Here’s why it’s so painful using Jira as a product manager

Here's the science behind how using task-management, execution orientated tools like Jira impacts your ability to ideate, plan, and work effectively as a product manager.

Elad Simon, CEO,

5 mins read

Let’s not beat around the bush: as product managers, we know from experience how painful working in Jira can be. The reason is simple: Jira is designed for developers. While it performs brilliantly as an issue-tracking software, trying to twist it to conform to a product manager’s needs can be as stressful as it is unrewarding. At the heart of it, PMs rely on a holistic view of all moving parts at all times–that includes strategy, prioritization, planning, progress tracking, deployment, and more–and Jira can only ever serve as one tool in a PM’s toolbox. And when you try to remove a screw with a hammer, you start to lose more than just your time: using the wrong tools for the job can impact your ability to perform to your full potential, make smarter, creative decisions, and move the needle on strategy. So let’s take a look at why Jira and similar task-management tools can actually become detrimental if you’re using it almost exclusively to manage your product. 

When it comes to execution– Jira stands out as a giant among software solutions–it’s the #1 tool for tracking bugs, connecting issues to code, and shipping products. In recent years Atlassian has rolled out numerous features designed to position the software as an all-in-one solution for scrum masters and project managers, and somewhere along the line, product managers got sucked into the Jira vortex. Developers were already using it successfully, it was a tool already paid for, and it allowed communication with developers directly. But as we’ve said before, PMs do more than assess and prioritize to-do lists. To make sense of the noise, persuade stakeholders, and keep the train moving forward, you’ll need a tool that adopts a macro approach and connects the development elements to your product strategy.

Designating the appropriate amount of time to product strategy is easier said than done. In the Pragmatic Institute’s 2019 Product Management and Product Marketing Survey, respondents reported spending only 27% of their time on strategic activities, even though they believed they should be dedicated 53% of their time to strategy. Why, then, despite the understanding of how important strategy is to the process, do product managers get stuck in the tactical weeds? A big part of the answer lies in the tools they use, specifically, how the law of the instrument works to upend our effectiveness and efficiency in equal measure, simply because we fall under the spell of using one tool to solve all problems. 

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” 

Abraham Maslow, 1966. 

Using an execution-focused tool limits your ability as a PM to effectively pull out a high-level, coherent plan or strategic themes. This is because you’re only ever exposed to one view while working in a tool like Jira: monitoring sprints, reviewing issue backlogs, and bug tracking. Each of these may be critical to performing your job in terms of managing development, but collectively they can only provide you with one piece of the puzzle. Jira can’t help you collate and review customer feedback, it struggles to give you a bird’s eye view of how you’re tracking with milestones, and once a ticket is closed in Jira, it essentially dies and disappears with all that meaningful contextual information you could be using to inform your strategy, reporting, and future iterations.

So what happens when product managers find themselves using a tool like Jira that fails to answer their needs in full? Besides the typical hair-pulling that goes on, most fall back on a myriad of supplemental tools to help fill the gaps. Typically it’s old-school spreadsheets for scoring prioritization, powerpoints for painstakingly handcrafting presentations to communicate to stakeholders, or enlisting a handful of external task-management tools like Trello or Asana to bridge the gap between what the dev team is doing and what everyone else is up to. 

But whether you’re working exclusively in Jira or patchworking several tools together, the result is the same. Instead of increasing efficiency, you actually decrease your capacity to drive cohesion and build the product confidence required to effectively influence and align stakeholders. The reason this happens is not because you’re a bad product manager– it’s because inevitably, through the use of unsuitable or too many tools, our attention fragments and we become unsuspecting victims of cognitive load. 

As human beings, we have a finite amount of mental processing power, and just like a computer, running too many complex tasks can slow us down considerably. Cognitive load theory explains that when overloaded by complexity (intrinsic cognitive load), presentation (extraneous cognitive load), or the processing, construction, and automation of thought processes (germane cognitive load), our output and learning capacity suffers. Simply put, like that irksome Trello popup: “This board may be slow because there are lots of open cards.” 

For a product manager, juggling Jira’s interface, making sense of its developer geared features, and grappling with remembering how closed issues impact your current strategy, all contribute to an increased cognitive load. And the repercussions don’t end there: if you can’t see the bigger picture and always focus on the smaller details, ideation, planning, and optimization all become clouded and more difficult to execute. Adopting a Jira mindset, whether intentionally or by default, inevitably leads to the degradation of some of the key qualities required of product management: being nimble, iterating, and using perspective to optimize your strategy.

So what’s the solution? Zoom out. Sitting at the axis of software development, product managers obviously shouldn’t shy away from technological tools to help them get their job done, but they should be choosing them more deliberately. Adopting a tool designed for product managers ensures that as a PM, you’re not just satisfying the execution-branch of your role but can accommodate and streamline all aspects of your day-to-day work., for example, allows you to develop strategy, prioritize, communicate plans, capture and analyze customer feedback, coordinate development and cycle through iterations and optimization without having a million windows open, or sifting through a backlog cemetery. This means you can manage the individual moving pieces, all while having instant access to the bigger picture, allowing you to reduce cognitive load and focus on delivering exceptional products. And because collaboration is integrated into every part of, discussing priorities, communicating status changes, and aligning stakeholders can all happen seamlessly, bypassing the jungle of task-management products out there and getting everyone literally on the same page.

Product managers need (and deserve) a complete tool – one with an intuitive UI, practical integrations, and the ability to act as a Product system-of-record for everything they do. This way, everyone involved in the product management process, be they the product owners, developers, designers, senior stakeholders, or customer success teams, can have one point of reference and easily access a single source of truth to help guide their individual workstreams. Trying to adapt Jira to check those boxes is both an unfeasible and impossible task because it’s simply not built to perform in this way. When it comes to simplifying processes and reducing cognitive load for PMs, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. 

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