Taking a Bug-Tracker beyond Bugs

Posted by Joanna Thurmann on September 25, 2014

How LinkedIn & ServiceRocket Take JIRA Beyond Bug Tracking

By Joanna Thurmann, (@jthurmann)

Before JIRA existed, I worked as an intern at IBM carrying requisitions forms down to the purchasing department and depositing them in an ominous and overflowing inbox. The stern lady who owned it was like an austere schoolmaster. A few times she snapped at me and shoved the form back in my hands, claiming it needed more signatures or exceeded quantity. And if I got lucky enough to miss her, the requisition usually came back denied a few days later through manila interoffice mail. With a few more changes or autographs, I repeated the process. Sometimes, the right items actually arrived.

Fast forward twenty years. The in-trays of stern schoolmasters have been replaced by email inboxes. But the outcome is no less uncertain. The path from request to delivery is filled with potential pitfalls and deterrents, from erroneous information to missing or absent approvers.

The JIRA Procurement Use Case

gretchen helms linkedinNo one knows this better than Gretchen Helms, Infrastructure Implementation Manager at social media giant LinkedIn. She spoke about procurement for LinkedIn’s data centers at the inaugural Atlassian Bay Area Business Executive Forum on September 3, 2014.

Helms saw challenges and problems at every step of the process of acquiring hardware. All request tickets were handled manually in different queues, from quoting to shipping, install, imaging, and hand-off to customers. The entire process took too long. “All of that is money,” says Helms.

LinkedIn, however, decided to address and improve their data center processes using JIRA. “Most people don’t do supply chain with JIRA,” says Helms. That's because JIRA's claim to fame has thus far mostly been in tracking bugs. But the common thread was workflow. “Though a hardware request is not a bug, it still has to go through multiple groups before it gets done.”

So LinkedIn began defining the detailed process of ordering hardware from cradle to grave. Once fully mapped, the process filled a flowchart that was six feet tall. Hard-coding such a complex workflow was not an option. It would have taken half a resource to maintain required revisions as the needs changed in the future. It had to be adaptable. It also required significant automation to address the inaccuracy and inefficiency of existing manual processes.

Using JIRA to Automate Workflows

So LinkedIn turned to ServiceRocket for help. ServiceRocket delivered the solution through a custom plugin. It automatically creates any dependent tickets, propagates the necessary data, and automatically links everything for easy reference and reporting. No more manual copy, empty or mistaken fields. Users can easily find everything they need to do their job. Work flows, simply.

And the best part is that the plugin also has an interface for Helms to modify parameters in the future. That allows her to make process changes via the intuitive UI, without touching the if-then-elses of the underlying code.

Seeing Results Already

The results have been phenomenal. By automating the core workflow for the purchase and installation of hardware, LinkedIn expects to realize a significant reduction in the overall time to acquire and hand back hardware to requestors, and this is merely one piece of a much larger workflow ultimately destined to cover all aspects of datacenter build-outs including decommissioning and repurposing. Helms can now devote time to managing projects instead of chasing down bottlenecked tickets.

“We can now focus on the real problem areas and fix them much easier, while the regular flow goes faster with the automation we put in," says Helms. They can also manage inventory and forecast in a way that was not possible before. “We can audit how much is sitting in a warehouse. We can predict how much space we can reclaim because a project got cancelled.” They are even answering questions they didn’t think to ask and anticipating problems before they occur. And in the future, they plan to automate the process in JIRA for purchasing a new cage or building a data center from the ground up. “This is all just the beginning,” beamed Helms when asked about the outcome of the project.

Now if the plugin could only make a fresh pot of tea.

The response to Helms testimony from other attendees at the Atlassian Bay Area Business Executive Forum was overwhelmingly optimistic. “It’s fascinating to see how JIRA can be used outside of software engineering,” chimed one participant.

What About User Adoption?

This is no news to ServiceRocket. Over the last twelve months, ServiceRocket has seen a increasing trend in the global marketplace of customers using JIRA beyond just software development and IT. “Enterprises are recognizing that the need for collaboration extends everywhere, and other teams are beginning to use Atlassian products to re-engineer their business,” says Ray Bradbery, VP of Enterprise at ServiceRocket. “For years, many companies used the corporate chewing gum – Excel – and just hoped that things got done.” Clearly, Atlassian tools can take mere hope and transform it into certainty.

rob castaneda servicerocketBut a lot depends on successful implementation. Rob Castaneda, founder and CEO of ServiceRocket, says there is a science to knowing software adoption and consumption patterns. It begins with knowing your users. “It’s one thing to have early adopter nerds take some new software than it is for slower moving departments like HR.”

Castaneda himself is an expert in software adoption. His success began in Sydney back in 2001 when he founded ServiceRocket (then called CustomWare) in proximity to the two Atlassian co-founders who were putting their finishing touches an early version of JIRA. Shortly afterwards, they introduced Castaneda to 0.2 version of their wiki collaboration tool called Confluence. “And I asked what’s a wiki?” laughs Castaneda. Nevertheless, he jumped head first using and integrating the Atlassian products and never looked back. Castaneda grew his company to become Atlassian’s oldest and the only global partner. Today, the company specializes in training, support, implementation, and tools and served nearly three thousand customers in the past year alone, from small startups to corporate giants across just about every industry.

Software is Eating the World

To Marc Andreessen’s claim that “software is eating the world” Castaneda adds that ServiceRocket helps that software get consumed. But that requires strategy, as ServiceRocket has learned through working with its customers and its own mistakes.

One example was ServiceRocket’s implementation of Confluence. Just saying “Welcome to our Wiki – Please Collaborate”’ is rarely successful. For one, you need to strike a balance between transparency and information overload. For a new hire on his first day, ServiceRocket’s single Confluence instance was information overload. “It was like going to Wall Street and seeing every single stock trade happen,” says Castaneda. So they moved to a federated approach that made ownership and upgrades much simpler. And it fostered collaboration precisely where it’s needed, without the avalanche of minutia where it’s not. “Now you only get information that you asked for,” says Castaneda. The second tip was aligning their system with their culture. “You cannot make the introverts blog,” laughed Castaneda.

LinkedIn’s success was not accidental. Taking JIRA from bug tracking to service delivery requires experience and expertise. “We have occasionally bent JIRA to do something that looked great but felt wrong,” says Castaneda. The key to putting a business process in JIRA is thinking in terms of usage patterns, like issues, agile, and then SLAs and service desk. Scheduling is another usage pattern; being able to automatically create periodic tasks, like monthly 1-on-1s or quarterly performance reviews.

The possibilities for taking JIRA beyond bugs are endless. ServiceRocket is excited for the journey.

Call for Comments:

  1. JIRA is rapidly becoming a tool for use cases far beyond bug tracking and software development. How does your company use JIRA beyond your DevOps and IT teams?
  2. What other use cases could you envision in your organization for JIRA? What about Marketing? Human Resources? Others?

Topics: Jira, Ideas, Enterprise Software, Atlassian

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