Improve Your Project Management by Automating

As project management evolves and becomes increasingly software-driven, more emphasis is being placed on integrated third-party applications that can streamline processes and minimize errors, freeing up precious time for higher value-added tasks. Major project management software providers now offer a vast array of automation tools that can easily be integrated into existing workflows, delivering seamless and automated functionality. However, it is important for project managers to understand the most effective use of these tools, and when it is best to avoid them.

The Future of Augmented Reality

The majority of proven project management tools incorporate some level of automation, providing teams with the ability to expand capabilities, increase predictability, improve communication, and eliminate mundane administrative tasks.

Project management software automation is typically leveraged to boost business efficiency, but these technologies are not powered by advanced artificial intelligence or machine learning. Rather, they rely on rules-based conditional templates, which are inherently limited by the capabilities of the associated programs. While there are similarities to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) systems, project management software automation tools lack the ability to manipulate or duplicate data, and any additional development or scripting must be done externally. Unlike RPA, which primarily transfers data between systems and performs functions, project management software automation is designed to streamline key processes, including updates to task status or assigning issues to specific team members.

LiquidPlanner is an advanced scheduling software that employs a sophisticated engine to calculate task completion times based on prioritization, effort required, and available resources. This engine allows teams to adapt project deadlines as needed, in response to changes in workload or scope.

In addition, Wrike features a powerful automation engine that notifies users of upcoming deadlines and automatically advances finished tasks to the next stage. According to Kuleen Mehta, Lead Product Manager of AI/ML for Wrike, the software also offers a comprehensive array of customizable templates, enabling users at all skill levels to create effective automation rules without requiring coding expertise.

The most widely-used project management platform available from Atlassian is Jira, which features a diverse range of pre-built rules that users can utilize as templates for their projects. Additionally, Jira provides an intuitive, no-code form that empowers users to create custom rules with ease.

As part of our research, we interviewed several project managers to explore their experience with Jira and the specific tasks that they tend to automate. Throughout these conversations, we delved into the potential for additional automation in project management and the roles and responsibilities that should continue to be performed by human workers.

A Detailed Examination of Jira Automation

The outbreak of COVID-19 has amplified the demand for user-friendly remote collaboration tools, and opened up new opportunities for project management software companies to increase their user base. Atlassian had already been working to alter the perception of Jira as a complex, difficult-to-use tool with a steep learning curve, and automation has emerged as a critical aspect of this initiative.

In October 2019, Atlassian acquired Code Barrel, a leading provider of Jira solutions, and incorporated its highly sought-after Automation for Jira into its cloud offering in March of 2020. The 2021 launch of Jira Work Management underscores Atlassian’s determination to evolve Jira beyond its traditional reputation as a powerful software development and IT service management system, transforming it into a comprehensive platform that supports teams and departments across the entire organization, from marketing and human resources to finance and design.

The building blocks of automation in Jira are designed to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. Automation rules consist of triggers, conditions, and actions. When creating an automation rule, the first step is to select a trigger, which serves as the event that triggers the rule. From there, a condition must be chosen, which must be met in order for the rule to continue. Finally, an action must be selected, which performs a pre-defined task and enforces the rule.

Jira Automation provides users with the ability to simplify and streamline time-consuming tasks by creating automation rules. For example, the automatic closure of a parent issue when all of its subtasks have been completed is made possible through automation. Without automation, this process would involve manually checking the status of each outstanding ticket and its subtasks, communicating with team members, and closing the parent issue. These steps are tedious and time-consuming, but automation can significantly improve the efficiency of the workflow.

By utilizing Atlassian’s comprehensive library of automated rules, users can forego the manual completion and closure of parent items in Jira. Instead, the software can be configured to notify team members via email when the parent item is marked as complete, provided that all corresponding subtasks have also been marked as complete.

