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JIRA isn’t an optimal product management tool—here’s why

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Product management is a multi-headed beast. While the status of tasks is essential information, product managers need so much more than that to promote product innovation.

For many product managers, JIRA represents the tool they have—not the tool they want. To be clear, this isn’t a knock against what JIRA does, but rather how it’s applied in a product management setting. The software began as a bug-tracking tool for software companies and has morphed into the standard for tracking tasks in a project management setting. And it’s excellent at doing that.

Most organizations have also adopted JIRA as the primary product management tool. But JIRA doesn’t help to execute specific product-facing goals and, instead, represents another product management challenge in an already complicated job.

In fact, JIRA can make the job of product management more difficult. Let’s take a closer look at why.

Product management isn’t project management

Before getting into the specifics of JIRA-related obstacles, it’s a good idea to explore why product managers are forced to use a tool that impedes their daily and long-term goals. In my experience, I’ve found that product management and project management are often interchanged. As a result, I’ve heard versions of the following sentiment over and over: “They’re the same thing, right? So they can use the same tools!”

But they’re not the same—at all. Project managers focus on micro-objectives: deadlines, resource availability, budgets, and moving projects forward. Conversely, product managers are responsible for macro responsibilities: ideating, thinking ahead, and persuading stakeholders that their vision aligns with the company’s innovation and revenue objectives. JIRA is great for project managers, but as we’ll detail, it can make the life of a product manager more difficult.

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Product managers need cross-functional visibility

Product management is a multi-headed beast, and while the status of tasks is important, product management tools like JIRA don’t promote product innovation. They need quick access to the most up-to-date information related to sales, business development, roadmaps, customer pain points, portfolios, and numerous other touchpoints. Because, again, product management is forward-looking and focuses on the bigger picture.

Even further, they need a way to access all the data from across the organization, then combine data assets to research a wide range of scenarios. And while JIRA tickets do contain information that could be very useful, it disappears with the ticket once it’s closed—representing another critical product management challenge.

Effective product management tools must focus on more than status updates and provide the information necessary to help product managers strategize and prioritize. In essence, JIRA assists with a very thin slice of a product manager’s responsibilities, but it requires more time than necessary.

JIRA pulls product managers away from more critical responsibilities

A study from the Pragmatic Institute found that product professionals spent 27% of their time on strategic initiatives and 73% on tactical duties. Respondents believed they should dedicate 53% to strategy—almost double the time they currently spend on forward-looking activities.

Had the study asked how product managers prefer to spend their time, I’d wager that not one of them will say, “Manage JIRA tickets.” Yet, that’s the reality for many product managers. JIRA tickets are created with each task, and there are a lot of them. And to be clear, chasing tickets takes up a lot of time each day, and staying on top of them requires product managers to continually pause other vital tasks to avoid them piling up.

In essence, product managers dedicate an excessive amount of time to what are essentially administrative tasks instead of making plans to create innovative products. It’s like commissioning an artist to create a portrait but asking them to keep track of how much paint they’re using and issue a report on the current amount with each brush stroke. Such a setup only distracts the product manager from what they were hired to do and gradually chips away at job satisfaction.

JIRA has many positive attributes, but they don’t help product managers to conceptualize big-picture product strategy. However, JIRA isn’t going away, so it’s incumbent upon organizations to supplement it with other product management tools that work with JIRA to give them the visibility they need to conceptualize the next market-disrupting product.

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