

That tighter integration suggests that the new Jira product may lure some customers away from Trello, another product in the Atlassian portfolio that is already used by business teams. But Deatsch says he expects the two to co-exist side by side, with Jira preferred for structured processes — especially when a company is already standardized on Jira for core software development and IT — while Trello is best suited for more unstructured processes such as ideation or lightweight processes that don't need rigorous workflow or reporting. There are integrations between the two products, he adds, and many customers will likely continue to use both.

Competitive landscape in digital teamwork

As for the broader market, he sees plenty of opportunity for Jira to make headway despite the large number of contenders in the work and task management space. He comments:

Let's not kid around, the true competitor to work management is email, Word docs being spread around, and spreadsheets. That's where the bulk of, or most teams, manage their work today.

He argues that Atlassian has a unique position as a vendor in this space through its long history supporting digital teamwork and because it combines enterprise credibility with popular appeal. He explains:

We are not just the top end of the market, not just the small end, we literally are going after the goal to have every single business user in the world who gets up and needs to work with their team, that they're using an Atlassian product to work with their team in one way or another, hopefully multiple Atlassian products ... We spend as much time thinking about that 10-person company that uses our products for free as that 10,000-person company.

The announcement coincides with the opening of the company's annual user conference, which is being held virtually today and tomorrow. Other announcements include Open DevOps, a template offering which allows developers to start a new project in Jira Software with Bitbucket, Confluence, and Opsgenie already preconfigured; the addition of a low-code forms builder to Jira Service Management following the acquisition of ThinkTilt; and the preview of a new Jira product for the ideation and discovery phase of product development.

My take

Opening up Jira so that it appeals to a broad category of business users seems like an obvious move for Atlassian and I suspect this has been long-planned. It seems to build on a number of earlier steps over the past few years, including the refresh of the Jira UI as part of its switch to the cloud and the observation of take-up by other functions outside of software engineering. There's much more functionality already planned in the roadmap for Jira Work Management, and the tie-up with Jira Align elevates the Jira platform beyond simply managing work to be able to also measure and refine it.

In the battle to become the anchor tenant of the enterprise collaborative canvas the Atlassian product range can take an organization right to the top of the digital teamwork maturity model. That's a powerful asset when combined with the company's already strong position among software engineering teams. Jira Work Management arrives as a credible contender, but the wider digital teamwork market is highly fragmented and includes heavyweights such as Microsoft and Google, while recent acquisitions have also brought in Salesforce (through buying Slack) and Adobe (having bought Workfront). It will be tough to build market share for Jira in the face of such opposition, but Atlassian has a track record of surprising on the upside, so let's see how customers take to this new incarnation of Jira.

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