The introduction of an automated rule has the potential to significantly optimize the workflow of project managers, while also enhancing transparency throughout the development process. Moreover, it can encourage team members to remain informed about the status of their work, as issues will be updated and closed automatically once all associated subtasks have been completed.

Patrick, a Works project manager based in Cordoba, Argentina, acknowledges that one of his top daily challenges is ensuring that developers update their tasks during standups. To address this issue, he has implemented a system in which developers are required to maintain the parent card up to date by keeping track of all tasks at a more detailed level.

Despite the rule that was implemented, Nikki, a Works project manager in Belgrade, Serbia, and her team found it to be ineffective. According to Nikki, the combined completion of all subtasks was insufficient for a task to be considered complete, which led to the need to re-open closed tasks for double-checking before manually re-closing them.

The conflicting experiences in the field offer a crucial lesson: Prior to implementing automation protocols, it is crucial for the team and the project manager to have a complete understanding of their product and existing procedures. Failure to do so can result in the introduction of features intended to save time and reduce frustration, but which ultimately have the opposite effect.

The Applications of Automation with the Greatest Benefits

According to automation specialist Ruth Tillard, the most effective automation solutions are those that enable tasks to proceed smoothly, while maintaining transparent, seamless, and up-to-date communication. Tillard believes that automation need not require a complete overhaul of existing processes; rather, the elimination of minor, tedious tasks can result in a significant increase in team productivity.

Mike, a Works project manager based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, agrees that automation can aid in the process of monitoring developers’ progress with their work. Mike believes that it would be beneficial for developers to concentrate on developing software, without the added burden of reporting every task they complete.

To streamline the development process for his team, Patrick has introduced automated reminders in the form of a checklist. The checklist includes questions about whether the necessary documentation has been published, whether the pull request has been submitted, and whether the merger has been completed. This system has successfully improved the efficiency of the development process.

The use of automation can simplify the process of generating detailed records of issues and solutions, leading to a reduced need for daily task tracking. According to Tillard, when developers no longer need to undertake documentation tasks, they will be grateful.

Patrick’s development team managed to automate a portion of the process that previously required extensive documentation of code issues and bug fixes. They achieved this by utilizing custom-built JavaScript to extract the relevant data from Jira and automatically populate it into a pre-existing template in Confluence.

Automation can greatly ease knowledge transfer and sharing. When combined with well-written user stories, good documentation enables another team to take over and sustain the work, as much of the project communication has already been established, according to Patrick. While some questions may remain, the overall project overview is already in place.

Automation can serve as a powerful tool to encourage communication and collaboration across various work groups and teams. Patrick suggests that automating procedures such as status updates, checklists, and documentation can help bridge the gap between teams that may not be located in the same physical space. For instance, when a team advances a card to code review, the status can be updated automatically in the service desk ticket, enabling service desk agents to remain informed and up-to-date. In this way, automation can strengthen communication and coordination among teams.

The Boundaries of Automation

Despite growing concerns that automation and artificial intelligence could lead to job losses, the automation capabilities of Jira show that this technology can improve and enhance project management. According to McKinsey & Company, while just 5% of jobs can be fully automated, almost one-third of specific tasks within most occupations can be automated. While several project management tasks may be suitable for automation, it is important to recognize that Jira and similar software programs have limitations. To set up effective automated rules, someone with a detailed understanding of the project, team, and product is required.

Astute project managers recognize the value of using their interpersonal skills. While there has been an increase in the use of bots to manage tasks that involve human interactions, such as daily standups, several project managers interviewed warn against this approach. Reda said, “When automation is employed to replace human interactions, something is inevitably missing.”

It is vital for automation to not only enhance processes but also allow for inventive problem-solving, relationship-building, and innovative thinking. According to Wrike’s Mehta, “Our goal is to reduce the time spent on mundane, repetitive tasks, allowing project managers to concentrate on the rewarding, creative, and interpersonal aspects of their work.” Automation can help save time on repetitive tasks, freeing up space for managers to engage in activities that require more human skills.

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